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Carissa Broadbent on the Appeal of Tournaments in Fantasy Fiction

Posted on 31st May 2024 by Mark Skinner

With the scintillating The Serpent and the Wings of Night, Carissa Broadbent has announced herself as a thrilling new voice in romantasy fiction and in this exclusive piece, she discusses why she chose to open the expansive Crowns of Nyaxia series in the comparatively intimate setting of a deadly tournament.       

A Fight to the Death 

‘Vampires from across Obitraes would travel to participate in the Kejari, drawn by the promise of wealth or honor. Dozens of the most powerful warriors from all three houses - the House of Night, the House of Shadow, and the House of Blood - would die in pursuit of this title. 

And, most likely, so would I. 

But they were fighting for power. I was fighting for survival.’

(Chapter 2, The Serpent and the Wings of Night)

Everyone loves a good tournament to the death.

Fine, perhaps not everyone – the people who have to actually do the fighting to the death part sometimes aren’t the biggest fans. But for the shameless rubbernecker in all of us, nothing hits quite like a fantasy tournament. As a millennial who grew up in the heyday of The Hunger Games, perhaps an affinity for tournament-focused fantasy is just in my blood (vampire pun very much intended). Still, I think these kinds of stories have a lasting appeal that goes beyond the particular nostalgia of my generation. 

There is, of course, the obvious: they’re exciting. The action is non-stop. The stakes are high. There are lots of monsters to stab and warriors to defeat! There’s lots of room for rivals with colourful personalities and trials of elaborately gut-twisting design. It tickles the same part of the brain that loves an action movie or sports. This is the surface appeal of fantasy tournaments: there’s simply a lot of potential for fast-paced, high-stakes, dramatic fun. 

Still, I think that at their crux, the draw of these stories goes deeper. To me, what makes fantasy tournaments particularly special is the juxtaposition they present between the grand and the intimate. Yes, they are big – big battles, big trials, big stakes. But they’re also far more intimate in scale than, say, sweeping fantasy war epics. Rather than these conflicts spreading across an entire fantasy world, in tournament stories, they verge on claustrophobic. The confined space is a huge part of the danger of the setting.

When I sat down to plot The Serpent and the Wings of Night, I was coming off of the conclusion of one such sweeping fantasy epic series and ready to embark into a whole new world. The Crowns of Nyaxia world is enormous, with many potential entry points. In the beginning, I was torn as to whether this particular story – the story of a human competing in a tournament of vampires – was the one I wanted to pursue first. Why, I asked myself, would I limit myself to such a narrow tale when introducing a world so broad?

In the end, I chose this story to introduce this world because of – not despite – the restrictions of the tournament story. The best tournament stories act as petri dishes for the world they exist in, allowing the biome of all the setting’s conflicts to flourish in a confined environment. The Hunger Games taught us so much about Panem even when we were restricted to the games themselves.

But most importantly, tournament stories enable us to learn so much about the characters. You can, quite literally, lock a character in an arena with all their deliciously messy inner conflicts. The best of these stories uses every trial as a mirror to show us something new about the characters. They not only force our heroes to physically advance, they also force them to confront the deeper emotional challenges that prove to be just as dangerous as the physical.

Ultimately, this was what appealed to me most about the tournament concept that eventually became The Serpent and the Wings of Night. What initially seemed like a confined format turned into an ideal setting to explore this new world I was dipping my toes into. And best of all, it gave me a litany of exciting and unique ways to explore (or, some might say, torture) my main character’s psyche. 

For me, that’s the real fun of it. Yes, these stories are sweeping and action-packed and exciting.  But they also put a character into an arena and put them under a microscope. It provides so many avenues to show us new things about them and how they feel about the world they live in. The characters, after all, are the true gems of a tournament story. It is singular and focused in the best ways. The spotlight is on one person and their progression against all odds. And in the end, it makes us believe that any person, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is capable of incredible victories. After all, what’s a tournament without an underdog?

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