This is going to be a bit of a weird one folks. Obviously, I’m far, far behind on my blog posts. After the great debacle of the brand-new-computer-that-doesn’t-want-to-work, I’m still three or four books behind on my reviews and scrambling to try and fill up my weeks with posts about other random things. So, since I’m currently suffering from food poisoning (Thank you Taco Bell, I both love you and hate you at the same time), and nowhere near finishing a book yet, I’m going to go ahead and do what I’d like to call A Character Portrait.
Recently I posted an article about the outlining of Khet and the inherent frustrations that came along with that endeavor, and I received a few responses that people were interested in hearing more of my writing and world building process. So, in the vein of continuing with my Khet spiel, I thought I’d do some in-depth looks at some of my favorite characters from the series and talk about what makes them tick. Now, this comes with a bit of a warning: There will be some spoilers. Hopefully no major story-revealing ones, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. It can be hard to explain what makes a character tick without talking about some of the events that have happened to a character though, so if spoilers bother you, run away now.
From day one, Leander has been a bit of an anti-hero in my story. He had to be. The truth is, the real hero of my story is Khet—and so when I set about building her counterpart, someone to push her into the spotlight, I knew Leander wasn’t going to be your traditional main male lead. He’s flawed—deeply flawed. He’s arrogant, controlling, self-centered, and at times, cruel.
In the first draft of “Khet” (there we go using those quotes to denote story vs. character again), Leander was originally cast as an ancient God. This was before Felnatherin’s* existed and the lore of “Khet” had been planned out. He was the lord of a small river valley, an ancient being who sometimes appeared as a man, and sometimes as a lion. His word was law to the human villagers that lived under his rule, and he was both mysterious and inhuman in the way he dealt with his subjects.
*Felnatherin: ancient shape-shifting beings that have been present on Earth since the very beginning of time. They sometimes take the shape of men, other times, that of animals. They are immortal, and have taken the role of Earth’s guardian’s, protecting what is left of our world from the destruction mankind has brought upon it.
Because Leander was an ancient God of the valley, he didn’t portray a lot of human emotion. He didn’t think or act in the way the other characters (Khet especially) expected. He sometimes came across as cruel and uncaring—there never was an intention to make him kind and loveable—and because of that, when the second draft (and eventual re-write) of “Khet” came about, a lot of the negatives of Leander’s personality were transferred to the new version.
In the first draft, Leander was awful because the point of his and Khet’s relationship was for her to step up and teach him to become more human. He was supposed to grow and learn to be kinder and more thoughtful of those around him as he got to know Khet more and more… but that isn’t exactly what happened. When I attempted to re-write “Khet” and plot out the second draft, I couldn’t imagine Leander as anything other than what he’d started as—a bit of an ass. Rather than rewrite his character, I kept him flawed. I’m glad I did.
Leander is the product of a tragic childhood and poorly placed loyalty. As a child, Leander’s father is killed during a time when his people, the Felnatherin, are attempting to wipe 90% of the human population off the face of the planet. His father, Osias, didn’t hate human beings, but as a man who worked as the sword-arm of the Gilded Court**, it was his job to help propagate the genocide of the human race. It was no one’s fault that Osias died—he was a victim of circumstance—but as the oldest of his siblings (just 10 or 13 at the time) Leander took his father’s death hard. He grew to hate humans, and despite his step-father’s insistence that Leander let go of is father’s death, it festers deep in his heart over the next several hundred years.
**The Gilded Court: The royal court of the Felnatherin, consisting of the royal bloodline and all court officials. Also sometimes refers to the actual location of the Gilded Court—a hidden complex/city where the royal family resides.
It should be no surprise that Leander grows up to step into his father’s shoes. He too becomes a sword-arm of the Gilded Court… a sort of bounty hunter. It becomes his task to hunt down felnatherin and humans alike who break the law, and it’s a task he’s especially good at.
The one bright spot in his life is his love of his younger brother Solomon, and his younger half-sister, Arielle. The siblings are close, and despite the darkness festering in Leander’s heart, his brother and sister keep him from becoming a truly wretched person. All that is soon to change.
Unfortunately, because of his step-father’s bloodline and position in the Gilded Court, Leander’s sister, Arielle, becomes next in line for the felnatherin throne. Normally, she’d have very little chance of actually sitting on the throne, but unbeknownst to Leander’s branch of the family, the Queen, Sapphira, who has a son already, has recently discovered that she can not bear another child. Since the throne is passed down on the maternal side of the bloodline, that means Arielle is the only choice for the throne—and that doesn’t sit well with the Queen. A plot hatches to remove Arielle from the bloodline, and in a tragic turn of events, Leander and Solomon are tasked with executing Arielle—who has now been deemed a traitor to the throne.
Long story short: Leander is forced by his loyalty to the throne to execute his little sister. Her death creates a rift between Leander and his brother, and plagued with guilt, Leander distances himself from the Gilded Court and disappears into exile among the rock-strewn mountains of the great river valley.
When Khet’s story truly begins, Leander has been in hiding for the past one-hundred-and-fifty years. He is bitter, angry—both at himself, his family, and humans in particular. He has little respect for anyone, and with the exception of one or two human attendants, he rarely interacts with anyone other than to pass down judgment. He is a tragic character that lives and breathes the guilt and hatred in his heart, punishing himself and everyone around him for his own misplaced loyalty… until he meets Khet.
The first meeting of Khet and Leander is a turning point. She is the embodiment of everything he simultaneously fears, hates, and loves. Khet is the half-human, half-felnatherin descendant of Arielle, and bears a striking resemblance to his former step-sister. Like Arielle, she is full of life, joy, and devotion to her family. The two share a lot of qualities—but unlike Arielle, Khet’s spent her entire life sequestered—hidden from sight for fear that she too would be executed were she to be found out. Where Arielle was friendly and outgoing—even outright childish at times, Khet is quiet, thoughtful, and bull-headed. Leander can’t help but be drawn to the girl who reminds him so much of his sister, and at the same time, he fears her for everything that she is.
Their journey—their friendship—becomes the catalyst that drives Leander forward as a person. Because of her, he learns to own up to the guilt he holds towards his sister’s death. He re-learns what it means to be loyal to family, and he learns to set aside his hatred for mankind. That’s one of the things I love about Leander as a character. He isn’t just some male lead present to make the female audience swoon. He isn’t around just to push Khet into the spotlight or to take the place of a love interest. Leander is a true counterpart to Khet. Without him, Khet would never learn to step up and be the strong female lead she soon becomes, and likewise, without Khet, Leander would never learn to let go of the past and grow into the strong male lead he’s meant to become. Their relationship, as tenuous as it is at times, is symbiotic. Without either one, the entire story would fall apart.
Leander has a few quirks throughout the story—mostly revolving around how he treats Khet—but I think his quirks are what keep him from becoming a character the audience genuinely hates. Let’s face it, he’s not particularly nice throughout the beginning of the story. He’s broody, arrogant, seems to lack any empathy… he’s the sort of person who is fiercely loyal to his duties and responsibilities, but lacks the ability to stand up for himself. He can be stubborn, easily agitated, slow to change and forgive… but that isn’t all there is to Leander. He is fiercely protective of children, his human attendants, and Khet. Despite his harsh exterior, when he thinks no one is looking he’s quick to step up and take care of others—never expecting to get any credit for his actions. He has a strange sense of humor and fascination with poking at Khet and irritating her. I think because Khet so resembles Arielle, he can’t help but treat her like his little sister at first. He teases her, pushes her around, and basically hovers around her in attempt to make certain she is taken care of—though he’ll loudly profess that he finds her irritating.
In his own way, Leander is kind, caring, and thoughtful, but because of his guilt about Arielle’s death, he tends to outwardly punish himself by purposefully casting himself in a negative light. Don’t get me wrong, Leander is far from perfect. He really can be an ass—but he treats his poor behavior as a type of shield… to protect himself from the chance that anyone could get close to him again, as Arielle and Solomon once were. Deep in his heart he knows that given the choice to end Arielle’s life again, he couldn’t do it… and admitting that his loyalties were wrong, that his misplaced hatred in mankind may be wrong, is a terrifying prospect. If Leander was wrong about that, then the core of who Leander is—is a lie… and he isn’t ready to admit that yet.
Other Small Tidbits:
Leander’s full name is: Leander. Yup. That’s it. The felnatherin don’t use last names. His name is actually Greek in origin as many of the felnatherin names are Greek/roman/biblical in nature, and means: Lion of a Man. In Greek mythology, Leander was also the name of Hero’s lover in the tale of “Hero and Leander”. He was a man who fell in love with a priestess of Aphrodite and swam across the Hellespont river each night in order to meet her. One tragic night, he lost his way in a storm and ended up drowning. Upon seeing her dead lover on the shore the next morning, Hero leapt to her death from a temple window to join him.
My version of Leander is around 650 year old (give or take a decade), though he appears to be around 24. He’s got blond, wavy hair, green eyes, and shape shifts into a very large, male lion. Despite all arguments to the contrary, he is deeply enamored of Khet, and tragically, too bull-headed to admit it. He has a bad habit of walking around stark naked all the time because he’s too arrogant to feel embarrassed and too lazy to bother to wear clothes like a decent person—a fact with irritates Khet greatly. He tends to stay in his lion-form 80% of the time because it means he doesn’t have to interact with people—a habit which he starts to grow out of once he meets Khet—but he still reverts to his lion form when he wants to be left alone, to avoid Khet’s questions, or to avoid all responsibility for his actions. Leander’s still got a lot of growing up to do by the end of book 1.