Who is Mora Aresh is the driving force of A Tyrant Comes’ female protagonist’s drive/character arc and arguably the main character, despite the story opening from her favored mercenary/lover’s POV, Ragmar Mor. Mora is a little different from most female protagonists: she’s sixty years old, she’s retired, and she’s more concerned with finding out why her mother brought her and her family to a world, that while unique in the cosmos, has little significance overall in the greater setting.
Straight up? Mora and her people are space demons. In any other story, they’d likely be the villains looking to conquer the world or enslave it for illogical political reasons because DEMONS! But the irony is the way demons have existed as both positive and negative people in other mythologies since time immemorial.
I took a simple political concept: what if an imperial force collapsed at the height of their impending victory, the insurgents weren’t really any better than them, and then cut them off from all other worlds for decades? And that’s where it gets interesting.
Mora chose the opposite of her mother’s path because of what happened to her, because of the pain it caused her family, because of the pain it caused the world. She did it to escape her people’s mother goddess who created a political and social system that saved them from killing each other, to tempering it into a ruthless but necessary system. And all of their people express this conflict driven philosophy on the macro and micro level, reject, contradict, and revise this goddess’s misunderstood mantra. And it’s great. It gives nuance, it gives doubt, it gives questions about empires, insurgencies, and the often messy complexity of realpolitik, political systems, etc.
Mora is like a cross between Cersei Lannister’s political mind with better taste in wines, with the empathy of Granny Weatherwax and a history nerd rolled together. Empathy and genuine concern is her most powerful weapon. It’s how she healed political wounds, brokered trade routes and enforce her peace upon her territory. And at the height of her power? She left it behind in the hands of her cousin/successor. That’s not normal. What kind of empress would give up political power freely of her own will? But within the context of the setting, her own desires, and her discovery of old records and documents, it leads her to the start of the story.
She is not perfect and should not be. She can be overconfident, easily excitable, mercurial, and despite her good intentions, there is a certain lust for power in her that she might not acknowledge, but others can see it. She gets outplayed, she sees the effects of her legacy, positive and negative, while attempting to understand why this happened.
Her court was made of up ruthless monastic warriors, power jockeying snakes, a blood-shifting witch, an assassin turned loyal infiltrator, a con artist with a vast intelligence network, and a particular mercenary whose unsung contracts paved the way for her reign.
There was sexuality, sensuality, an erotic power lurking in her court that drew all. Power plays, clandestine liaisons, unexpected love, all played out with and without her knowledge. Her people are built, cut, take pride in their bodies, wear their scars as stories, and have a certain pragmatism/ruthlessness. They also put down the sword, took to the farm, worry about their children, their place in the cosmos since they don’t know their own origins. They are Assyria’s culture with the American individualism and the uncertainty that comes from that juxtaposition. They’re the sum of their contradictions.
Mora was and currently is still my favorite female character I wrote. She’s the kind of character I like: complicated, messy, a little hypocritical, but tries to make the world better in her own flawed way.
Her story is about the death of that culture she wants to tear down, despite its positives and negatives across the ages. That’s what A Tyrant Comes is about: It’s what do you do when your entire way of life reaches its nadir? What will be the final eulogy of the empress who saved or destroyed a legacy of salvation and conquest written into the stars? I do not know.