To my mind, and in the approach I take when writing, love and infatuation are related but different things.
Love has so many variations; it is infinite; nothing bounds it. Infatuation is often defined within the bounds of sexual attraction (infatuated with someone you are sexually attracted to) but there are multiple ways to be infatuated that have nothing to do with sexual attraction. One can be infatuated with people intellectually; one can be infatuated with a new friendship; one can also be infatuated with an idea or a song or a new activity, and so on.
All my novels deal in part with loving relationships. Some are romantic relationships while others are friendships and/or family relationships. How people build and sustain bonds of trust and love remains a central element of everything I write.
Reading across my body of work, one might notice that all my novels include romantic love stories. These romances are woven into a larger plot as part of characters’ stories, part of their life experience. These love stories whether primary or secondary may also reflect or comment on other elements in the overall story or may be important to the larger plot in related ways.
So far many of these “love stories” have been sexual in nature (and usually but not always heterosexual–I’m working on expanding my range in this regard), but not all of them are.
I want to talk about love versus infatuation in the Spiritwalker Trilogy because the trilogy involves two love stories: one a romance and other not.
(behind the cut will be spoilers if you have not read all three Spiritwalker books)
The obvious romantic love story in Spiritwalker is that between Cat and Andevai.
I worked hard on the character of Andevai. He was difficult to write because he is a difficult man, meant to be layered and contradictory. He is purposefully introduced in a manner that signals to most readers that he is the inevitable love interest. I’ve talked more about him elsewhere (“Five Ways of Seeing Andevai” has interesting commentary in this version posted before Cold Steel’s publication and in an earlier posting before Cold Fire had come out which can be found here; and a post from last year titled Andevai’s Character Development).
I wanted to mention here, again, that he is not meant as an exemplar: He isn’t meant to represent an ideal man or a perfect love interest. I wrote him as a character who has strengths and weaknesses, who struggles to find himself, who has his own journey (just as Cat has hers), much of which involves reconciling his (humble) village birth and upbringing with the immense prestige and authority his cold magic allows him. He is a man Cat falls in love with even though she knows it is probably a bad idea, even recognizing his flaws.
Here is how I see it, and I hasten to add that readers don’t have to agree with me. A reader will develop their own insight into the characters, one that might be similar to or different from mine. That is the magic of reading.
Cat has grown up in the shadow of her beautiful and vivacious cousin, Bee. As many people have noted, Cat is, in a way, the expected sidekick character, not the heroine. Rather than resenting Bee she loves her in part because it is in Cat’s nature to be loyal and loving and in part because Bee reciprocates that love. They squabble and tease but the love between them is solid. They accept the other’s faults and weaknesses, find them amusing or irritating, but at root their acceptance and trust in each other is unconditional. Theirs is the central story of love in the trilogy: Their love for each other never wavers, and they support each other no matter what.
Cat’s relationship to Andevai is a love story, of course, but I would argue that at the end of Spiritwalker Cat is only beginning to learn to love him. For most of the “love story” of the book, through the second half of volume two and almost all of volume three, she is infatuated with him and, to an extent, infatuated with his love for and courtship of her. This infatuation manifests in many of the typical symptoms of the heady first months of new love. She thinks about him constantly. His presence makes her giddy and joyful. She doesn’t notice or she patiently puts up with (and in some cases finds charming or amusing) behavior that others do not see at all in the same light.
She is also very much sexually infatuated with him in a way fairly typical of new relationships. I did not want to downplay this sexual intensity because for me (as the writer) I felt it an important part of the well-trodden course of early love but also a natural component of Cat’s personality and approach to life.
Cat has a strongly physical interaction with life and the world (as does Andevai, I should note); she is not a person who lives in her head, who analyzes at length, who stands at a remove from what she is experiencing, who abstracts what she is going through. She immerses in life. Specific to her character, her infatuation and growing love for Andevai play out as much physically–of the body–as emotionally. Her physicality IS her emotion.
My feeling is that it is dangerous to assume that a woman’s strong sexual feelings lessen her or mean she is effacing herself into a relationship. They might simply be an expressive sexuality that she openly embraces. I see nothing wrong with that, and while I understand that there can be concern about portrayals of young women obliterating themselves in pursuit of a young man’s admiration, I myself do not believe Cat obliterates herself in Andevai, nor is he her ultimate goal. A relationship with him is *one* of the things she achieves in the trilogy, not the only or the main thing. I do not mean to trivialize their relationship: During the story it has, and post-story will continue to have (if we may for a moment consider their lives as a full trajectory), immense influence on the course of their lives and development and the choices they made and will make.
Andevai is infatuated with her as well, but I perceive him as less infatuated and more in love. He does not trust easily; to him, love equals trust equals love because infatuation is not trustworthy. He has more reason to distrust people because his complicated and at times abusive circumstances at the mage house combined with his exceptional magical potency have boxed him into numerous situations where his trust was betrayed. His initial infatuation with Cat (“love at first sight”) is deepened throughout book one as he witnesses her loyalty to her cousin and her refusal to give up.
However, having said all that, structural clues within the trilogy point directly to the central relationship in Cat’s life.
** The first person Cat “meets” in the story is Bee (because she is already with her).
** The resolution of each individual volume involves Bee’s well-being.
** If the romance were the central spine of the story then the sexual tension would not be fully resolved until the end of book three. Rather, the sexual tension between Cat and Andevai is resolved in book two while book three deals with the young couple wrestling with problems inherent in their situation (caught between the mage House, General Camjiata, and the nascent revolution) and with the necessity of learning how to be together when they both are such powerful personalities with differing goals.
While Cat and Andevai meet and learn to know each, Cat and Bee already know each other. While Cat and Andevai have to come to terms with each other’s fiery personalities and complicated circumstances, Cat and Bee never waver in their trust and loyalty and love. At the end of book three Cat and Bee are (again) living together in the same household (even if it is founded within the re-built mage House with Andevai as mansa); they are in the process of developing a shared spy/investigative business in consortium with Chartji; and they each have their own personal objectives, Bee’s being politics and Cat’s to introduce a batey league to Europa. It is clear they will continue to live together within this extended household, raising children together, remaining confidants, and being always the support the other one can lean on. This, the heart of the trilogy, is stated at the beginning of book one, in Chapter 3: Cat and Bee, together forever.