Cate Pearce has a new queer fantasy book out (ace, lesbian, pansexual/bisexual), Black Crown book 1: Traitors of the Black Crown. And there’s a giveaway!
Three women will betray the black crown. A Knight. A Duchess. A Queen.
Raena Schinen narrowly escaped when the Queen’s guard murdered her entire family. If Raena’s survival is exposed, she’ll be next. For fifteen years Raena has hidden as a male Knight, “Sir Rowan”, consumed by her vengeful desire to assassinate the Queen.
The moment Raena is close enough to exact her revenge, she is unexpectedly exiled to a foreign land. There she serves the common-born Duchess Aven Colby, whose suspicious kinship with the Queen further threatens Raena’s delicate secrets.
Just as they become united in a common goal to curb a looming invasion, unexpected heat and romance blossoms between “Sir Rowan” and Aven. The peril demands they set out on a journey to form clandestine political alliances, risking the Queen’s wrath, and drawing Raena and Aven closer together.
But no one in the kingdom could have imagined the sinister foe rising from below the surface. In order to save themselves and those they love, Raena, Aven, and the Queen must recognize who are the oppressors and who will unite against the Black Crown.
Cate is giving away a Barnes & Noble gift card with this tour:
“Knights of Hawk’s Keep. Come with me, you’re next.”
Raena and Finn stood from the wooden bench and left behind their weapons and armor. Clad in fighting pads over their tunics, they followed the man into a sitting room. The humble space held nothing but five chairs and was lit by candle sconces on the stone walls.
“Sit.” The man gestured.
Finn and Raena’s chairs scraped the stone floor as they settled into them.
Raena studied the man as he paused to look through a scroll bearing the Prince’s mark. Like most elder men of Candor, he had chestnut hair to his shoulders and a clean-shaven face. Raena thought his countenance was pleasant, though his skin was marked with deep crimson blemishes as if wine had soaked into it. He wore a decorative silk tunic of emerald and gold, the colors of House Payton; colors of the Queen’s house. It made Raena’s chest clench.
The man spoke with a low timbre. “You two are the only knights from Hawk’s Keep? I thought Lord Sylas was sending three.”
“Aye, we are the only two,” Raena answered. “I am Sir Rowan, son of Brande. This is Sir Finley, son of Wain. Sir Cames was the third, but he fell from a horse yesterday and has broken his arm.” Raena took care to deepen her voice and speak with authority, as she had practiced. There was an art and science to passing as the man she claimed to be, and confidence made all the difference. She disliked the notion that she may appear arrogant upon a first introduction, but better to be represented as an arrogant man than to reveal her secret.
“I see,” the man grumbled, “did he at least come with Lord Sylas, to spectate the events today?”
Raena glanced at Finn, whose eyes narrowed with concern.
“No, sir,” Finn said. “He was told to stay in the tents and rest. He was given several teas of nightflower from the healers.”
“Hmm. Very well, but the Prince will be informed,” the man retorted. “Let’s begin. I’m called Sir Han’gahan, I’m a personal guard and knight to Queen Zarana and Prince Zander. I’ll be explaining the events of the Knight’s Trials to you, and I’ll also be getting your history so we may tell it to the crowd.”
“Our history?” Finn asked, scratching at the russet stubble that coated his cheeks.
“Aye,” Han’gahan nodded, “there will be the greatest crowd you’ve ever seen, probably the greatest crowd ever assembled in all six kingdoms. The Prince wants every knight to have a story to excite the spectators. You should tell me all your achievements so I may share the details the Prince prefers. He is rather particular, as this is the first Knight’s Trial he’s ever conducted.”
Raena resisted the urge to look again at her friend Finn at the mention of sharing “everything”. She felt a ball of worry growing inside her gut, clenching her insides.
“Alright, both of you are a bit young,” Han’gahan said. “How long have you been knights for Sylas?”
“Two years,” Finn replied. “We are the same age, twenty-three.”
Han’gahan shrugged. “As I thought, you are barely men. Well, it might be a short tale of your conquests, as we haven’t seen war in Candor since you were likely born. But we’ll do our best. Let’s start with you, Finley, since you are apt to sharing. Was your father a hero of the Equinox battles?”
Finn rubbed his hairy face again, an anxious tic. “Not particularly, no. He was a guard for Hawk’s Keep, so he stayed and defended it from any chance of invasion by Ediva. He would have fought for Candor, if he’d been needed in the legions.”
“Hmm,” Han’gahan grunted. “Well, Ediva didn’t make it that far into Candor’s borders since the soldiers held them off at the Calam mountains, didn’t they? That’s all right though, lad. Anything else your father did, of note?”
Finn shook his head.
“Very well,” Han’gahan said. “How about your own notable achievements, what have you done as a knight? Have you killed any bandits or…whatever you do, in Hawk’s Keep?”
“We have seen bandits and the forest-raiders; the Ruvians,” Finn bit his lip. “I haven’t killed any, no. They are usually scared away, back into the pines. We do train for war, spar, and fight one another. We learn about the kingdoms and the famous battles of the Equinox.”
“As all knights do,” Han’gahan muttered. “Maybe you hunt, then? Have you killed anything at all?”
Finn shrugged. “I’ve killed boars.”
Raena grew restless with Finn’s simple humility. “We have a demonstration, sir. Every year Lord Sylas hosts a festival and we display our skill for combat. It’s swordsmanship, poleaxe defense, and archery. Finn, er, Sir Finley, has taken second prize. Many knights compete from a variety of Candor’s noble families.”
“There you go, lad,” Han’gahan clapped. “We can use that. Let’s talk about you then, Rowan. You’re a Boen-looking thing, aren’t you? Pardon me for saying it, but I haven’t seen golden hair and hairless pink flesh like yours in twenty years or more. You must have some Boen ancestors, long ago?”
Raena straightened up and raised her chin. She had never been in a position to tell her false origin story alone. Lord Sylas had always introduced her as Rowan to visitors, and answered if they had questions about her heritage. Telling it now to one of the Queen’s knights, no less. “Perhaps. I’m a bastard, so there’s no telling.”
Han’gahan smiled. “Aye, nothing wrong with being a bastard. Your mother must’ve been Boenish. I’ve met your father, Brande, and he is as dark as any Calamytan. What a dog then, to go after another woman’s bed. I know he fought in the Equinox, so we will mention that when we speak of you. How about you? I don’t suppose you’ve killed bandits, or anything bigger than boars?”
Raena shook her head, “I haven’t. I trained as a squire under Lord Sylas and was knighted by him, the same as Finn.” Those were easy words to say, as all of them were true, at least.
Han’gahan waved his hand. “No matter. Perhaps you boys can prove yourselves in the Knight’s Trial today and have something to start telling tales about.”
“Rowan is being humble, sir,” Finn said. “He shared that I was second in the knight’s demonstrations, but he neglected to mention that he was first.”
Representation in Traitors of the Black Crown
Thanks for joining us, today! We are talking with Cate Pearce, author of the Black Crown series. We’ll be asking questions specifically about book one in the series, Traitors of the Black Crown, especially about representation of LGBTQ+ characters and how Pearce chose to explore and feature identities in her books.
First off, Cate, are you comfortable sharing with us how your own experiences factored into your writing?
Of course! I know not all authors need or want to share their identities, but I do appreciate you asking. I’m a cisfemale homosexual. I was “outed” when I was young (fifteen), and faced a lot of homophobia, sexism, and blatant discrimination. I was raised in a small rural town of a few hundred people, and was part of a Christian “fundamentalist” community, so you can imagine how ostracized I was. But bringing it back to writing, when I was in my teens and early twenties, I was always searching for sapphic content in books. Even queer coding drew me in, because I was desperate to find representation that validated my identity.
What did you find?
Not much, unfortunately! Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was a book my mom owned. I found a lot of strong messaging in it about the more-than-friends relationship between Ruth and Idgie, which was breezed over in the film adaptation. I also read comics and found ElfQuest, which had some queer coding, and even an on-the-page romance between Jink the elf and a female character. But books I found in the library were often hyper-sexual and confusing. One particularly harmful anthology I will never forget was about “deviant sexualities” and included consensual relationships in same-sex couples in the same collection as a story about pedophilia/incest and one about rape. It drove me away from a lot of printed works and into fanfiction, where I could read about same-sex couples readily online.
Yikes. That anthology sounds problematic.
Absolutely. It reinforced a lot of the harmful things I had been taught from religious leaders, which was equating homosexuality and queer identity to harmful sexual behavior.
How do you think that shaped your writing?
It made me very cautious to think about how queer stories need to be realistic, sensitive, and ultimately positive. Raena and Aven (the protagonists of the Black Crown series) are both flawed as people, but they are confident in their sexuality. I was very deliberate in making their sexuality accepted by their loved ones and family members. There are characters in the book who are against them, but it is always for a political purpose and not related to queerness.
What are the queer identities of the characters in the Black Crown series?
Raena is a lesbian. She has never really thought about being otherwise, and she doesn’t struggle with this. We don’t know if she was interested in women before Aven, but when she does meet Aven she feels instantly attracted and drawn to her.
Aven is bisexual. She was married to Eathon Colby, a Duke, who passed away a year before Traitors begins. She mourns him and remembers him fondly, especially since he was patient with her acceptance of their arranged marriage. I won’t give away spoilers about her and Raena, but I will say that Aven doesn’t question her own sexuality, either.
Finn (Sir Finley) is Raena’s best friend, and he is asexual. His asexuality is not a strong theme in Traitors, but it will be explored a lot more in book two, Defenders, when he enters a really sweet relationship.
How did you decide these identities for your characters?
Well, with all of them it felt very natural, as though they were choosing for themselves when I wrote the story. Raena had been around men when she was posing as a squire, then as a Knight, and it seemed she saw herself as the same when it came to how she felt about women. With Aven, I knew she would fall in-love with Raena, but I didn’t know she also loved Eathon until she began to reflect on him. Then Finn, he was actually supposed to be gay. There was a prologue (which I cut, but may publish down the road) where Finn is a teenager and his brother is imprisoned for having sex with another young man. This scared him into hiding his sexuality, and is a huge part of why he is friends with Raena; they recognize “otherness” in each other. But every time I tried to write his character as gay, it wasn’t quite right. I felt like I was forcing Finn to be someone he wasn’t. As soon as I realized he was asexual, it made so much more sense.
How did you approach that as asexuality isn’t your own firsthand experience?
Very carefully and with a lot of help! I had sensitivity readers who helped me balance the subtlety of his character and how he expresses it. He doesn’t talk much about being asexual, or about sexuality in general. But the main reason is because I didn’t want to force a situation solely for Finn to share his identity; it felt as though I would be “cheapening” him and who he is. This being said, I am excited for how much more of Finn we see in Defenders, and the romance he’s involved in, which is probably my second favorite–after Raena and Aven, of course.
Are there any other characters who are LGBTQ+ that we see later in the series?
I’m certain there will be more who haven’t even “revealed” themselves to me, but I will learn their identities as I write about them. It’s funny how that works. I get to know characters as I’m creating them, and sometimes they are much different than I wanted or expected.
That being said, there is one I know about, which is Bell (Lady Islabell). She is definitely pansexual, something I didn’t realize until she left home and was in new situations and environments. I love how she’s developed and how instrumental she is in Defenders.
It sounds like so much to look forward to with this series. Is there anything else you’re working on?
I’m currently over halfway done writing book two, Defenders of the Black Crown. I have also written a short story called Adia’s Garden that will be featured in the Elixir anthology. The story is an allegory about two women (Adia and Tony) who meet on a near-future colony of empaths and try to create a beautiful garden together, but are both burdened by their pasts. I am also writing a standalone novel called Hardtack and Hellfire, about a trio of demon slayers defending emigrants on the Oregon Trail in 1849.
Amazing! When can we expect to see these all in print?
Defenders of the Black Crown will be available in late 2022. Elixir hits shelves in January 2022. And Hardtack and Hellfire is yet to be determined, but keep your eyes on my social media for announcements.
Cate Pearce was homeschooled on a Christmas tree farm in rural Western Washington. At age eight she was fed-up with a plotline on Star Trek TNG so she wrote her own episodes on a Commodore 64. She has been a writer ever since, but only recently decided to share that information with you and the world.
Cate has two children which she delivered at-home with the assistance of saintly midwives. Cate is unapologetic in her fervor for feminism, queerness, and Christian faith. Aside from writing, her “day job” is to prepare organizations for response and recovery from catastrophic disasters. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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