Music Magic: The Songs That Inspired War Witch (Part 9) – “Stronger” Kelly Clarkson

Action is the lifeblood of a good fantasy novel. Sword fights, magic spells being thrown hither and yon, heroes against villains. These things are in the DNA of the genre, and while you can certainly write a compelling fantasy tale without them, I prefer to have them. It’s a lot of what makes fantasy stand out from other genres.

That, and I’m a long time D&D player, so fantasy without these things feels like it’s just missing something. Call me old fashioned. Or, if you’ve read War Witch, don’t. There’s a lot of ways it doesn’t conform to classic fantasy genre writing. Like the presence of magic powered blaster pistols.

When writing action, a good piece of music that plays to the mood and feel of the people involved in the battle never hurts. If there’s anything I’ve made clear over the past eight weeks, it’s that music helps me, as a writer, define what I’m writing.

When it came to the climactic battle of Rise, there was only one song that fit the bill for what I needed.

Yes, I not only listen to Kelly Clarkson, but I think her music is perfect for fantasy writing. I’m a deeply strange man. I also think she’s an incredibly talented singer, and love most everything she’s done. Which is really saying something for a guy who’s music taste revolves around AC/DC being the greatest band in history.

We’ll get into my love of AC/DC another time. For now, let’s talk about Ms. Clarkson and this particular piece.

Once again, for those who haven’t read the book, big spoilers.

When I originally conceived the idea of War Witch, it was a series of short stories that told an ongoing story. This bit is still evident in the structure of Rise, which is told in three parts, divided by the long travel time as the characters go from one location to another. The third part, Sunset, was where the story really got a chance to breath and introduce many of the most interesting supporting characters, such as Rayne, Mastiff, and Rills.

Mostly, though, it takes us from the small town location of Rhuemer or the isolated keep of Imicot and into the sprawling metropolis of Lansing. It expands the world by showcasing Blessed of many different types from all across the Six Races, and gives a better look at the day to day of life in the Middle World.

It also sets the stage for the biggest battle our heroes face, as they stumble right into a plot to capture the city in the name of the Demon Gods, complete with a flying citadel. As I said already, though, even a massive battle still needs to remember the people involved, and that’s where “Stronger” really comes into play.

Through much of the third part, we watch as Ramora tries to come to terms with Chara and Esteban being together, and even finds herself feeling closer to fellow Blessed Leto. This is the first place the song matters.

You know the bed feels warmer, sleeping here alone
You know I dream in color and do the things I want

As she and Leto begin to grow close, for the first time since leaving Imicot’s keep, Ramora begins to accept that changes in her life. She starts to believe that there her heart can heal, and actually begins asking herself what she wants from life beyond avenging her family. Things she might not have thought about had Rakiss not interfered and guided Chara into Esteban’s arms.

Then, the attack happens, and in the midst of the battle, Leto dies. It’s important to note that this all happens on Ramora’s birthday, the same as the attack that took her family when she was a child. Somehow, Draco, the monster that slaughtered her village, is also behind this attack.

You think you got the best of me, think you’ve had the last laugh
Bet you think that everything good is gone
Think you left me broken down, think that I’d come running back
Baby, you don’t know me ’cause you’re dead wrong

I cannot even express how perfectly this reflects Ramora’s thoughts at this point. Once again, she has lost so much she holds dear, to the same monster, eleven years to the day later. She is hurting beyond words, but it doesn’t break her. No, it just pisses her off.

This is what I mean by remembering the characters, even in a massive battle. Ramora doesn’t break from the pain.

You heard that I was starting over with someone new
They told you I was moving on over you
And think that I’d come back
I’d come back swinging, you try to break me but you see

For her, it feels like this. As if somehow, Draco knew she was finally healing from those old wounds. She was reclaiming her life, beyond simply the need for vengeance. She knows that the attack on Lansing has nothing to do with her, but she can’t help feeling as if somehow, Draco is trying trying to break her. In her mind, this leaves only one reaction.

Come back swinging.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller, doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone
What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter, doesn’t mean I’m over ’cause you’re gone

This was really where it worked, for me as a writer. With a flying citadel closing on the city, Leto dead, and the defense forces of the castle all but over run by Demon Seed, Ramora pushed herself back to her feet, called on her Avatar to give her the spell she needed, and as the parapets of the castle exploded, threw herself at her enemy.

All leading to the moment when her mission became crystal clear in her mind. Past the pain, past the loss, beyond everything, she for the first time, truly understood who she was, and what she had to do.

A little except from the novel to bring it all together.
Stand up, her Rabbit sang. Calling her by her true name, it demanded she rise, and fight. Woeful though it was, it sang to her.

Planting her sword, Ramora levered herself up, asking her Avatar if had enough to give her one spell.

It whispered a tune of promise that it would. Cast the spell, the energy will be there.

Aching in her body, heart, and soul, Ramora wove the runes for lightness and strength. She felt her little Rabbit tear off its own leg, converting it to mystic energy, as it sang its adoration of her while its chi bled all over her soul.

Ramora jumped.

It had given of its own self. For her. For Leto. Her little Rabbit had suffered. It was too much. It was far and away too much. Too much pain. Too much hurt. She could take no more.

She would rain destruction down on those who brought it, without a shred of mercy. She would make them wish they’d never crawled out of their dark holes. She would drive back the darkness with her own blade.

She would avenge.

 

In this moment, Ramora comes full circle. She returned to the Middle World seeking what she believed was justice, but now knows was just vengeance. In her Rabbit’s sacrifice, she learns the difference. Vengeance isn’t enough. Even justice isn’t enough. She must avenge, and in that moment, she becomes the person, the Blessed, the world truly needs her be.

There is a difference between vengeance and avenging. It is small, and the line is easy to cross, but in that difference, she becomes stronger. Her life didn’t end with the loss of her family, or Chara, or even Leto. She knows that now, in the sacrifice of a little rabbit spirit. She will live on, to hold back the darkness with her own hands, so no one else has to suffer.

This is the difference. Vengeance cares not who else suffers, but those who avenge do. In the midst of a massive battle for the fate of not just a city, but a continent, Ramora finally understands this.

What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter, doesn’t mean I’m over ’cause you’re gone

An epic battle scene is nothing if the characters we love are not at the heart of it. If we don’t feel for them, hurt with them, and grow with them, then it is just a war, and nothing is gained, save death.

Next week, the last of the songs that inspired this novel.

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