More than six years ago, in January of 2011, I sent my agent the pitch for the Memoirs of Lady Trent. It consisted of thirty thousand words from the first book and a document approximately three thousand words long describing the setting and the plots of the various novels. Because I am crap at outlining, while those latter synopses bear some resemblance to the final story, it’s very obvious in hindsight that I was just waving my hands in an attempt to make it look like I knew where was going . . . and nowhere is that clearer than in the figure of “Lord Trent,” i.e. Isabella’s husband.
Here there be spoilers. (Up through In the Labyrinth of Drakes, though I’d say the only really bad spoiler is for A Natural History of Dragons. If you haven’t yet read Within the Sanctuary of Wings, you’re in the clear.)
Jacob’s death was always going to happen. I knew when I pitched the series that he would die at the end of the first book. I had a reader ask me once why I had “fridged” him — and while that term is usually applied to female characters, I’ll admit it has some applicability here. My answer to that reader was threefold: first, in the Victorian British society I used as a model for Scirland, wealthy women often had more freedom as widows than they did as either wives or spinsters. I wanted to explore that, which meant Isabella had to be married and then lose her husband. Second, there’s the pragmatic consideration that without reliable birth control, a married woman is liable to be pregnant on a fairly regular basis, which would greatly restrict Isabella’s ability to be a field researcher. I could have given her fertility problems (and you’ll note she does have a miscarriage in the first book), but I didn’t want that to be a recurrent thing; having her be widowed gave me a way to deal with that issue in a plausible fashion.
But those were really just ancillary effects. The biggest reason I did it was that we have countless stories about meeting someone and falling in love and living happily ever after with your One True Love. We have vastly fewer stories, especially in fantasy, about meeting someone and getting married and growing attached to them but then losing them and grieving and recovering and eventually finding someone else. Stories where it isn’t One True Love for your whole life and then if they die that’s it, game over.
So from the start, there was always going to be a Lord Trent: Isabella’s second husband, met and wed years after Jacob’s death. I knew he would be an archaeologist, because that would give me a way to do more with the whole “ancient ruins” business. I knew he would show up in the third book and they would be married by the fifth, because Isabella needed to have at least one book on her own, and then I wanted their relationship to build over time.
But I didn’t know who he was.
In the synopsis he was William Sinclair, a Scirling aristocrat. Even in January of 2011, I knew that was a lie. Or rather, a placeholder: William Sinclair is a bland nonentity in the synopsis because he was just a character-shaped cardboard cutout occupying the space reserved for the real Lord Trent. From an early point, I knew that I wanted the actual Lord Trent to be something other than an ~English nobleman straight from Romance Casting Central; it was just a toss-up whether he would be ~European and physically disabled in some fashion, or from some other part of the world. (He could have been both foreign and disabled, of course, but at the time they felt like separate character concepts in my mind.)
And so we wound up with Suhail. I went with an Akhian character largely because the fourth book, where their relationship would solidify into marriage, was going to take place in Akhia; it seemed more fruitful to have a Lord Trent with ties to that location than one wandering in from outside. Only later did I really think about the political implications of having a ~Muslim Arab figure so largely in the story (marrying a ~Jewish woman, no less). If I had it to do all over again, I would make the exact same choice, just with a different weighting of my reasons. As it stands, I regret nothing.
Despite that change, the space Suhail occupies isn’t shaped much differently from that of the cardboard cutout. He shows up in the third book and is married by the fifth. He’s an archaeologist with an interest in the ancient Draconean civilization. Like William Sinclair, he’s the son of an influential family that doesn’t really approve of his work, which is why Isabella doesn’t discover his connections until the fourth book. The difference is, he’s three-dimensional. He’s a character, rather than a post-it note labeled Romantic Partner #2 Goes Here.
. . . and he isn’t Lord Trent. Not directly, anyway.
This is the one thing that startled me when I looked back at that document from 2011. For reasons surpassing my understanding, when I first pitched the series, William Sinclair was the son of the Earl of Trent, so that when he eventually ascended to his father’s title, his wife — Isabella — became Lady Trent. I had clean forgotten that, because for as long as I can remember, I was fixed on the notion that Isabella would not marry into her title, but would achieve it on her own instead. The shift probably happened when I decided on an Akhian husband, since then it would take quite a lot of narrative gymnastics to justify him having or inheriting a Scirling peerage. But the new idea — Isabella being created Lady Trent in her own right, so that her husband would become Lord Trent by dint of his marriage to her — colonized my mind so thoroughly that I forgot it had ever been otherwise.
I’m glad the series I wound up writing bears only a passing resemblance to what I pitched. I like this Lord Trent much better . . . and this Lady Trent, too.