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Story Keepers Books

The Prize in the Game by Jo Walton (Tir Tanagiri Series #3)

The Prize in the Game by Jo Walton (Tir Tanagiri Series #3)

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The Prize in the Game was published by Tor in 2002, and by Corsair in the UK as an ebook in 2013. It’s my third pubished novel and my non-selling book.

It’s a version of the Irish story of the Tain Bo Cuailgne, set in the world of the Sulien books. It features some of the minor characters in those books, before they appear there. It’s essentially their backstory. I had the idea for it by considering that the names Guinevere (Gwynhwyfar) and Fionnbharr are etymologically identical, and considering that if Fionnbharr in the Tain grew up to be Guinevere that would explain some of Guinevere’s subsequent behaviour. That’s where I got Elenn from. Her sister Emer came from the “doubling” of Guinevere in a number of sources, where Guinevere has a “bad” sister. I put Emer and Elenn into the Sulien books grown up and formed, and then discovered that fewer people know the Tain than I had imagined. I wrote The Prize in the Game to elucidate this. This is the story of fifteen year olds in a warrior culture. It was interesting taking characters I already knew well as adults, and where I had already written the ends of their stories (in Conal’s case even his death) and writing about how they came to be those people.

The other thing I was interested in doing with it was considering what it’s like to live with a legend. The legends in the Tain are Cuchulain, here Darag, and Maeve, here Maga. They’re the ones people tell stories about. I was more interested in the people around them — Conal Cearnach, the second-best warrior in all Ireland, Elenn, the daughter Maga offers in marriage to warrior after warrior who’ll try to kill Darag. Elenn and Emer are very different from each other, but each formed in reaction to their mother. Conal is formed in reaction to his parents but also to Darag. Conal and Emer fall in love. The fourth point of view character is Ferdia, who was a fascinating challenge to write — gay, a warrior, just a little slower than his friends, and terribly in love with Darag. I found Ferdia ferociously difficult to write, but now I think he’s the best thing in the book.

The Sulien books were written in first person, and I was determined to write this in third. It’s in four very tight third points of view that alternate in strict rotation — nobody notices this, and it was a challenge but it gave me at least as much as it cost me. I wrote the book in 2001. Most of it was written before 8am.

Goodreads: 3.72

***Former library copy***

Paperback, 2004

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