Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?
Today I’m pleased to celebrate the release of The Gladiator and the Guard, a young adult action novel, with author Annie Douglass Lima. This is the second in the Krillonian Chronicles, following on the heels of The Collar and the Cavvaratch.
When Annie asked me to give her book a mention on my site, I couldn’t resist the chance to pick her brain a bit and find out about the person behind the story, what inspires her, and what she loves most about her characters. Have an ‘eavesdrop’ on our Q and A:
Geralyn: Tell me about you as an author.
Annie: I’ve been writing for as long as I can recall. When I was seven years old, I had a sudden inspiration for what I thought was an amazing story and decided then and there that I was going to write a book and be the world’s youngest published author. I ran to my room in great excitement, found an old notebook and a pencil, and started in.
Geralyn: That’s exactly how I got my start!
Annie: That first novel was never actually finished, let alone published, but it got me started. After that, I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t working on at least one book. Prince of Alasia, which I began in college, was the first one I finished that I thought was worth trying to get published. I looked into traditional publishing and spent a long time trying to get an agent, but to no avail. Finally I learned about Kindle Direct Publishing and did it myself the indie way, eleven years after I first started writing the book… It was quite a thrill for me to finally fulfill my childhood dream!
Geralyn: Yeah, I think I scrapped three complete novels before I was ready to publish. Holding the first copy in my hands was surreal!
Geralyn: Your stories are set in a world very much like ours, but with a few very specific changes. What inspired this world?
Annie: It started as just a picture of the setting and its culture: a world almost exactly like ours, but with legalized slavery. I wanted readers to think about and be disturbed by the injustice of slavery in more than just a distant historical setting. What would it look like in today’s world? What if it wasn’t based on race? How might human rights activists try to improve conditions for slaves? How would modern technology affect slaves’ lives? How could owners prevent their slaves from escaping if they aren’t easily identifiable by race?
Geralyn: I’m a very character driven reader and writer. Without spoiling anything, can you tell us Bensin’s story? What do you love about him?
In The Collar and the Cavvarach, Bensin is a 14-year-old slave who promised his mother on her deathbed that he would make sure his little sister Ellie was free someday. He makes several desperate attempts at great risk (and cost) to himself… But events start spiraling out of control, and soon it will take all his courage and ingenuity – plus the cooperation of the owner he has deceived – to rescue Ellie not just from slavery but from an even worse fate.
In The Gladiator and the Guard, Bensin is now 18 and close to earning his own freedom. But when he is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, he is sentenced to imprisonment in the arena and the violent life of a gladiator… His journey takes him from anger, bitterness, hate, helplessness, and fear to forgiveness, determination to stand up for what’s right under pressure to conform, and the resolution that the right kind of life is worth dying for. (Spoiler alert: but he doesn’t actually die. 😉 )
Geralyn: Ha ha ha, thanks. If I know the hero of the story is going to die, I don’t even want to start reading.
Annie: I love that Bensin won’t give up, and that he is so committed to his little sister that he will do anything to protect her. Not only that, but he remains faithful to his promise even in the face of almost impossible odds. He does make some unwise choices along the way, but most of them stem from desperation to help his sister. In the second book, I love the way he determines to stand against the evils of the arena system even though he knows that going against the flow could bring deadly consequences.
Geralyn: I wrote a book inspired by the factory I work in, and many of my characters are into running, like I am. Do you write parts of yourself and your world into your books? Are there any examples in this book?
Annie: Myself, not really. But I do put in pieces of my world. I’ve visited a total of twenty countries and actually lived in four of them, and those experiences have definitely played a role in my writing. For example, my fantasy novel Prince of Malorn reflects my love of getting to know different cultures and the differences between them. The title character, Prince Korram, has to deal with that when he travels into the Impassable Mountains to seek the help of a nomadic tribe called the Mountain Folk. In Malorn, Mountain Folk and Lowlanders tend to distrust each other and avoid contact whenever possible, and both sides claim that the other mistreats them. I wanted to show that, often, it just takes better understanding to lead to acceptance and appreciation of another culture. That, and the willingness to learn new ways of doing things and respect others’ customs even when they’re different.
I have lived in Taiwan for nearly nine years now, and I’ve brought several elements of Taiwan’s culture into the Krillonian Chronicles. For example, some characters chew betel nut, a mild narcotic sold legally in shops decorated with flashing colored lights. When money is awarded as a prize, it’s given in a red envelope. Cheap boxed meals available at “hole-in-the-wall” eateries are a common and convenient meal for laborers or anyone in a hurry or short on cash. New Year is the most important holiday of the year in both places.
Geralyn: What are the main themes of this book? Is there a lesson or idea you’d like the reader to take away?
Annie: There is a strong theme of social justice, as well as family loyalty, courage, and standing up for what’s right. I hope this story will make readers think about the value of human life and perhaps take a second look at some of the practices we accept or choose to turn a blind eye to in our own culture…
I hope readers will realize, as Bensin eventually does, that we can all choose the type of person we want to be, no matter what our circumstances. We might not have a say in what happens to us, but we can decide how we will respond and what kind of character we will exhibit.
Geralyn: And, I’ve got to know, did you invent Cavvara Shil?
Annie: Yes! ☺ I wanted to create a challenging martial art that was a combination of two or three different fighting styles, involving elements of unarmed combat (mainly kicking) as well as the use of a weapon. It took a few false starts before I had a fighting style I liked. At first I just pictured using a sword, but I wanted something a little less stereotypical. The cavvarach, a sword-like weapon with a hook halfway down the top blade, ended up being just right for what I had in mind. Combatants try to snag their opponent’s hook to tug the weapon out of the other person’s hand, which is one way to win a duel. (They can also knock it away with their own cavvarach, or kick it away.) Besides disarming an opponent, you can win by knocking them over and pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.
Although this hasn’t been mentioned in either book, I picture a cavvarach as an ancient weapon of warfare thousands of years ago in that world. Warriors could fight with it much as they would with a sword, but the original purpose of the hook would have been to snag the legs of horses (when wielded by a warrior on foot) or to grab at enemy fighters and pull them off their horses or out of their chariots as they galloped past.
Sound fascinating? You can pick up both the Collar and the Cavvarach and the Gladiator and the Guard for just $0.99 until May 30th!
Love to ask Annie more questions? Connect with her!
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