Anna Kashina grew up in Russia and moved to the United States in 1994 after receiving her Ph.D. in cell biology from the Russian Academy of Sciences. She works as a biomedical researcher and combines career in science with her passion for writing.
Anna is the 2015 double Prism award winner for “The Guild of Assassins” book 2 in the “Majat Code” series, which concludes this June with “Assassin Queen”. Her interests in ballroom dancing, world mythologies and folklore feed her high-level interest in martial arts of the Majat warriors. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
So Anna, tell us about using love interests in a fantasy adventure.
Hi, Clover, and thank you for hosting my post. It is so great to be back on “Get Lost in a Story”, and to talk about my ever-favorite subject: love.
My “Majat Code” series, which concluded on June 7 with book 3, “Assassin Queen”, was originally conceived as an adventure fantasy, but over the course of three books some of the plot lines took it more into the direction of fantasy romance. This was not initially intended, but as I wrote, I realized how great the romantic subplots can be in character development, while also driving a story along.
Having romantic feelings is very natural, and most people can relate to them. Because of it, just a sprinkle of romance in a fantasy story can do a great job in putting us on equal footing with the characters right off the bat. It is true that many of us experience love differently, but most of us know what it is, and the power of this feeling can be very effective.
From the point of character development, love interests can do several jobs at the same time. They are great in forcing someone into emotional extremes, so that we can see this person’s true colors. They also provide very strong motivation, which is essential to move the story along. Finally, the ways each character deals with the pressure, and the choices to be made when their loved ones are involved, are often unpredictable—even to the author. This unpredictability creates surprise twists in the story that ultimately can provide an extra dimension for the plot.
And yes, the dreaded love triangles. They have been so overused in literature that they have become almost a taboo. Especially in a good fantasy story, where people who deal with the epic problems that can change the course of history turn into raving maniacs and emotional wrecks when they see a woman of their dreams smile to someone else.
I was well aware of all this when I approached the inevitable fact that “The Majat Code” books, featuring young and attractive characters, will have some romance in them. Originally, in “Blades of the Old Empire”, I planned for Kyth to fall in love with Kara. It was meant as a straightforward plot point, where their biggest challenge would be to deal with the fact that he is a prince and she is an oath-bound warrior. And, it did work this way. Sort of. On Kyth’s side.
To my surprise, despite all Kyth’s advances, despite the fact that he was good-looking, talented, and pure-hearted, she simply did not reciprocate his feelings the way I expected. In fact, over the course of “Blades of the Old Empire” I slowly realized that I could not see their future together. This turn of events took me completely by surprise. I never thought until that point that characters can actually take charge of these things, against the author’s best intentions.
And this brings me to Mai, who originally appeared in “Blades of the Old Empire” as a secondary--even if very prominent—character. He was very important to the story, and I did take a lot of effort to develop his character, but he was never meant to factor into any romantic subplots. Yet, from the moment he showed up, my other main character, Ellah, developed a serious crush on him. Watching this unravel, realizing through Ellah’s eyes how attractive Mai was, I slowly began to fantasize about Mai and Kara. They seemed like such a good match. She always felt so comfortable in his presence. He understood her so well. A shame they could never be together because of their warrior code. Right?
When I started on “The Guild of Assassins”, I never intended to toss up the originally planned love interests. I was going to fix Kyth and Kara’s relationship. Mai was central to the plot by now, and I kept thinking about him and Kara, but I was not going to let it to go anywhere. But in the first quarter of the book, Mai and Kara got closer than I planned – and boy, did it seem so right. In fact, the scene between them worked so well that I wrote more, just for myself. Not to put into the book. Only to learn what could have been.
Piece by piece, these scenes developing Mai’s and Kara’s relationship ended up becoming my reason for coming back to the story every day. I could not wait to write more. The events just kept unraveling, until I realized that I was fighting the inevitable. I think this was probably the point in the story where Kara realized it too. There was no turning back.
In the end this love story not only drove the series, but also tied in to all the preceding events. Everything through the series just clicked into place. For example, when Kyth and Mai first meet, in a neutral scene in the king’s palace, I could not help feeling a tension between them. I did not realize back then where it was coming from, but I even wrote some scenes that were later deleted, where they almost ended up in a fight. It took me three books to see that this animosity was driven by their common feelings for Kara, and it led to a chemistry between Kyth and Mai that drove some of my favorite parts of the story and eventually resolved so well in “Assassin Queen”. Thus, the dreaded love triangle found its way into my story against my best intentions – and fit seamlessly into it.
The just-released “Assassin Queen” is not as romance-heavy as “The Guild of Assassins”, and I hope it strikes the right balance that would make it appealing for the fans of both the fantasy and the romance genres. Each character in this book comes to a satisfactory resolution – at least for me. I can’t wait to learn my readers’ reactions and see what they think about the way everything ended up!
You can find out more about Anna and her books at