If you’ve ever read a young adult fantasy book, or indeed any fantasy book, you know that the protagonist’s parents were likely killed before the story began, either by the villain or in some manner that motivates the protagonist to act and become the hero they need to be. Or, in the rare case of the parents actually living and breathing at the start of the story, you can rest assured that they’ll be killed off before the story ends; again, to motivate our hero into seeking vengeance.
These dead-parent tropes are older than I am. They don’t just serve to motivate the main character, but many fantasy stories wouldn’t exist if the young hero’s parents were still around to stop them from going on exciting adventures. In a fantasy world, a parent is often a barrier to the greater story, and just as the wise mentor politely dies to allow the apprentice to grow, so must a parent allow their children to fly. Of course, that doesn’t have to mean they must be killed off. In fact, I’d love to see more stories where mentors and parents are still living and breathing and supporting our protagonist.
Honestly, I never really gave it much thought until I noticed just how prevalent these tropes are. I feel especially bad because my parental and mentor characters aren’t treated much better in Sand Dancer! Actually, seeing how common these tropes are has made me decide to revise some of the story going forward to avoid this. Parents and mentors are still going to die, but, uh, maybe I’ll let some of them live.
So on Mother’s Day in the USA, I wanted to take a look at the parents of Sand Dancer and the relationship with their children.
My main character Mina sadly suffers from dead-parent problems. She grows up believing her mother died at birth, and then shortly after the story begins she witnesses the death of her father. The story of Sand Dancer isn’t just about her dream to become a warrior and getting revenge against her father’s killer. It’s also about family. Mina is adopted into a new family and creates a blood bond with them, a permanent and magical bond that goes beyond family ties. As the story progresses, she comes to view her adopted family as a real family and her relationship with them changes. She takes into account their safety as she navigates her desire for revenge. But to say any more would be spoilers!
To Mina, Talin is the father she never had, Iman is her first real female role model, and even the grumpy Jonan becomes a mentor and uncle for her. And they in turn hold a lot of affection for Mina and risk their own future to protect her.
Mina’s two friends, Alistar and Raj, both have living parents though their relationship is strained. Alistar’s father is a politician, and his mother is a merchant. They both travel a lot as part of their work and are rarely together for any great length of time. They’re a big family, and with Alistar as the youngest, they simply don’t have time for their youngest son, and poor Alistar often feels neglected and forgotten. Raj’s father died in the war seventeen years ago, and so he barely remembers him, but he does have a close relationship with his mother who is regarded as a shrewd woman not to be crossed. Both Alistar and Raj have insecurities as they step out of their parents shadow to become their own men.
I go against the grain of many YA fantasy stories; the King of Sandair isn’t actually evil. Nor is he a tyrant to his children. He is misguided sometimes, and is forced to make terrible choices as the ruler of a whole kingdom, but he loves his wife and his children and gives them as much attention as a king can spare.
In fact, most parents in Sand Dancer would be considered good parents that make hard choices to protect their children and their future.
Some of these parents aren’t going to survive the world I’ve created. Some of their children won’t either. I am, after all, a heartless author! But I promise I will look for ways to keep more of them alive. Fantasy fiction needs more good parents to support the heroes of the world and help save the day.