This guest blog is nothing short of fascinating. I’m delighted you’ve joined me and hope you’ll say hello and share your thoughts with Wendy before you go!
Education and Freedom (Or Salvaged Bits from my Personal Junkyard)
A guest blog from Wendy S. Russo, author of JANUARY BLACK
I have a shelved novel, a book that I worked on for ten years and grew out of my control. It was called “The Lords of Papiyon,” and I now use it as a sort of personal junkyard. January Black grew out of one of that book’s scenes. It was a still-frame, really. A twelve-year-old boy stood in an overgrown garden, looking at the stars. That boy became Matty, and the overgrown state of the garden was explained by a law that forbade anyone to enter it, a law that was obeyed for more than 200 years until Matty broke it.
Sarah asked if I could talk about the themes of education and freedom in January Black. They, too, were salvaged from The Lords of Papiyon, as was the Regent government that rules Matty’s kingdom, and the King’s Class, from which he’s expelled in the beginning of the book. So, to explain the deeply rooted traditions that shape Columbia, I’m going to explain the relationship between the Regency and the King’s Class in The Lords Papiyon.
In Papiyon, Kelmarin’s throne was passed from father to son. However, government of the kingdom was split between the king’s advisers, called Regent Masters, and the lords of Papiyon, whose power extended through the capital city’s alleyways. They were waste managers, controlled import/export from the city, and kept the city “clean” by any means necessary. The Regent Masters scoffed at the idea that they shared power with the “crime lords,” but at the same time, as long as the smell of garbage and sewage was kept away from the wealthier sections of the city, they stayed out of Papiyon’s affairs.
All that is neither here nor there, but it sets the stage for a conversation about education…specifically, the king’s education.
The Regent government maintained their control over the kingdom in three ways.
One, they chose the best and brightest of the kingdom’s children, brought them into the capital city, and developed their gifts into expertise. These children, “the King’s Class,” were raised as peers to the throne’s heir. The future king would consider them friends, trust them implicitly, and he would someday choose his advisers from among them. Each of those children was instilled with a fierce loyalty to the Regency abovethe kingdom itself, because whomever the king chose to advise him would be the next generation of Regent Masters.
Two, there were at least a dozen girls in this class that were about the king’s age. Each was brilliant, beautiful, ambitious, and they were trained specifically to influence the king on the Regents’ behalf.
Both choices for the king—advisers and bride—were illusions. No matter who he chose, they were all first chosen by the Regency.
Three, the king was cleverly denied the same education by instilling a sense of entitlement. He was actually encouraged to pull his “I’m the prince; I can do what I want!” card.
This is the underlying system. I then upended it by giving Prince Erik a subversive streak. With the help of a few classmates, he acquired a lot of knowledge that he was never meant to have. At sixteen, he made a deal with Papiyon’s rightful heir. Erik offered his first choice for queen straight across for delivery of the lord, and his four bosses, in chains. (Erik’s was encouraged to do this by the girl, who was in love with Shane, the lord’s son. It was a win/win/win situation.) Then, Erik released the rest of the queen-elects from their obligations to the throne and proposed marriage to the daughter of an ally who lived a 1000 miles away, (thus had no Regent training.) Chaos ensues, at least as far as the Regents were concerned.
The idea behind all of this was to explore how knowledge, and education, could be used as an instrument of control. One character calls the Regents “the gears behind the clock face.” They ruled the city in the king’s name, gave the king ideas while leading him to believe they were his own, giving him the illusion of control and freedom. And the people of Kelmarin looked to the king, accepted that it was his rule and never questioned it. The Regents were a devious body, but they were not an inherently evil one. Under their rule, there were no dark eras, no tyrant kings, and no uncertainty that caused by the deposing of leaders. At least, not in Kelmarin proper. These things happened in Papiyon with some frequency, justifying among the Regents that their system was just and right.
But, was it, really? I don’t have an answer. That is something that we all really decide for ourselves about the things our government does for our benefit.
I shelved The Lords of Papiyon because, as interesting as this premise may be, the story wasn’t really about Erik. He was one character providing a set of world-building circumstances. What I have on the shelf, that I’m scavenging through, was the beginning of something massive. Like “Song of Ice and Fire” massive, and I wasn’t committed to researching politics, Roman era waste management, disease control, battle strategies, horse training, farming, fishing, theater, law, or any of the thousand things I’d need to know to do this story justice. At the moment that I realized how much work was ahead of me, my interests were leaning in a different direction. So, I scrapped it, and now I pick things out, like the themes of education and freedom to stitch into other stories.
The Regency of Columbia is much like Kelmarin’s. They accept gifted students into their private school and train them for positions of power. But they withhold information, mostly about their own history, fromeveryone, and give the impression, through copious records of every event and redundant data systems, that there are no holes. In January Black, Hadrian asks Matty a question, but the quest is more important than the answer. It was intended to open the young man’s eyes to a problem in their society. Things were missing from their history. Those things were deleted on purpose. And once that veil in the mind is breached, by Matty in his world, or any of us in ours, one question naturally follows: “What else is being kept from me?”
Knowledge is power, for those who have it over those who don’t. For that reason, education and freedom will always be inseparable. The one thing I hope readers will take from January Black is to not take the world at face value. For everything that we encounter, there is always something that lies beneath, and there’s usually someone benefiting from keeping it buried.
Sixteen-year-old genius Matty Ducayn has never fit in on The Hill, an ordered place seriously lacking a sense of humor. After his school’s headmaster expels him for a small act of mischief, Matty’s future looks grim until King Hadrian comes to his rescue with a challenge: answer a question for a master’s diploma.
More than a second chance, this means freedom. Masters can choose where they work, a rarity among Regents, and the question is simple.
What was January Black?
It’s a ship. Everyone knows that. Hadrian rejects that answer, though, and Matty becomes compelled by curiosity and pride to solve the puzzle. When his search for an answer turns up long-buried state secrets, Matty’s journey becomes a collision course with a deadly royal decree. He’s been set up to fail, which forces him to choose. Run for his life with the challenge lost…or call the king’s bluff.
Refreshingly intelligent and loads of fun!
I lost a few hours as I read this book. It’s a Young Adult novel that is refreshingly and astonishingly intelligent, and the love story is perfectly played out.
~Christine Ashworth, Amazon Review
The mystery was intriguing – I loved how Wendy Russo weaved in all her secrets throughout the book, how she incorporated just enough to keep you reading, while never actually divulging much of anything. I was guessing for most of it and that’s pretty hard to make me do.
~Julie, Clean Teen Reads
Wendy Russo has created a masterpiece.
~Ivan Amberlake, Author
Author Wendy S. Russo
Wendy S. Russo got her start writing in the sixth grade. That story involved a talisman with crystals that had to be found and assembled before bad things happened, and dialog that read like classroom roll call. Since then, she’s majored in journalism (for one semester), published poetry, taken a course on short novels, and watched most everything ever filmed by Quentin Tarantino. A Wyoming native transplanted in Baton Rouge, Wendy works for Louisiana State University as an IT analyst. She’s a wife, a mom, a Tiger, a Who Dat, and she falls asleep on her couch at 8:30 on weeknights.
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