We were fortunate enough to be able to interview Alwyn Hamilton on March 16 about her new book Traitor To The Throne.
Bri: I love Traitor to the Throne. Huge fan of the series.
Alwyn: Thank you so much!
So. I first have a bone to pick with you. Jin is my favorite character.
Oh thank you!
Of course...where was he?!
Being bad at long term relationships basically, was where he was. I feel like they're this couple that's sort of good at getting together but not that great at sort of staying together, you know?
I realize because they...they don't clash but they do at the same time.
Yea exactly. And you know how you have those friends who are always breaking up and then getting back together again, I feel like they'd be like that. Except their drama is kind of real because they are fighting a war. So they're choosing each other over death or the cause, can be quite difficult. But also, there was no way he would have let her stay in the palace that long without burning the palace down around her. Everyone else, it was deliberate that she ended up being "rescued" or "found" by Shazad, another female rather than by the boy.
And he still came, I was like awwwhhhh.
Exactly. There was no way he was going to tolerate that, "oh yea, we're going to let her spy and put herself in danger"...
"Have fun, good luck!"
I feel like Jin would've messed that up. So it seemed, in a weird way, natural. I didn't want to put in false conflict in the relationship; like adding a love triangle or anything. But it seemed natural that they would be good at getting together quickly and not that good at staying together and being stable...because neither of them are stable people...
This is very true.
And hopefully it made the scenes when they are together that much more...
Honestly, it made me love those scenes even more because I was like "Awh Jin! You're finally here! And then he would leave again...
Or she'd leave...get kidnapped!
Exactly! Do you think that you would write a spinoff book for Jin? To like, tell his side of the story for Traitor to the Throne?
I don't know if what he's doing in this book is necessarily separate enough from what Amani is doing for it to be it's own story. But I would love to write something about him one day that was about him before the rebellion or before he met Amani. Like, this would be sort of a lot of running around looking for her, and it's so tied in with her that I think it's sort of a part of her story. But Jin did have a life before her, you know - being on a ship with his brother. That would be where I would go.
I love him! Which is funny because....I also have kind of a love hate relationship with him. Especially - I felt conflicted because you introduced the Sultan and he's a huge character and you actually think "But, wow! He can rule" and you see the differences between him and Ahmed. So you're conflicted. How were you able to portray that? Was that difficult; making a reader think maybe Ahmed doesn't have what it takes?
I think it's because it's all from Amani's point of view. It works in my favor for that. While she is not stupid she is the least educated of them. And she's thrown herself into the rebellion head first like she has everything else in her life. So it sort of made sense that she would question that, "did I really think this through before joining [the rebellion]. Also because she is craving a parent figure whom she can trust in this book, with her aunt.
And then her dad!
Exactly. And then he lets her down. And so she has this need to impress [the sultan]. And a lot of dictators over time have been known to be very charming. To go to the most extreme example Hitler was an incredibly charming man. And everyone says that about him personally. But there's no way of detaching that from the horrible things that he did. And that is what Amani is dealing with in Traitor. The Sultan is very charming and he's feeding her enough praise that it makes him feel like a father figure. There's a few of my friends who are my age or a little bit older who have said "Is it okay that I find the Sultan really hot?!" And I've pointed out to them that he had his kids when he was 18 or 19, and his kids are now 18/19. This makes him in his mid-30's which puts us closer to his age rather than to the hot young princes' age. So I just tell them he's more age appropriate for you than the 18 year old boy!
It's not as gross.
And they're like "Oh my god, you're right. I'm closer to the age of the villain than I am of the YA Hero!"
And he has two very attractive sons which you meet in book one so it made sense that...you know...he got it from somewhere! Genetics are a thing.
Plus it was fun to meet all of the half-brothers of Jin and Ahmed. It was fun to see all of the new characters as well, not just the half siblings. I enjoyed it, I loved all of the new characters.
At one point I was like "Is this too many princes'?"
How many princes' should there be?
How many princes is too many princes?
How do you go into a sequel? Especially one like this. You can tell that you wanted it to be more mature, and it definitely was. It's a lot more focused on the war and it's a lot more focused on how they're fighting the war. Whereas book one was more focused on Jin and Amani running to get to the rebel prince and then being with him. So how do you go into the sequel and thinking "okay, I want it to still sound the same but I want it to be more mature as well.
The sequel was interesting for the progression of the series. I do this thing before I start writing. I kind of plot it out in my mind. I know all of the big pillars up until the end of the rebellion. And in my head that was going to be one book. When I got to the part where they were crossing the dessert in book one it was about 50,000 words and I knew that this was not even close to halfway through the idea. I wasn't going to write a Dance with Dragons style, huge tome.
Good luck reading this.
Exactly. So I figured out where to split it, and the arch with Noorsham came later. But I still then knew what was going to happen beyond that point. Because I had planned it out. So I knew a lot of it going into Traitor, but I also have this theory about YA trilogies. A lot of them are, or can, be read as - or should be - able to be retitled with the titles of the original Star Wars trilogy and be accurate. The prime example is The Hunger Games. "A New Hope", "The Capitol Strikes Back", and "Return of the Mockingjay".
OH MY GOD! I love that!
That is a thing.
I'll never be able to look at any YA series the same again.
Exactly. In the same way that A New Hope can be - obviously it's awesome that the Star Wars series didn't end there but it could have. If they never made another movie it would've been a satisfactory ending. Empire Strikes Back, because you know there's going to be a third one there's an epic cliffhanger, and it can stand on the shoulders of the more simple story. That's how I think of it. Traitor to the Throne is "The Sultan Strikes Back".
I love it!
That was my approach.
Speaking of cliffhangers...I don't want to...give too much away...
Just put a **SPOILER DISCLAIMER**
Sorry guys...but...how was that scene to write?
It was...I really enjoyed writing that scene. The final scene in the book. It needed to be believable that it was Ahmed. But I also didn't want to leave it for too long. It's interesting having the reaction to that. I've had people tell me they've cried so much and ask why I did that. I'm like...it's better than the alternative that you thought it was a chapter before right?
I literally....when he got up on the stage, because you had Ahmed looking down, I was like "Oh my gosh, it's Imin." I was like "Oh no...I don't know which ones worse?! Who do I have more of an attachment to?!" I mean...I understand why you killed her and not him....
It made sense. A lot of the book is about sacrifice and the things you're willing to do and give up for the war. And your life is a big one. I enjoyed writing the scene because I didn't want to describe too much but have a lot of it be sensations. It was one of the scenes that stayed roughly the same from the first draft.
I haven't done a huge amount of changes to that scene. I mean there's some, but those were for clarity and things like that.
Is it hard to have the whole Demdji's being truth teller things. Because I feel like I would get caught on that so many times.
It sometimes can be. It was a really fun challenge for book 1 because obviously it seems like she's told a lot of lies up until the point when you realize that she can't. My agent, she said "she can't tell lies....you've made a mistake" and she went back and reread through the scene where Jin and Amani are in the shop [in book one] and she's hiding under the counter. She was like "She definitely lied in that scene" and I was definitely careful that she didn't.
You're like I promise you she didn't lie in that scene.
Yea. And I think sometimes it can make the dialogue more interesting. Because if you could tell a lie then she would've just been like "Nope, he's not here" whereas the fact that she can't tell a lie so she ends up saying things like "Well, that doesn't sound like something I would do" which doesn't mean 'he's not here' but it leads you to believe he's not here. So it's a more interesting use of dialogue rather than being straightforward.
I loved it in this book because now she was aware of it. So she'd be like Oh...I can't say it so it's not true.
Yea, so that was something I was worried about with her in the Harem. She's there as an enemy, and getting caught out if someone had asked her a direct question and she'd have to answer it. So she has to tiptoe around a little bit more. There have been times where we have caught in the very last stage of page proof. That I've picked up and been like "Technically that is a lie." So you just have to then change the wording, like adding a might or an I don't think. I enjoy the challenge. Having said that I also like writing the characters who can just say bold faced lies. It's a nice break from having to think about every word.
Shira. She became a big part too. And I, in the first book hated her. Could not stand her.
And in this book. She actually becomes a character who you still hate, but you learn to love.
I think like any villain she is the hero of her own story. She is taking care of herself to get out [of the Harem] kind of like Amani did in the first book. She just has a different idea in her mind. If it was from her point of view it would be like "this is my cousin who's always screwing things up and all I want to do is get out of this town and get some money." So I think her motivation and personality is very different from Amani. So it was interesting to get Amani to come to terms understanding women who aren't like her and want different things; want children, want power and don't mind effacing themselves a little bit.
Just a little bit.
Only a little.
When her final scene came I was actually in tears. I was like whhhat? I hate you...but this is sad!
Thank you! That's high praise, indeed!
You kind of already touched on this, in the book Amani says that Shazad was the one who always came up with plans. While Amani is the one that kind of just goes with things. I want to know how you write books - are you like Shazad or Amani?
I think I'm more like Amani because I'm a daydreamer. I figure it all out in my mind. And I go to do those things and it goes horribly wrong so I figure it out as I go. In my mind I'm like "This will make total sense!" and then I do it and it totally doesn't. So I'm an Amani in that sense.
I love it, I totally thought you were going to say Shazad!
I love it! We kind of touched on all the new characters. Was it hard to incorporate them and to make them as loved as the characters we already had attachments to?
It was hard to introduce a lot of them because a lot of them aren't saying what they are and what they want to Amani's face. The same way that they were in the first one. Everyone's pretty clear what their motivations are in the first book. They're like we're running a rebellion and we want to win it.
Yea. Whereas Leila is much more shady. Rahim is like "Do you need to know what I want? Or can you just accept that I will help you?" So that kind of was tricky because it all is from Amani's point of view. Or Sam, that's why there's a little story about him so that you can get a little bit more of his story. It can be very tricky because it is from first person point of view and to get all of these new characters and get you to believe their motivations and know enough about it without them being like "Let me tell you my life story and all my motivations!" which is not very realistic.
Well thank you! I really enjoyed this!
Thank you! I had fun!