Love and Infatuation in the Spiritwalker Trilogy

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.

27 thoughts on “Love and Infatuation in the Spiritwalker Trilogy

  1. Dear Kate,

    I just had a thought while reading the last part of this post. Is there some reason that you do not write about kids, is there no room for children in fantasy or is it not something that you want to write about?
    Being a new mom myself, I would love to see a strong, fantasy character, who is pregnant and/or has children. I would love to hear your input on this.

  2. > 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.

    Funnily enough, I picked up Jaran after seeing it on the Lambda Sci-fi/Fantasy booklist. Ended up falling in love with Ilya and Tess together instead, but it turns out you’re not exactly behind on this front!

  3. I suspect the fact that children don’t appear in the Spiritwalker trilogy is more a reflection of the YA genre, where the characters are young and the narrative covers a comparatively short span of time, than Kate’s personal interests. Parent/child relationships are a strong theme in the Crown of Stars series (though I should warn you these relationships are heavily fraught), and one of the heroines of the Spirit Gate trilogy has a baby during the course of the trilogy. There is also a cute adopted-child relationship involving some of the secondary characters in The Labyrinth Gate.

  4. I’m not Kate, so I can’t answer for her. I can answer for myself, though, and will.

    I do have children in some of my books – but not the children of the protagonist/main character. This isn’t because I don’t think children are interesting; it’s not because I don’t think having children is important.

    But children are probably the biggest responsibility most of us will have in life. Feeding them, clothing them, housing them and preserving them. In this society, we have such strong ideas of what being a Good Mother means (I have rants about this) that adding a child immediately puts the protagonist under a magnifying glass of judgement; practically the only way that a woman can deal with a child without being scorned or despised as a Bad Mother (and therefore terrible, terrible person) is if, say, the child is kidnapped – or killed – and the story becomes about the Mother attempting to either save the child or kill the killer.

    If there is a central plot arc that doesn’t involve the child at all–and is not set in a world like our first world, industrialized society, where the parameters of danger are not as immediately deadly–the mother’s secondary concern is the child. And some people will point out that she is neglectful, etc., etc., if she is not mothering, but rather, dealing with disaster.

    Also, and this is me, I really don’t like killing children.

  5. 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.

    I see a parallel in some ways between Cat and Bee and Jane and Melody in Shades of Milk and Honey. The more vivacious, social of the pair is NOT the protagonist or the heroine, but the relationships (although very different) are crucial to the story

  6. Heh. Yes, I have always included LGBT relationships in my work (with the possible exception of The Labyrinth Gate) but I think I can do a better job. My main romances are all heterosexual and I need to think about why I default there. Honored to be on the Lambda SFF booklist!

  7. Sofie, excellent question!

    As Ursula has already said, in both Crown of Stars and in Crossroads the main character gets pregnant and gives birth to a child during the course of the story (and there are other important child-rearing elements as well). In both cases pregnancy and childbirth and young children are an important part of the story.

    In the case of Spiritwalker, Bee’s two younger sisters are briefly encountered in Cold Magic and there is mention of the children at Aunty Djeneba’s boarding house in Expedition. Cat enjoys children (as I hope comes across in the story) but she is not yet at that point in her life where she seeks to have children herself although I believe I give a hint of what is to come within a year or two right at the end of the story.

    Cat’s story is very much a bildungsroman — her formative passage from late adolescent into adulthood — and so it sticks with those elements. If I were to write another novel about these characters set a few years later, there would certainly be children involved.

  8. Yes exactly to all this.

    Although it has been so long since I’ve read The Labyrinth Gate that I completely forgot about the adopted-child relationship!

  9. All excellent points.

    I have dealt with main characters having children and the pressure to make them “perfect parents” is immense.

  10. Oh wait — the main character having children is also a major part of the Jaran series. In fact children in general and the expansion of the story into a second generation is central to the Jaran books.

  11. I can’t honestly remember if I consciously decided to make the sidekick character the main character for that reason–to play with that expectation–or if Cat ‘s was just the voice that took over.

  12. Thank you all for the interesting inputs. I did notice Cats fondness of children, and a part of me had hoped for a pregnant Cat in book three. But I see that, that is not where she is in her life -yet. I really get the point, that adding young children to a character puts an enormous amount of pressure and some limits to the character. I wanted to comment much more in the topic, but I need to get my son tucked in for the night. 😉

  13. Oh, another thought (husband took the baby). There is a saying, ” It takes a village to raise a child”. Maybe our ideas of the perfect family limits the ways we might include children. What if mothers/fathers were the primary caregivers, but the entire community is that child’s family. Maybe it would be interesting to explore other alternative family-combinations.

  14. Were I ever to write about the next 10 – 20 years in Spiritwalker, that sense of raising children within an extended family/large household would definitely be part of the story. It’s glimpsed to some extent at the boardinghouse in Expedition but Cat is, naturally, very involved in her own story and doesn’t really comment on it (in part she takes the extended family household there for granted).

  15. Let me just say that Andevai would be happy to start having children right away but Cat wants a year or two to go adventuring first (and building up her business with Bee).

  16. This is a good point, Sophie. I’m something like halfway through the Jaran books, and I think you might enjoy seeing how the Jaran conceive of family roles. There is a tremendous amount of emphasis on family, but it’s not purely directed toward the nuclear family: Extended family is also very important. Grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins seem almost as relevant as parents, and more broadly, the whole tribe has a responsibility to its children (though we see that, in some cases, it might not live up to that responsibility where the child is without the protection of any family).

    I think this emphasis on the extended family is not just a reflection of the fact that they live in a tribal society, or that the idea of a standalone nuclear family is a very modern invention, but also stems from the fact that the Jaran live in a matriarchal society, and perhaps especially that they observe matrilineal succession / inheritance.

    So far, it’s a meaty series with lots of family, lots of love, and lots of infatuation!

  17. Sofie, you might enjoy Juliet Marillier’s books (the Sevenwaters trilogy is her best). Most of the time her characters have children at the very end of the book, but I can think of at least one where the heroine has a baby midway through.

    I eventually started to find Marillier a bit preachy on the “all women must have babies to be happy” front, and the question that interests me most about children in fantasy (or fiction generally) is why so many readers abhor the idea of a heroine who explicitly doesn’t want children–and doesn’t change her mind. The only book I can think of that takes this route is Cashore’s Graceling, and there was a huge backlash because of it.

  18. Marillier is a lovely writer. Among other things she’s written the only fantasy novel I’ve ever read set in a fantasy Faeroe Islands (where my oldemor came from). [That’s great-grandmother for the rest of you.]

    The question of heroines who don’t want children is a good one: At the end of Hunger Games doesn’t Katniss not want children?

  19. Yes, Foxmask is good too. The original Sevenwaters trilogy were my very favorite books as a teen though, so I’ll always have a soft spot for them.

    **SPOILERS for Hunger Games trilogy**

    Katniss says throughout the trilogy that she doesn’t want kids, but she changes her mind at the end. In the epilogue we see her married to Peeta with a son and a daughter. I think this works to create a more hopeful ending, since Katniss’s primary reason for not wanting kids was that she didn’t want to bring them into the awful world she lived in, and maybe it’s a bit more liveable at the end. But it’s also a very conventional choice and as far as I can tell, the reason there’s no backlash. (At least, I haven’t seen a single person take aim at the trilogy because Katniss spends most of it not wanting kids, but this criticism appears in I’d guess at least a third of the critical reviews of Graceling, where Katsa doesn’t change her mind.)

    As someone who doesn’t want kids, I find our society to be weirdly judgmental about it, so I’m always disappointed when part of a heroine’s coming-of-age story is changing her mind about not wanting kids, as if saying you don’t want them is just an immaturity thing. And yet, this is not an uncommon arc. I do also think the invisibility of mothers as full-fledged people in fantasy is unfortunate–it’s like female characters are required to want kids or at least not explicitly not want them (because that’s unnatural), but can’t have them yet (because then they become boring).


    It’s funny that I remember Katniss saying she doesn’t want kids and don’t remember the kids. I liked that it seems like she never fully recovers from all the awful experiences she had. Not in the sense that I wanted her to suffer but in the sense that it felt realistic. But gosh I really did forget about the kids because I guess they seemed tacked on.

    I agree with you that there is a lot of pressure on people to want children, to admit they want them, to change their minds, to make a “true happy ending” one with family/children/home/etc. I feel like a few years ago romance novels went through a phase (maybe they’re still doing this) where there had to be an epilogue with the first baby or two. (It’s one reason I ended Cold Steel where I did. Even though I know Cat and Andevai do have children eventually, I did not want the story to end with Cat pregnant because that is not the point to which the story is leading her; it is something that occurs later.)

    In the end my feeling is that the only real solution is for writers to continue to expand the range of characters they write so that female characters can be seen in so many different roles that all manner of lives and personalities are represented.

  21. One of the (many) things I liked about the Jaran series was how casually kids were integrated into the story line. Ilya picks up a child, bounces the child on his hip while never breaking the conversation he was in. Another child crawls into the lap of someone for a hug, adults pause conversation long enough to provide direction/guidance to someone — then returns to their conversation.

    That, more than just about anything else, really gave me that sense of “place”. Because the community included the very old and the very young — wasn’t just a lot of 9 males running around the countryside, ya know?

  22. Heh. Yeah, I remember writing all that now. It was really important to me to show a society where children are genuinely valued and in which the entire extended family and clan and beyond that to the tribe considers themselves caretakers and guardians of each and every child.

    Well, almost, but the exceptions are part of the story too.

  23. Exactly. You’re careful with populating your worlds with a wide range of people — old, young, healthy, disabled, neuroses (I’m still in love with Hawk, that bad boy), competent and not. It’s why I fall so deeply into the worlds — I feel like I’m there (just is if I traveled to a small village in Derbyshire or outside of Leeds or St. Petersberg).

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