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  • Nikky Lee

Where Lyss came from: the story behind THE RARKYN'S FAMILIAR

Lyss walking through the Otherworld holding a sword - from the cover of The Rarkyn's Familiar

Lyss, Lyss, Lyss, where to begin? You’d think I’d know my protagonist the best out of all my characters, but Lyss was the hardest character to pin down. She is both a hero and antihero and possesses almost as many flaws as virtues, and because of this, she was difficult to wrap my head around. From the first draft to the final printed version, Lyss’s character underwent the most change—including several name changes until I finally found one that felt right.

I always knew that I wanted a female lead for The Rarkyn’s Familiar. After growing up in the 90s on stories that mostly focused on male protagonists and female hangers-on or damsels in distress, I decided it was time to turn the tables. Inspired by the likes of Daine from Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals series, Glynn from Isobelle Carmody’s The Legendsong series and Tory from Traci Harding’s The Ancient Future, I decided my protagonist would be a girl who could really kick ass. I wanted someone resourceful and independent who didn’t need—or want—protecting. Most of all, I wanted a girl who could save herself.

The Rarkyn’s Familiar is not a black and white story, it dabbles in the grey. Its heroes are not shining examples of good. Its antagonists are not evil for the sake of evil, rather they are the product of their past and their experiences of society. So, while Lyss possesses many admirable qualities—independence, resourcefulness, grit, loyalty, responsibility and protecting of those she cares about—she also has major flaws. She’s stubborn, vengeful, and traumatized by the murder of her father. Moreover, many of her best qualities feed into her worst. Loyalty to her father has turned into a thirst to meet out justice on his murderers; independence and grit feed into her bullheadedness; her resourcefulness becomes conniving; her desire to protect feeds into her recklessness. In many ways, she is her own worst enemy.

Funnily enough, she didn’t start out this way. In my initial opening scenes—written some 13 years ago now—she lacked a lot of her internal darkness. That came later when I realised her character needed an internal journey as well as an external one. After reading Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight in 2018 something clicked. Mia the main character of Nevernight witnessed her father’s death, which set the course for the rest of the series as she plots vengeance upon those responsible. In my original version, Lyss too had lost her father, but she carried none of the grief and trauma from that loss, which made her character ring hollow. Lyss witnessed her father’s murder—and was powerless to stop it—how could anyone not be haunted by such an experience? This led me to think about how that haunting would play out in her character: nightmares, intrusive memories, panic attacks and anxiety would all play a part in her internal struggle. Having had my own struggles with anxiety, I realised part of her inner journey could reflect my own; at some point, she would need to acknowledge that this darkness is now part of her and wouldn’t go away.

With a goodly portion of The Rarkyn’s Familiar being a survival adventure/quest through the mountains, Lyss also needed to be competent when it came to travelling, survival and generally looking out for herself. She needed to be old enough to make her own decisions without a guardian feeling the need to step in and take responsibility for her. At the same time, she needed just enough inexperience to make mistakes. For this reason, I made her nineteen. No longer a true teenager but is still finding her feet as an adult.

Like I said, none of this came through on the first draft. Nor on the second, third or fourth. It took rounds and rounds of beta readings and edits to make her into the character is today. She’s complex and headstrong (which makes her a hell of a fun character to write) but that complexity has had me tearing my hair out on more than one occasion, e.g.

Me: “What do you mean you’re not going to do that? Why?”

Lyss: “I don’t know, you’re the writer. All I know is I just won’t.”

Me: *Throws hands up in air.*

As I write this, I’ve just finished drafting the second book of the series, The Rarkyn’s Fall, and her character hasn’t been any easier to handle as she continues to evolve in ways I don’t always expect. Perhaps it is because of this that I struggle to get my head around her. Struggles aside, the one thing I do know is I don’t think I could have built this character over time any other way. I can’t imagine removing her character from the story or swapping her out with someone completely different, and when I look at it like that, I take it as a win.


The Rarkyn's Familiar releases on 19 April 2022! Order your copy here.

The Rarkyn's Familiar banner - available from 19 April 2022.

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