Aleja is the most celebrated young woman on Corazon, an ancient and mystical island where laws are carved in stone. For one cycle of the moon Corazon’s leaders will give Aleja extravagant gifts, hold feasts in her honor, and when the new moon rises they will take her life. Chosen give her body to be the Vessel of the Queen’s spirit, Aleja accepts the honor willingly until she discovers her sacrifice will not be for the good of Corazon’s people, but for a lie that keeps them slaves to a sinister cabal. Rather than accept her fate, Aleja fights back against her captors. In order to survive, Aleja must reject everything about the world she thought she knew, and learn that even rules in stone can be broken.
One of the first novels I read was Stephen King's Salem's Lot. I had to sneak it out of my parent's bedroom bookshelf since I they thought I was too young to read it. Luckily, I was able to consume the book in a couple of days and return it to the shelf, my parents none the wiser. There were a couple of sleepless nights, with my sheets carefully pulled up over my neck, but my love of horror was born. The Illusion Queen is not a horror novel, but I wanted there to be an atmosphere of dread to it, a feeling that unseen forces were silently watching the main character from the dark. I had so much fun writing this particular scene, for it introduces the mystery of the novel in a creepy way.
One of the questions the characters face in The Illusion Queen is should a society be organized for its own survival, or for the survival of the individual? As a teacher, I've struggled personally with the question of what are we teaching children and why, and it was fun to tackle it in the book. The main character Aleja lives in a world where humanity almost drove itself and all life to extinction. According to the antagonist, the powerful High Chamberlain Taka, it was human nature and choice that led to this. Therefore, for the survival of all, Taka believes everyone in society should know their place and never question it. Aleja thinks she agrees early in the story, but as she discovers more about herself, the world, and the hypocrisy of Taka's own selfish pride, she decides to rebel.
I loved myths and fables as a child, and wanted to create a world where they were still used as ways to teach people about society's values. The setting of the Island of Corazon is loosely based on ancient Greece and Japan, so using myths to world-build seemed appropriate. This is one of the fables I wrote for The Illusion Queen to illustrate the values of simplicity, frugality, and prudence Corazon's people aspire to. The main character, a young woman named Aleja, relates this story to a powerful man named Taka, which was a great way to establish her character, the antagonist, and the world they live in. Writing these little stories within a story was one of the original ideas that got me started on this book, and I was happy to see at least some of them survived to the final edit.
As a parent and a teacher, I often think about what I am doing to prepare children for a future none of us can foresee. The world Aleja lives in was developed to be changeless and predictable, but all the careful structures and rules the Queen created does not stop the unexpected from happening. Aleja has been trained since childhood to be a Judge, and to give rulings only based on the Queen's precedent. But when she is faced with a completely new situation, one her study has not prepared her for and compounded by her sympathy for the victim, she must decide for herself what to do. Aleja draws on her inner strength and morality to make a decision, and must pay the price for it. How often do our own children face a similar situation? When we guide a child, are we doing it for their benefit, or for our own?
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