Today I am pleased to have a guest post by Cinda Williams Chima, author of the Seven Realms series and the Heir Chronicles. I’m especially glad to have her as a guest because I’m a new fan of hers. As mentioned in yesterday’s review of The Demon King, her first Seven Realms book, I had a great time reading it and found her story and characters very engaging. I’m quite glad I have more books in the series to look forward to!
And now, I turn this post over to Cinda Williams Chima!
THIEVES AS HEROES
One of the viewpoint characters in my Seven Realms series is 16-year-old Han “Cuffs” Alister, streetlord of the Raggers—a gang of thieves and divers (pickpockets) in the Ragmarket and Southbridge slums of the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Han takes his street name from the silver cuffs around his wrists. He’s worn them as long as he can remember—they don’t come off. So the astute reader knows from the start that there’s something magical going on.
Though Han is a successful thief, widely feared and respected, he’s smart enough to know that streetlords don’t live to see twenty. As The Demon King opens, he has decided to go straight. But he finds out that isn’t easy.
I have an affinity for thieves—the literary kind. Bandits, tricksters, pirates and hucksters abound in fiction—as they do in real life, I guess. What’s interesting is that they are so often the heroes in stories and songs.
The first Robin Hood ballads and tales were recorded in 14th century England. France birthed the famous poet-thief Francois Villon in the 15th century. Captain James Hind, a 17th century British thief, was styled as the “royalist highwayman” in popular pamphlets of the day. Supposedly, he targeted Parliamentarians, while leaving the poor alone.
Neither did I ever wrong any poor man of the worth of a penny: but I must confess, I have (when I have been necessitated thereto) made bold with a rich Bompkin, or a lying Lawyer, whose full-fed fees from the rich Farmer, doth too too much impoverish the poor cottage-keeper…
After the Restoration, French-born highwayman Claude Duval worked the roads in and out of London. He was born into a royal family whose lands and titles were confiscated. Polite and well-spoken, fashionably-dressed, he was quite the ladies’ man. One tale has it that he returned a victim’s purse when his wife agreed to dance with him along the wayside. His memorial inscription reads:
Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,
Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.
Much havoc has he made of both; for all
Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall.
The Child ballad, “Henry Martin,” is based on the life of Andrew Barton, a privateer. The fact that he had a letter of marque from the Scottish crown didn’t save him when he was captured by the British. He was beheaded for a pirate.
Victorian novelist William Harrison Ainsworth romanticized 18th Century highwayman, Dick Turpin, who frequented York in Britain and was hanged at Tyburn for a horse thief.
The traditional Irish ballad, “The Newry Highwayman” is a typical in its treatment of thieves:
I’ve never robbed any poor man yet
Nor any tradesman caused I to fret
But I robbed Lords and their Ladies fine
And I carried their gold home to my heart’s delight
Outlaws of the American west are often portrayed as romantic figures—as in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jesse James, and Billy the Kid. During the last century, many Americans seemed to be rooting for bank robbers like John Dillinger, Bonny and Clyde, and Pretty Boy Floyd.
Most of these real-life thieves look better from a distance. In real life, thieves often steal from those who can least afford it, because they have ready access to the poor.
So what are some common tropes of literary thieves and their stories?
- The ruler/government/nobility/police are corrupt, brutal, dishonest themselves. Many thieves of legend turn to thievery when they’ve been pushed beyond their limits by despicable officialdom
- They have noble blood. All evidence says that the historical Robin Hood (if there was one) was likely a yeoman. And yet, legend gives him a royal heritage and a role in supporting the rightful king (Richard.)
- They steal from the rich and undeserving.
- They give to the poor (possibly including themselves.)
- They are well-dressed, courteous, and well-spoken.
- They follow a code of honor of sorts.
- They are handsome (men) or beautiful (women)
- They are smart, strategic, bold, charismatic—and very good at what they do
- They often dance on the legal borderline—and they often have powerful friends in need of their skills
Why do we love thieves? Thieves appeal to the rogue in all of us, because they live by their wits, often making fools of their more powerful adversaries. Through thieves, we can vicariously stick it to “the man.”
Thieves can get into forbidden places, ferret out secrets, and take risks that we wouldn’t take ourselves. Perhaps we all have a streak of larceny in us. We’re all rule-breakers at heart.
The Seven Realms series is a transformation story—Han Alister the wizard thief is transformed into someone who can interact with and outwit bluebloods. It turns out that the skills he learned on the mean streets of Ragmarket serve him well as he navigates the treacherous Gray Wolf Court.
In this excerpt from The Gray Wolf Throne former streetlord Han Alister is giving an assignment to Cat Tyburn, who used to run the streets with him.
Han shook his head. “I wouldn’t send you if it wasn’t for a reason. I want you to go back to Ragmarket, and get set up there again, like you said. See if the heat’s died down. It should have—the Bayars have other things to think about and last they knew I was in Oden’s Ford.”
“What do you mean, get set up?” Cat asked.
“I know you said everybody’s dead, but see if somebody didn’t get overlooked, if you can get a crew together again.”
Cat stared at him. “You want us out diving pockets and charming locks?”
“Maybe. Eventually. Certain pockets and certain locks. But I need rum divers and dubbers, coves that can amuse the law. More important, I want quality, people we can trust.” He jerked his chin toward his pile of belongings. “Take my purse and give whacks out of that. I expect we’ll be in the city inside of a week. Leave word under the clock at the market, and I’ll do the same.”
Cat sorted through his things and held up his purse. “You sure you want me to take all of this?”
Han nodded. “The clans’ll be good for more.”
“You want me to say who’s streetlord?”
Han thought a moment. “Tell them my street name’s the Demon King. Say I’ve got uptown connections but nasty enemies. Tell them not to come in if they’re quivery.”
About the Author:
Cinda Williams Chima has authored two best-selling fantasy series: The Heir Chronicles (The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, The Dragon Heir) with two books forthcoming; and the Seven Realms series (The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, and the newly-released The Gray Wolf Throne) with more forthcoming. You can find information about her tour for The Gray Wolf Throne and other upcoming events here http://cindachima.com/Events/events.htm.
More information and excerpts from each book are available on her website, www.cindachima.com. Help for writers can be found under Resources/Tips for Writers, including a document called, “Getting Started in Writing for Teens.”