During my six or so years of blogging, I’ve met some stellar people online. One of those people is Diana Peach, a fellow blogger and prolific novel writer in the fantasy genre.
Just last week, Diana released Catling’s Bane: Book I of her four-book series known collectively as The Rose Shield. And — lucky me — I got to be a beta reader for the entire thing, the final installment of which I’m currently reading.
If you’re a true lover of fantasy, do yourself a favor, read my Amazon review, get yourself a copy of this book — and prepare to lose some sleep over it. In short, I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books in this genre and this series makes my top five of all time. (She will, no doubt, decry my high praise as “stuff and nonsense,” but it’s true nonetheless.)
Now, my site isn’t a book review site. And Diana has no idea I’m writing this (surprise, Diana!). But I’m telling you, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this Rose Shield series. And so, I’ve decided to go with the flow and incorporate some of those thoughts into this week’s blog post, in a way that I trust will be consistent with who I am and what this blog is about.
If you’ve read even a few pages of my book, The Best Advice So Far, or more than two blog posts here, the theme that runs through everything I write should be apparent: “You always have a choice.”
Building upon this foundation, I’ve also proposed such notions as these:
No one can make you happy.
No one can make you mad (or jealous or insecure or a host of other negatives).
And while compliance can be forced, we cannot make others respect us.
Nor can we make another person love us.
But … what if we could?
What if it were possible to sooth another’s anger, suppress their violence or calm their anxiety, all by force of our will?
What if we did hold the power to irresistibly compel the others around us to respect us? Desire us? Permit us? Love us?
What if we could inflict unspeakable pain or induce euphoric pleasure with a thought, heal with a touch — or, with the same touch, end a life?
Really think about that what-if for a moment. What would you do differently if imbued with such power? Who would you influence — and how? In your secret heart, what would be your biggest temptation?
But here’s the thing. In this alternate reality, you aren’t the only one to wield this power. And you are just as susceptible to the sway of others as they are to you. In exchange for the enhanced control you’d gain over others, you’d run the risk of having equal or greater control exercised upon you.
Would you take the deal, quid pro quo?
This is precisely the world into which Diana drops us in Catling’s Bane — a world where “influence” goes beyond personal charm and charisma to a pervasive force, taught and mastered, used in equal measure to subdue commoners and sway powerful leaders. Sure, there are rules in place. But given that the force is both invisible and, by nature, largely undetectable … how would anyone really know who was following those rules or to what degree?
I suppose each of us has, at one time or another in life, wished we had more control over people and circumstances, whether for good or ill. Reading Diana’s books has not only sparked my imagination, but caused me to ponder some deeper questions about motive. What would I change if I could? What would you?
At the center of this unique plot lies Catling who, through one eye, can actually see the influence each person is exerting upon others, distinguishing down to a strand what manipulations are underway. What’s more — she holds the power to block it. But even these valuable abilities have their limits: it’s protect others from influence, or herself, but not both.
Interestingly (and I’ll try not to go too far into any spoilers here), it also becomes apparent that, quite aside from unnatural influence, all people are weaving a complex fabric of influence upon one another on a purely human level: joy and gloom, trust and skepticism, inspiration and derision.
And that much holds true in reality.
Each of us is exerting our influence on the world each day and with every interaction we have, be it weak or strong, uplifting or crushing.
Some swing influence about boisterously, while others use subtlety.
We use a smile to encourage — or to manipulate.
We withhold tears to simulate strength — or shed false ones for attention.
Real-life human motives are certainly as complex and mystifying as the plot of any fantasy novel.
In fact, the biggest fantasy of all is the belief that, somehow, we have no influence on others.
We do. You do.
In your home. With your kids. At your job. While you shop. We are all contagious, spreading what’s inside of us to others, one way or another, like it or not.
Remember: “You always have a choice.” And your choices matter.
Do yourself a favor and check out Catling’s Bane. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. And, in between the pages, consider the very real power of your own influence in the world, then ask yourself if it’s the story you want to be telling.