This character has given me the most trouble, which might be why I’ve saved her for last. Not that she’s the last character I’ll ever profile, but she’s the last of those with a pov from Book one. OMG I need a title so bad!
All the trouble I’ve had really isn’t poor Janna’s fault. She’s by far the sweetest of my characters and very easy to get along with. It’s figuring out exactly what to do with her that’s the problem.
From the beginnings of this story’s conception, it was always very important to me to have the commonfolk represented in some way. This turned out to be easier said than done. It’s relatively easy to write characters that have a measure of control over their own destinies. People like Kendryk and Teodora control not only their own lives, but the lives of thousands besides. Even Braeden and Arian are to a great extent in charge of their own destinies. This was not true of the vast majority of people during the Thirty Yeas War, or throughout history, for that matter. And while the war did wreak havoc among the aristocracy and soldiers were sacrificed by the thousands without a second thought, it was the average person who paid the heaviest price. Something like a half to three-quarters of the population of Central Europe died of starvation, exposure, plague and war-related violence in that thirty-year period.
Janna is the average person. A Kaleva shopkeeper’s daughter, she had a happy and uneventful childhood. At seventeen, she marries Dimir Kronek, a prosperous merchant recently widowed looking for a mother for his two young children. Though nearly twenty years older, Dimir is considered a good prospect and Janna can’t come up with any good reasons not to marry him. She quickly bonds with the two children, four-year-old Anton and baby Anyezka, and gets along well with Dimir. She never does fall in love with him, but he treats her well and she learns to feel safe and comfortable with him.
When Teodora comes to power, Dimir joins a political faction that supports her cousin as successor to the recently deceased Emperor. The faction succeeds in taking over Kaleva’s local government and immediately declares its independence from the Empire. Teodora responds quickly and brutally, and that’s where our story begins.
Like most people in her position, Janna is completely unprepared to deal with war and its consequences. She has no personal or political power and is ultimately, completely defenseless. She’s fundamentally decent, but not particularly clever or resourceful or feisty or any of those things that make characters fun to write. She’s just a victim. Which I hate. She’s feels realistic simply by virtue of being completely uncool and is probably the most like me of all my characters She does develop as a person, but a lot of that is simply reaction to trauma and a deep-seated survival instinct.
Of all the characters in this story, I’ve changed Janna’s arc the most- several times, in fact. I very nearly scrapped the character altogether out of sheer frustration. What saved her was reading Sarah Micklem’s gorgeous literary fantasy Firethorn, which chronicles the life of a lowly camp follower. Even though Firethorn is far cooler and more resourceful than Janna, she doesn’t have much agency and it keeps her in constant peril. I loved the book and it made me realize that it was indeed possible to write a good, interesting story about a common wench who at no point magically transforms into a ninja and/or fantasy bimbo.