Thursday, April 12, 2018

Meet the Author: Kristen Taber

With MEET THE AUTHOR, I’m pleased to introduce guest authors and share their newest novels with visitors. This week, meet Kristen Taber! She’s stopping by to share an excerpt of her newest novel, The Shadow Guard, part of the Æerenden series.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 1:

ÆRENDEN’S RENAISSANCE had been one of beauty, full of art and discovery, friendship and kindness. Many in the kingdom spoke of it as if they had lived through each colorful moment and some had. It had only been decades since the renaissance had ended. War had a way of making years feel like an eternity.
In the height of that era, music had swelled within the castle’s great hall, bouncing from the windows, muffled by tapestries, echoing with joy. Bodies had danced and swayed. Laughter had resounded from the ceiling. Founders’ juice had flowed from carafes, drained from cups, and loosened lips. Meaghan imagined gossip had served as currency in this place, traded without regard for truth or belief in its details. Throughout Ærenden’s history, storytelling had blended with everyday life, entertainment valued the same as rare powers. When the revelers had left the castle’s parties, they would have paid no more heed to the tales they had heard than they did the king’s joking antics—the bets he had wagered with his Guardians or the contests he had arranged to see who among his people did not mind displaying their foolishness.
Queen Adelina’s father had been jubilant, by all accounts. Her mother had subjected him to frequent eye rolls, while hiding her own mirth behind an elegant hand.
Life had been carefree within these rose quartz walls, until the Zeiihbu War had become something more than distant skirmishes on the border. In its final years, everyone had lost someone they loved, battles had replaced jokes in conversation, and the people’s loyalties had become divided. Some wanted to annihilate the Zeiihbuans. Some wanted to assimilate them. And no one wanted to share Founders’ juice with those who had opposing views.
The parties stopped. The king died, the queen soon after, and their daughter closed the doors to the hall, and to her grief, using the space only for formal ceremonies.
After the war, Queen Adelina had wed King Édaire, affectionately known as Ed to those who had loved him, and they had conceived a child.
Meaghan had never had the chance to know her parents, beyond the fractured memories of toddlerhood. Ed had been murdered in this room, Adelina in their apartment, and Meaghan had been spirited to Earth soon after.
Now she walked the length of her grandfather’s beloved great hall, each footfall masked by graceful steps she had not realized she could muster. She kept her eyes focused on one point at the front of the room—a single throne representing so much history and pain.
Two amethyst-encrusted finials on top of the throne glistened in the noonday sun. Golden flowers curled around the throne’s arms and legs, symbols of growth and her family’s connection to the past. Their beauty would have brought a smile to her face, if she had not known her father had bled to death on the floor below them.
Or if she had not remembered the smaller throne that had filled the empty space on the left side of the dais before Garon destroyed it. Her father had used it in his duties as king. Her mother had ruled from the larger one.

Interview with Kristen Taber

Welcome Kristen, thanks for being my guest at The Brooklyn Scribbler. Please share some insight on your five-part YA series, Æerenden and the final installment, The Shadow Guard.

The Ærenden series starts on Earth and transitions to Ærenden, a kingdom on a world parallel to ours yet wholly different. Where we have medicine and science, they have magic---Healers, people who control electricity and the weather, Telekines, and Firestarters. Each person has a personal power, including Meaghan, a young woman raised on Earth but born within the kingdom she remembers only in nightmares. The series follows Meaghan and Nick—her personal guard and love-interest—as they fight to take back the kingdom from the man who assassinated the former king and queen. Along the way, what seems to be a straightforward black-and-white war turns into a complex puzzle of gray areas. Nick and Meaghan must navigate the secrets left behind by the royal family to uncover the truth and save the kingdom.

The final installment in the series, The Shadow Guard, brings Nick and Meaghan to a land outside of the kingdom thought to be uninhabited. What they discover leaves Meaghan with a choice that could turn her from a long-awaited hero into a villain with the power to destroy everything.

When you first began writing, when did you know that only a series of novels would allow you to fully realize the journey on which your characters were about to embark?

In the beginning, I thought the whole story would only consume about 300 pages, and it would be a neat and tidy standalone. Halfway through writing The Child Returns (book 1), I realized my characters had a greater story to tell. I hashed out a basic outline for five books at that point (not including background stories, historical stories, and potential spinoffs that currently reside in my head). Eventually those expected 300 pages turned into over 2,000 published pages.

Is there any secondary character in the novel who could have “run away” with the story and turned attention from your lead characters?

Yes, and she still may get her own book if the muses keep pestering. In The Shadow Guard, a shapeshifter named Faughn becomes integral to the storyline and assists Meaghan in her final battle with her nemesis. Faughn grew up in a harsh desert region with enemies constantly on the fringes of her awareness. One enemy killed her mother and kidnapped her brother. Despite her hardships—and because of them—she’s become a warrior who is capable of fighting and handling herself in precarious situations. She also knows how to trust, love, and have fun when time allows. Her self-confidence and composure as a result of growing up in a combat environment is a contrast to Meaghan, who has been thrown into a situation beyond her control and struggles to come to terms with it and become the hero required of her.  After writing Meaghan’s type of character for nearly ten years, Faughn intrigued me. I wanted to learn more about her and the inner-psyche she doesn’t show, that I know has to have stemmed from the trauma in her life. So many times, I had to fight the urge to deviate, to show Faughn’s building relationship with her love interest or her reactions with her brother-in-law or father, but I managed to curb that impulse. She did, however, earn a place of honor on the cover.

Any writing quirks? E.g. requiring music to read, favorite place, etc.

I have to have background noise, usually music or coffee shop chatter. For music, I bounce between classic rock, blues, metal, classical, and film scores, depending on my mood. When I need the coffee shop murmur but can’t get out of the house, I use a website called Coffitivity that recreates café noises. I wrote almost all of The Shadow Guard using that site or listening to the Lord of the Rings trilogy soundtrack.

If your novels ever became films, who would play your lead characters and why?

Oh goodness. Fans always ask me this, and I have so much trouble deciding. Meaghan has always been most difficult for me. I love the idea of an unknown playing her, like Emma Watson was before she starred in Harry Potter, so I don’t like to picture current Hollywood stars in the role. If I had to choose, Auli'i Cravalho looks similar to how I picture her so maybe I’d go for her. For Nick, I picture a blonde Logan Lerman.  And Faughn? Totally Yara Shahidi.

Thanks again, Kristen! 

Learn more about Kristen Taber

Buy The Shadow Guard, Æerenden series #5

Amazon Paperback
B&N Paperback

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Free short story for Women's History Month: The Legend Rises

Five years ago this month, I had the privilege of participating in the HerStory anthology with a group of more than twenty female authors. Each of us submitted stories of women with extraordinary courage during varying periods of history. My contribution was The Legend Rises, a story of Gwenllian of Gwynedd, who fought against twelfth-century Norman invaders alongside her husband Gruffydd. She was a remarkable woman with the strength to face nearly insurmountable odds and her final stand at Kidwelly Castle inspired generations of Welsh freedom fighters and earned her nickname, the female Braveheart.

Since the anthology was not continued, I'm pleased to share this story for free with visitors to my website. A sample follows here. For readers who want to know more of Gwenllian and Gruffydd, the full novel detailing their lives will be available in March 2020, Lady of Legend; my HerStory contribution will NOT be included in the book so here's a chance to read that missing chapter. 

About The Legend Rises:

Gwenllian, a Welsh princess of Gwynedd and the wife of the dispossessed lord of Deheubarth faces the greatest trial she has ever known. Brutal English invaders have ravaged her beloved country and forced her into a meager existence, hidden in the forests of her husband’s homeland. While he seeks a new, strong alliance against the enemy, Gwenllian prepares herself and her children for the fight of their lives. Strength and honor alone cannot win the battle. Her family must unite for their survival.

The Legend Rises

Parting: Winter 1136 AD
At Caeo, Cantref Mawr, within the old kingdom of Deheubarth

As the morning of Gruffydd’s departure from Caeo dawned, no tears tainted the exchange between brothers, a father and his sons, or a mother divided from a portion of her brood. If Gwenllian held the little lord Rhys for too long, at least her youngest son did not wriggle away. She buried her face in his pale-yellow curls, kissed his ruddy cheeks, and released him. On pudgy legs with mud-splotched shoes, the child scrambled to join Rhain Llwyd in the rearguard. Gruffydd’s best archer hoisted the boy into the saddle. At five years old, was Rhys ready for his own mount?

Rhain met Gwenllian’s pertinent stare. She sighed and offered him a resigned nod. Her simple gesture conveyed more than trust. She offered thanks for his stalwart loyalty and bloodied sacrifices of the past. Rhain would never allow any harm to come to the boy.

Anarawd approached and extended his hand to her. When she clasped his arm, her ragged fingernails dug into the leather tunic. Wiry muscles tensed beneath the sleeve. A man stood in place of the squalling, red-faced infant Gruffydd had deposited in her arms over twenty years before. In the absence of their eldest brother, Maelgwn and Morgan would resume their lessons in weaponry under their mother’s tutelage. She looked forward to a demonstration of Anarawd’s tactics later.

She whispered to him, “Have a care for Rhys.”

His brow furrowed beneath a dark forelock of hair, so like his father’s own. “I always do and even if I didn’t, Rhain would. You can rely on us both. Why do you even ask?”

She ignored the slight irritation in his gruff tone. “Don’t let your brother become a nuisance at Aberffraw. My father and mother may delight in the frolicking of my youngest, but Rhys can be a trial for his aged grandparents.”

“He is for everyone else here. Why should he behave otherwise at court in Gwynedd?” He met her sudden scowl with a wink and a final kiss on her cheek.a “Be well. Don’t worry for Rhys. I know how much you love him, Mam.”

Didn’t Anarawd know she felt the same for him? She would have hugged him as close as she did Rhys if her maudlin state would not cause the young man some distress. Instead, she swallowed the ache in her throat. “Have a care for yourself and your father too.”

He made no promises, only bowed and turned away. Was he so eager for his part in the adventures to come? If Gruffydd succeeded in forging a new alliance against the English, Anarawd would take up the battle cry beside his father, uncles, and grandfathers. She would not be able to stop him or keep all of her or Gruffydd’s children safe. She scoffed at the idea. Security, freedom, and a life without worry had never existed for any of them, would not be theirs until they rid their homeland of the interlopers.

Mist cloaked the frost-covered earth, the dragon’s breath of her former nurse’s tales from childhood. Gruffydd coughed while he took deliberate steps, lingering with various members of his teulu gathered in the clearing. Dawn’s golden-pink glow revealed the weather-beaten faces of each man. The retainers numbered three hundred strong, with a third on the surefooted ponies taken in last summer’s raids. A few among the riders even donned the chainmail of their fallen adversaries, worn over threadbare tunics and trews, with swords at the waist and shields at their backs. The rest of the men, each bearing a sheaf of arrows and longbows of elm, would follow the cavalry on the long trek north to Aberffraw with her husband. Another two hundred would protect Gwenllian in his absence.

Gruffydd neared the end of the line, where Rhain ensured Rhys maintained his balance. The boy’s father distracted him, rumpling his hair until Rhys giggled. Rhain kept a firm grip on his charge before he and Gruffydd clapped each other’s shoulders. The ageless bond between them reflected in mutual, silent stares.

Behind them, burly Arthfael Llwyd awaited Gruffydd’s withdrawal. Hanks of unwashed hair fell over the aged warrior’s furrowed brow. He supported his ruined right side on the crutch Anarawd had carved for him from a yew tree. His gray beard almost concealed the thin line of his mouth. For the first time in their lives, only one of the twins would ride out under their lord’s banner. Since Arthfael and Rhain first escorted Gruffydd to Aberffraw, Gwenllian had never seen the brothers apart from each other. This morning would encompass more poignant farewells than those shared between Gruffydd’s children.

Huddled in the doorway, Gwenllian leaned on the rough oak post. Wood scraped her cheek. Bledri snuffled and nosed into her open hand. She spared a smile for the aging wolfhound and scratched behind his ears. Three generations of the breed had lived and died since her father’s wolfhounds first trailed her across the fens teaming with peat, east of Aberffraw, or through gorse-covered moorlands. The dog’s muzzle pressed alongside her thigh. He sat on his hindquarters and kept a watchful though rheumy-eyed gaze on the activity in the clearing.

A breeze ruffled Gruffydd’s graying hair and swept his mantle off his massive shoulders, exposing the tunic and trews beneath. No outsider would have distinguished him from his men. His footfalls lacked their usual vigor. Stiff movements warned of the dull ache in his muscles, for which he would never complain. He also did not need to speak of the battle raging inside him. Only a swift need to counter the English urged him from the comfort of their family. He dreaded this undertaking more than she did. The selfish core of her heart, which still found its refuge in Gruffydd’s care, thrummed with a fervent wish to keep him at her side. Her mind pleaded for the host from Gwynedd to ride out with Gruffydd and confront this latest English threat. Only her husband could convince her father and her remaining brothers Owain and Cadwaladr of the need to unite....


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Defining a strong woman

Women's History Month is always a special time of observation for me. Not just as a Black woman or an author who writes about women, one of the group's HIStory has long marginalized. One of my favorite pastimes is to read about or research the lives of strong females. From Malala Yousafzai back to my favorite medieval queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. This year, I've especially admired the #MeToo movement and the demand for accountability by male abusers that’s been so vital. Being introspective, I've always thought, what makes a strong woman?

Strength is a beneficial attribute, granting the possessor an elevated level of ability, capacity, capability, and competence. Unfortunately, I think a woman's strength has come, for some, to mean that she has taken on male attributes. Meaning she can "kick ass" as the saying goes. Or, that suddenly, she can open her mouth, being unafraid to break "norms" and "traditional rules" and speak out, in what others may confuse with speaking out of turn. When did women EVER truly need anyone's permission to use our voices, decide for ourselves and be who we are at heart? Throughout history, society has called us the weaker sex. Weak? Please. Anyone who refers to someone as weak by calling them a 'pussy' automatically gets the stare of death from me. VAGINAS HAVE PUSHED OUT BABIES FROM THE DAWN OF TIME! If that ability is not one of the most elemental definitions of strength, I don't know what is....

For me, strength is endurance. The hallmark of every strong woman. Even the females who have yet to discover that wellspring within themselves. The ability to withstand the tide, stand our ground, and not let physical pain, humiliation, hurt, and disappointment sweep away all that makes us who we are as women.

Endurance has given me the inspiration to tell the stories of historical women who have or find the power within themselves to make changes in the male-dominated world of the past and define their own sources of happiness and security. For every woman that I've written about, if being at the side of a man has given her access to power or a certain level in society, my female character also determined her fate. Left a memorable legacy. 

But throughout history, strong women have always faced backlashes, too, whenever we've asserted the natural power within us. When society deemed us too strong. At heart, we were just rejecting the labels assigned to us. You know them. Witch! Harpy! Harridan (my personal favorite)! Vixen! Trollop! Wench! Bitch! Slut! Feminist! Behind these labels has always been male and society’s fear of a woman's capacity for self-determination.

Strong women know we best influence our lives and futures, and for those of us who are religious, God guides us. We must never let others, be they cherished fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, or strangers in society at large take that ability from us. I won't. Why? A strong woman loved and raised me and my sister. I grew up in a family of strong women. They taught me to fight when necessary, but most of all, to survive and endure. From them, I've learned valuable lessons that have taken me through some of the darkest moments of my life. So far. By their wisdom and preparation, I know I will endure much more. Thus, I can admire strong women. I can write about strong women. I can speak with other women and encourage them to find the strength within themselves, the willpower.

Today and every day, not just at Women's History Month, I salute every strong woman out there. Our mothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, grandmothers, and ancestors have brought us to this time, this moment of history. We owe it to our daughters, nieces, granddaughters, friends, and descendants to support and teach the next generation of strong women who will inherit this world. May they have an ever more hopeful and brighter vision of the future.                 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Writing the unknown: about Vlad Dracul and Romania in Order of the Dragon

Writing about new characters is rather like meeting strangers who could become potential friends. You're not sure how the relationship will go, but you're intrigued enough to move beyond introductions. Just as writing about a new setting or period is akin to settling into a house, going from room to room, learning about the spaces. Sometimes, as with new people and places, you discover good or unfortunately unpleasant surprises. Still, other aspects remain hidden beneath the surface. With my usual enthusiasm for strange places and people, I've dived right into the abyss that is the history of Vlad II Dracul and his Romania.

If you know me and my writing, you've guessed I like elusive characters and locales, in part because I love researching about them and uncovering those hidden details. I couldn't have chosen a more enigmatic figure than Vlad II Dracul, father of the real Prince Dracula, or such a place as fifteenth-century Romania in my latest WIP, Order of the Dragon. A land mired in superstition, governed by a man who is still a mystery more than five hundred years later. A prince who had ruled over a region called Wallachia with some interruption. One who had joined a monarchical chivalric order dedicated to the protection of Christendom with fellow members who included the rulers of Naples and Aragon. But in many ways, Vlad became subservient to the Sultans of the Turks in the Ottoman Empire. How could a dedicated Christian warrior accept the dominion of Islamic rulers?

I've long imagined Vlad as a practical man, given the choices he made throughout his life. Despite his commitment to the Order of the Dragon, which counted the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund as its founder, the political reality Vlad faced required tough decisions. He took his vows dutifully but what compelled him to cooperate with the Turks? I've spent much of my time on research also pondering the strange circumstances of his existence. Not that the research has been a straightforward process - would that have been too much to ask? One of the chief secondary sources I've relied upon for the story of Vlad's life is clearly wrong because it places Vlad in areas where logic and subsequent events dictate he could not have been. So, some mysteries about the historical figure that inspired my hero in this novel remain. To some, no doubt his actions toward the Turks would seem less than heroic. Even craven. I believe one goal drove him; the preservation of his principality at Wallachia. To ensure that future, he might have willing to pay the ultimate price. 

Romania in the fifteenth century required rulers willing to make difficult decisions. Bordered to the northeast by Moldova, the origin of Vlad's wife, Hungary in the west and Serbia and Bulgaria in the south, all such lands faced constant Turkish threats. By the late 1300's the Ottomans had claimed much of Bulgaria and imposed heavy taxes and in the mid-fifteenth century, the incursions of the Ottomans had wrested control over the former Serbian Empire. Both essentially existed as vassal states of the Turks. Romania remained in the path of their ambitions that extended to the seizure of Rome. The Romanians lived in three principalities; Vlad controlled Wallachia after the death of his half-brother. Yet he did so after a time by the permission of the Turks, who had imposed a yearly tribute of ten-thousand gold coins and at least five hundred boys to serve in the Jannisary corps. If I can ever find the wherewithal, I'd love to visit the Princely Court where Vlad had his power base in Wallachia, the ruins of which are in the foreground of the picture above. 

The introduction of Vlad in Order of the Dragon reveals some of the troubles he faces:

Chapter 1

Province of Targoviste, Principality of Wallachia, in the year of Our Lord 1443

“… The Sultan Murad Han, His Majesty, invites you to his court at the end of spring when your snows cease.”

Halil Pasha’s nasal tone betrayed his status as a highly-trained eunuch of the Turkish court. His unaccented, precise pronunciation of the Romanian language of Vlad’s birth, even if sprinkled with Turkic phrases, also revealed the envoy’s indigenous origins. As with so many other boys, the devils must have taken him as part of their blood-tax, the tribute of young boys Sultan Murad had first necessitated twenty years ago. How had Halil Pasha earned the appointment so soon? Such a youthful figure, unless the sallow, unblemished skin across his high cheekbones and the neatly trimmed beard belied the truth of his age.

Thin, yellow brows flared above Halil Pasha’s gray gaze as he scanned the occupants of the room before he regarded Vlad again. “You and your three sons must visit Adrianople, Voivode.”

He had used the Slavic term for ‘prince’ instead of Domnul but Vlad perceived the resultant echoes of dismay did not come from such a word choice. He sought out Cneajna’s face among the women ensconced in the wide gallery above the throne room. Mercifully, he did not find her. Had his beloved wife been there for the pronouncement of her greatest dread, she might have lost her composure. Almighty God had blessed him with a woman who would give her life for their sons. She could have during the birth of their second child. His Cneajna, born Vasilisa Maria of the House of Musat in the northeastern principality of Moldova. A princess in her own right before their union.

Seated on his wooden throne with the boyars and retainers gathered on either side of him, the black cape of the Order, which Vlad typically donned on Fridays, draped his shoulders. Those who knew best would understand the visit of a Turkish ambassador also merited the display of his allegiance to the Order. Beneath the mantle, he wore a long fur-trimmed coat of red brocade, over his laced shirt and loose trousers tucked into ankle-length boots. The boyars favored similar dress except for leather, fur-lined shoes with pointed tips, which he disdained as much as the velvet caps they favored.

He fingered an emblem suspended from a golden necklace. Inscribed on a double cross, the Latin words ‘Justus et Pius’ gleamed in the glare of the torchlight. Just and Faithful, one of the Order’s mottos, paired with the phrase, ‘O quam miscericos est Deus’ for the mercy of God. Under the cross, a medallion featured the wings of an incurved dragon, topped by a blood-red cross. The tail coiled around the fearsome figure’s neck. Its paws outstretched, with jaws opened as if to devour Christendom’s enemies.

He raised his head. “I thank the Sultan for his gracious invitation, but my eldest son has his apprenticeship for knighthood and will not be at Targoviste in the coming spring.”

“You have other children, whom my master would welcome with honor. They can play in the palace gardens with Mehmet Celebi, His Majesty’s third son. I believe the noble prince at ten-years-old is the same age as your Vlad Dracula.”

---Learn more about Vlad Dracul and late-medieval Romania when Order of the Dragon makes its debut later this year.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Meet the characters: Sultan Muhammad al-Zaghal

Muhammad al-Zaghal, whose sobriquet meant 'the brave' or 'the valiant' lived in the shadow of his elder brother, Sultan Abu'l-Hasan Ali for years. Then, palace intrigue and poor circumstances gave access to the power the younger man may have dreamt of all his life. Readers of Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree will discover more about his fate in Sultana: The White Mountains; if you don't want to know before you've read either book, this is your last warning - stop reading now. Spoilers for the last novel in the Sultana series lie ahead. 

Still with me? Prince Muhammad al-Zaghal was the second son of the Nasrid Sultan Abu Nasr Sa'd, who ruled Moorish Granada from summer 1454 to January 1455, then from late summer 1455 to 1464, when Abu'l-Hasan Ali usurped the throne. The prince has been portrayed most recently onscreen in the Spanish TV series, Isabel. It's uncertain where Muhammad al-Zaghal's birth occurred or when but he would have been born between 1437 and 1450, the respective dates at which his elder brother Abu'l-Hasan Ali and their younger sibling Yusuf entered the world. Whether the brothers had the same mother is also unknown, but their paternal heritage is clear. The links from their father and his father Prince Ali, a son of Sultan Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf connected them to Sultan Muhammad V and even beyond to the first Nasrid ruler. While Abu Nasr Sa'd did not have a legitimate claim to the throne, his family had founded a royal dynasty on the idea of usurpation.

From the beginning of their father's reign, there is some evidence of closeness between the two eldest sons. In late summer 1455, both chased the Sultan's rival for the throne into the region of Las Alpujarras, where they captured him along with his betrothed bride and cousin to all of the men, Sultana Aisha, whom Abu'l-Hasan Ali would later marry. As for Muhammad al-Zaghal, he also married a kinswoman whose name has come down through Spanish history transcribed as Esquivilia - certainly a non-Moorish name. Readers of Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree will recall her as Ashiqa, who had her own impressive lineage with links to her husband's clan.

She was the daughter of Abu Salim Ibrahim al-Nayyar, the governor of Almeria and Maryam bint Bannigash, one of the daughters of Granada's famed minister Ridwan ibn Bannigash who was born and ended his life as a Christian named Pedro Venegas. He once served as a slave before he converted to Islam and married the daughter of his former master. Abu Salim Ibrahim al-Nayyar's mother Fatima claimed descent from the murdered Sultan Ismail II, a brother of Muhammad V, and a concubine who might have been called Cirila. Like many things about the Nasrids, the true connection of his mother is uncertain, but Abu Salim Ibrahim al-Nayyar's father was definitely Sultan Yusuf IV, another usurper whose claim to the throne derived from a more precise maternal connection to an unnamed daughter of Sultan Muhammad VI, who seized the throne of his brother-in-law Ismail II in 1361.
Muhammad al-Zaghal may have had up to three daughters with his wife, but no sons. He supported his brother Abu'l-Hasan Ali's ouster of their father in 1464 and at some point, became the governor of the all-important coastal bastion at Malaka, seen above. In 1467, their brother Yusuf died of the plague, which some historians have concluded could have been a welcome boon to Abu'l-Hasan Ali. His foes in the clan of Abencerrage, whose chieftains his father had murdered in 1462, might have supported Yusuf as a claimant to rule. Even if they did not, they later approached Muhammad al-Zaghal with the same idea in 1470. He rebelled against his brother for a brief period until Abu'l-Hasan Ali brought him to heel. Thereafter, the brothers remained inseparable. Muhammad al-Zaghal even brought his brother's eventual second wife and beloved companion Sultana Soraya into his life with a raid on her Christian homeland.

It's believed Muhammad al-Zaghal earned his appellation for bravery and valor because of events that took place after summer 1482 when the overthrow of his brother occurred because of a conspiracy between Sultana Aisha and her Abencerrage supporters. But I'll admit some of the actions the prince undertook were infamous and destabilized a fragile territory, which left it vulnerable to invasions by the armies of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Muhammad al-Zaghal hosted Abu'l-Hasan Ali in his short exile at Malaga and the Sultan's son Muhammad XI claimed the throne, from where the siblings fought off Christian invaders in the Ajarquía region of Malaga, taking thousands of heads as trophies and even more captives. But the pair's marauding ways also undermined the kingdom as they attacked the homes of Moorish people who supported the rebellion in Granada. After his brother reclaimed the throne, Muhammad al-Zaghal went to his wife's birthplace at Almeria and tried to take the city from his younger nephew, Abu'l-Hasan Ali and Aisha's second son, Yusuf.

Readers of Sultana: The White Mountains will know how I portrayed the younger Nasrid siblings Muhammad XI and Yusuf as close relations, which parallels the bond between their father and uncle - the evident proof of loyalty between the elder men inspired me. But when Yusuf died at Almeria, likely murdered, his death possibly occurred at the command of Muhammad al-Zaghal. I've speculated in the novel that this was the first sign that he was not always a faithful adherent to his brother, because of later circumstances. In 1485, Abu'l-Hasan Ali either abdicated or lost power to his younger brother, who became Sultan Muhammad XII in his stead. At the death of his sibling, he expressed the desire to marry his sister-in-law Soraya; presumably, his first wife had not died and nothing in the Maliki interpretation of Sharia law seems to have prohibited the union. Had the new monarch long-coveted more than his brother's throne, but also his wife? More likely, the move would have allowed for greater control of Soraya's sons. But they escaped with their mother into Castile.

As the united Catholic sovereigns forced the surrender of several Moorish cities, uncle and nephew for control of Granada. In spring 1487 when the Christians threatened to take Malaga, the Sultan rallied to its defense, but the area fell after a bitter siege of several months. Muhammad al-Zaghal accepted the loss of Granada, too, and maintained control of key areas at Guadix and Almeria until December of 1489, when his wife's brother Yahya surrendered the city of Baza and took a Christian name, Pedro de Granada. By the following year, Muhammad al-Zaghal departed the Iberian Peninsula for the kingdom of Tlemcen, based at Oran, in modern-day northern Algeria. The record indicates at least one daughter and her husband remained in Spain whereas her father presumably died in Tlemcen around 1494.

Muhammad al-Zaghal is one of my favorite characters in Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree and Sultana: The White Mountains, because of his moral ambiguity. His devotion to family paired with personal ambitions makes him an intriguing figure. In studying him for years so that I could write both novels, I discovered a historical figure who was as strong a defender of Granada as his elder brother, but through his participation in the civil war, helped weaken his beloved Sultanate. I tried to be as true as possible to his history but am still uncertain about a few parts. For instance, was he in Granada as regent early in his brother's reign or did he spend his time predominantly at Malaga? Was the death of his nephew Yusuf planned or an unfortunate happenstance that occurred in Almeria? What explanation, if any, did he provide Abu'l-Hasan Ali for the murder, especially since they had long been so close? What would Muhammad al-Zaghal have done to Soraya's sons if he had married their mother - would he have supported the eventual reign of the eldest in his stead or would the boys have disappeared like the nephews of King Richard III, medieval Britain's princes in the tower? I hope readers will enjoy my portrayal of Muhammad al-Zaghal in both novels, available now.   

If you've missed any of the Meet the characters posts about this novel, find them HERE.   

Meet the Author: Kristen Taber

With MEET THE AUTHOR, I’m pleased to introduce guest authors and share their newest novels with visitors. This week, meet Kristen Taber...