This article is sponsored by Tor Books. All the opinions reflect those of the writer.
Kel Kade is a New York Times Bestselling author who has delved into the fantasy realm before with her King’s Dark Tidings series. Formerly an environmental consultant who entered doctoral study with a focus on volcanic rock geochemistry and marine research, Kade’s background has lent a unique flair to her speculative fiction writing.
We talked to Kel Kade about Fate of the Fallen, the newly-published book that begins the Shroud of Prophecy series. In a previous article, we detailed how the book subverts the typical expectations of the “hero’s journey” and the “Chosen One” trope. The handsome, predestined hero is killed off before he can fulfill the prophecy. His friend Aaslo takes on the mantle instead, an unlikely hero and a bit of a grump about it too.
And who can blame him? In order to prove the Chosen One has died, Aaslo literally has to carry around the severed head of his dead friend. Aaslo, a peaceful forester who cares for trees in quiet solitude, doesn’t feel suited for the task of fighting an enemy and traveling to distant unfamiliar lands—and maybe that’s why he’s the perfect main character in this story.
“Morbid humor and a major twist to an age-old trope seemed like they would make for a fun read,” Kade explained. “It has the action and breadth of an epic fantasy yet doesn’t take itself too seriously. I love to play with fantasy in a way that makes it seem both familiar and fresh, to approach the typical from a different direction or flip it on its head—or, in this case, to cut one off. I hoped these little (or big) twists would be shocking for the reader, so I sometimes approach them in a jarring way that wakes the reader from the lull of a familiar story.”
There’s a lot of themes of death and the afterlife present in the book. Aaslo carries his friend’s head, and with that deep loss heavy on his mind, must try to do what he can to keep the world going a little while longer. Aaslo’s whole being is that of a nurturer. He plants trees in the ground, not swords in guts, so going on this journey and skirting death at every turn is as foreign to him as it would be (hopefully) to most readers.
“Aaslo’s duality is certainly meant to expose the continuum between life and death,” Kade said. “Death is an uncomfortable subject for many yet it is an inevitability we all share. This story posits life as a single experience to be appreciated while simultaneously confronting death as simply the transition or gateway to another realm, the next step in a soul’s journey, rather than an end. The gods and Myropa help to define these other realms as ‘other,’ while (SPOILER!) Aaslo’s ability to wield power over both emphasizes their connectedness.”
So what about all this Chosen One business? Is Aaslo the new Chosen One? Nope; prophecy has pointed to only one person as the savior of Aaslo’s people. At times, it feels Aaslo is only delaying the inevitable doom of his people. One might think that predestined doom would lead a reader to put down a book, no longer expecting any fun surprises…
“The prophesied path to salvation failed; and, in this tale, prophecy is absolute,” Kade said. “Natural instinct drives the characters to face their destinies in one of three ways: surrender, run away, or fight. The question becomes, does it matter? One might even ask oneself: if death is inevitable, what’s the point in living?”
Yet our main character moves forward.
“Aaslo thinks life’s worth fighting for, and he’s going to have to face death to keep it,” Kade explained. “How will the battle for existence look, and what might the world be like when it’s over? Perhaps death would be preferable after all. You’ll have to keep reading to get the answers.”
There’s quite a few unusual and fun characters that Aaslo begrudgingly allows along on his adventure. Teza, a witch who failed out of school; Mory and Peck, two street urchins who Aaslo accidentally takes ownership over; and a prophet who speaks in frustrating half-answers. There’s also Dolt, Aaslo’s idiot horse who only makes Aaslo’s journey harder, often to hilarious effect.
“I love all of the characters,” Kade said. “Each one has a unique personality with strengths and flaws. Teza’s sass, Peck’s charm, Mory’s lightheartedness, the marquess’s kind nobility, Myropa’s unrecognized strength, the gods’ fickleness, and Dolt’s willfulness are all fun and different. The relationship between Aaslo and Mathias is especially interesting to write because it contains a mixture of strong emotions from playful banter to deep anguish spattered with both annoyance and longing.”
The world building in Fate of the Fallen also includes chapters that see things from the perspective of reapers and the gods, silent watchers in the wings to our main story. They are modeled like the deities of the Greek and Roman pantheons of Greek and Roman deities.
“I’ve always enjoyed mythology from Greek and Roman to Egyptian and Native American,” Kade said. These gods have faults, jealousies and pettiness that makes them all so human.
“Many cultures have envisioned deities as less than perfect beings with human-like flaws but the power of creation and destruction at their fingertips,” Kade said. “Those who are immortal or very long-lived often suffer from pettiness and ennui, which makes their antics humorous and entertaining—so long as their focus isn’t on you.”
Kade closes our with a message to her readers that she hopes they find through reading Fate of the Fallen: “We are all existing in our own ways. Many seek purpose through religion or experiences. Others simply accept things for how they are and endure the routine. Our drive and devotion to protect each other, our reverence for life, and the bonds we create with others keep us struggling to preserve our existence and also give us the strength to face our inevitable passage into the death.”