Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Favorite Scene from Heart on Fire

I didn’t realize what a hard time I was going to have choosing just one scene when someone first asked me this question. There are a dozen scenes I’d like to mention for different reasons, and choosing one to talk about here came down to trying to avoid spoilers, which is really tough in a book that’s full of big reveals! The scene I ended up choosing is close to the beginning and a moment when Cat encounters someone important from her childhood—the man who used to be her bodyguard and friend before she left Castle Fisa. In previous books, Cat referred to Thanos and how he influenced, taught, and protected her. Along with her sister, Eleni, Thanos was a bright spot in Cat’s otherwise dark past.

What I especially like about this scene is how it reveals Cat’s core traits. She’s stubborn and tough, and there’s a reason for that: it was drilled into her by a person that cared about her future. We learn here that Thanos played a big role in shaping Cat’s attitude toward pain and survival and her unwillingness to ever give up, no matter how terrible the circumstances. Of course, these are brutal methods for a brutal world, and not something I’d ever want to experience outside of fiction. The root of Cat’s iron determination, though, can be traced back to Thanos, as we see in the excerpt below.


I was ten, small but fierce. He’d bested me on the training field—as always—but I kept fighting with a broken arm, cuts and bruises, and one eye swollen shut.
Thanos dodged every knife I threw at him, got behind me, grabbed my hair in his big fist, and then started dragging me toward the castle with a frustrated curse. But I wouldn’t stop. I kept hissing, spitting, and twisting like a slippery little snake, landing blows and shouting that I wasn’t done yet. I was never done, because I was so determined to beat him one day.

“Enough, little monster. Time to find the healer, or you’ll be weak for days.”

And that would have left me vulnerable to my brothers. To Mother.

I still wouldn’t listen. If I fought hard enough, I was sure I could finally win. He held on to my hair and pulled until my eyes watered. I wasn’t getting anywhere with my thrashing and yanking, so I drew the last knife I had in my belt and cut off my hair above his grip. The second I could, I spun around and plunged the dagger into his thigh with a bloodcurdling scream of triumph.

Thanos had looked at me then, with my long hair still clutched in his fist, like I’d just become an entirely different creature. One he liked even better. It was the first and only time I ever drew his blood.

The following morning, Mother had slapped me and said I looked like a boy. Father, a nonentity in my life, hadn’t recognized me for days. Thanos had given me a rust-colored scarf to cover the mess I’d made. He’d patted his thigh where I’d stuck him with my knife and told me he’d dyed the cloth in his own blood.

Remembering his pride in me that day, I get the most horrifying urge to cry. “You kept me alive all these years.”

He shrugs. “I was nowhere about after you left Castle Fisa.”

“No, you were here.” I press my hand to my chest. His training was never about hurting me—or my trying to hurt him back. It was about skill, yes, but also about perseverance, about finding inner strength, both mental and physical, when the wells of each seemed not just dried up but completely drained and destroyed. His often-brutal methods taught me that giving up is never an option. A true warrior fights through pain. Through anything. Through everything.

“You’re not dead until you’re on the far side of the Styx,” I murmur. It’s what he always said. And I know that better than anyone for having nearly been there. Until you’ve paid the ferryman and taken his boat, there’s always one more swing, one more kick, one more bite if it comes to that. That lesson never left me. Or failed me.

“I owe you my life.”


For Cat, this kind of perseverance doesn’t mean not having doubts or fears, and it doesn’t even mean winning every battle, but it does mean digging deep to go that extra mile. Happily for most of us, actual survival isn’t at stake, and we don’t need to be warriors in the same sense as Cat. But courage, grit, focus, determination… They are universal to success, even if they don’t guarantee it. Are we not warriors every day in our own right? Parents fighting for our children’s happiness and safety? Individuals striving to improve our own circumstances, and hopefully those of others? Human beings standing up for those less able to fend for themselves?

When things seem overwhelming in my own life, I try to remember my choices: fold or fight. It’s not always easy, but so far, I’ve managed to fight, and maybe that’s why I wrote Cat the way I did—to remind me of courage when I need it and to inspire my own resolve, because there’s always one more swing, one more kick, one more bite if it comes to that. Put into words more relevant to our own lives, this scene is important to me because it reminds me to never give up.

Are there any heroes or heroines in fiction, or even in real life, that have inspired you with their courage and resolve?