In all Kherishdar there is one man with no choices… and one woman with them all.
When alien taint destroyed her former House, Haraa nai‘Qevellen-osulkedi was raised out of casteless despair to translate human languages for the god of Civilization, the Ai-Naidari Emperor. At first her curiosity and intelligence serve her well, but the longer she spends among aliens, the more questions she has about her world. How did Kherishdar come about? Why is the Emperor singular, and the priest who serves Shame? Why does Kherishdar need an Exception, and why is it always a woman, and why does she annoy Haraa so badly?
Kherishdar’s Exception is a coming-of-age story set in a world where everyone has a place. But among the Ai-Naidar, you don’t get to choose that place.
Of all the books I write, the books of Kherishdar are among the most science fictiony in the old sense, the one I loved best when I first discovered the genre: immersion in an alien culture, complete with made-up language. As such, they’re pretty hardcore. But I love writing them, and I love the language, and their fans, though fewer than the Peltedverse’s, have the most amazing discussions when they talk about the concepts in these books.
So if that’s your jam, try the series by starting with The Aphorisms of Kherishdar, which, with its companion The Admonishments of Kherishdar, serve as primers to the setting and introduce you to the main characters who propel the events of the following two novels. Maybe you’ll bounce off it, but maybe you’ll love it…
For those of you who already do, I say: raiselovrus pinith aishenesh. I welcome you (and will always welcome you) home.
“Your language has too much nuance.”
This complaint wins me a sardonic look from Haraa, who is sitting on the windowseat with her books spread over her lap. But that’s fine. I can handle sardonic looks… it’s why I came out with this comment in front of her instead of the Calligrapher, or Shame, whose responses would have been far harder to handle.
“So what,” she drawls, “has you so confused this time, aunerai?”
“’Life,’” I say. “Is as. Why can’t I just conjugate that to get the verb?”
“Because it would be ugly,” she says dismissively.
“But you can conjugate other nouns to get the verb form!”
“But living is a lot more complicated.” She puts a bookmark in her journal—a kadkabini, because naturally I have the word for something esoteric, like “bookmark”, but not something as basic as “to live”—and leans over the closed book, brows lifted. “So go ahead. Ask.”
“How do you say it?” I ask.
I try not to put my head in my hands. She grins.
“The words for having,” she says. “We combine those with the word for life to derive ‘to live’. And we use them accordingly.”
“You have five words for ‘to have’,” I mutter.
“Yep,” she says, leaning back, amused.
“Astemin,” she says. “That’s living like you’re creating your life, with intent.”
“Naturally,” I say. “You would have a word for that.”
“The astonishing thing is that you don’t,” she says. “Astemir, though, that’s to live like you’ve earned it. Something you say of people you admire, who’ve done good things.”
“But not made them,” I said. “I would have thought you would value making-as-value.”
“We do,” she says, cheerful. “Farren both lives-through-making, and has reached the point of living-through-earning.”
I really do put my head in my hands. “Don’t tell me there are another three words for living.”
“You’re in luck, there’s only one more. Asim, to live by being given your life as Divine duty and gift. That’s where most of us are.”
I look up, squinting. “But there’s no asimai…?”
“No one lives just because they exist,” she says. “Living’s not like being pretty or smart, something you’re born with. If you’re born at all, you’re already living because you’ve received a gift, from your parents who made you. There’s no…” She waves a hand. “No living in a convenient vacuum, where you get to deny that your existence doesn’t rely on other people.”
“Of course,” I mutter. “So… asim, astemin, and astemir.” I cock my head. “Astemshe?”
“Only,” she says, “if someone who is about to kill you stays his hand.” She grinned. “Kind of an ancient and bizarre construct, but I won’t say it hasn’t been used.”
“How do people even speak your language,” I say, resigned.
“If they’re you, badly.”