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  • Karen Frost

Themes in "Conspiracy of the Dark"

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

While reading "Conspiracy," you might have noticed a few themes. If done right, I think themes should be both subtle and obvious; they can make readers think or else just enjoy the nuance. Themes don't all have to hit readers on the head with their blatancy or be woven into every chapter from start to finish. They can span the gamut in terms of their presence and impact. Here are the major themes that (I think) ended up in "Conspiracy":

-- Identity: When I started writing "Conspiracy," one of my primary aims was to explore how the environment in which we're raised contributes to our sense of identity. Aeryn's identity is strongly rooted in being from the Ice Crown. She very much sees the world through the lens of an individual from a hunting culture on the fringes of society. Analogies are made to forests and snow because that's what she knows. (Of course, as a literary convention, Aeryn's outsider status also enables a "fish out of water" perspective/scenario once she reaches Windhall.) If someone were to ask her, Aeryn's self narrative would be something along the lines of, "I'm a hunter's daughter from the Ice Crown." It's short, but to her, it would be completely descriptive. I like "identity" in general as a theme because it helps us as readers think about what our own primary identity is. Do we identify with our state? Our country? Our profession? Our hobbies? While all of these things are factors in our identity, our primary identity is what subconsciously shapes and motivates us on a daily basis.

-- War: The second theme that I introduced into "Conspiracy" was the devastating consequences of war. Firdas became the mouthpiece of what is, in essence, a very pessimistic view of war. Today, in 2019, there has been an entire generation of American high school students for whom the United States has always been "at war" in Afghanistan. Now in year eighteen, what started as an effort to replace the Taliban government with democracy has become an endless grind that has eaten up untold resources and manpower. In my own lifetime, the United States has fought in the Balkan War, the Persian Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan, and the second Iraq War. Occasionally, some people express what might be termed "war nostalgia": a belief that war is a noble opportunity for soldiers to prove themselves through acts of bravery and lawful nations to prevail over evil enemies. However, this nostalgia forgets the true cost of war: 108 million people killed in the 20th century's wars and millions more wounded or suffering from PTSD. War is nasty, brutish, and awful, and soldiers are for the most part teenagers just old enough to vote. Although I'm not a pacifist, I thought it was important to remind readers that the cost of war is not borne by a country's insulated, protected leadership, but by the common people who go out and lay down their lives for a cause whose roots they might not understand or even personally agree with. It is not, in short, something about which to be nostalgic.

-- Bias: Threads of conscious and unconscious bias run through the book. Raelan is biased against illusionists because he sees that affinity as a lesser war power. Aeryn assumes Maz can't be an armorer because he's blind. Ice Crowners are biased against people from outside the Ice Crown. A bias that readers might initially misinterpret is that of xenophobia. Many readers are likely to see the relationship between Professor Kalmath and Pavo as racism, but that's not quite it. Professor Kalmath is xenophobic. She assumes that because Pavo comes from a nomadic hunting tribe rather than a "civilized" sedentary community and he speaks with an extremely strong accent he must be dumb and uneducated. Her bias blinds her to any good that Pavo might do (and the fact that of all the students, his affinity is the most powerful), and therefore he plays into her bias for his own amusement. While "Conspiracy" doesn't necessarily pass judgement on people for their biases, it does highlight that even in multicultural societies, bias is widely prevalent.

-- Morality: Morality is a sub-theme in "Conspiracy" that morphs into the theme of decisions and their consequences in "The Darkness Rising." "Conspiracy" asks the readers to define morality for themselves. Is Gamiel immoral for killing the bandits rather than arresting them, or is she moral because they're lawbreakers and the punishment for their crime is death? Is Sir Idras immoral for stealing back a horse he lost in a card game, even if the loss might have been unfair? "Conspiracy" suggests its own answer to these questions, but it's to the reader to decide for themselves how they would behave in those situations.

-- Grief and Loss/Death: This is a very dominant theme for the entire "Destiny and Darkness" series. But I can't say anything more without giving away spoilers related to future books!

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