Empire of Dust by Eleanor Herman
In Macedon, war rises like smoke, forbidden romance blooms and ancient magic tempered with rage threatens to turn an empire to dust
After winning his first battle, Prince Alexander fights to become the ruler his kingdom demands—but the line between leader and tyrant blurs with each new threat.
Meanwhile, Hephaestion, cast aside by Alexander for killing the wrong man, must conceal the devastating secret of a divine prophecy from Katerina even as the two of them are thrust together on a dangerous mission to Egypt.
The warrior, Jacob, determined to forget his first love, vows to eradicate the ancient Blood Magics and believes that royal prisoner Cynane holds the key to Macedon’s undoing.
And in chains, the Persian princess Zofia still longs to find the Spirit Eaters, but first must grapple with the secrets of her handsome—and deadly—captor.
New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Herman entwines the real scandals of history with epic fantasy to reimagine the world’s most brilliant ruler, Alexander the Great, in the second book of the Blood of Gods and Royals series.
Hi, Eleanor! Thanks for joining us on GayYA to talk about Empire of Dust, the second book in your Blood of Gods and Royals series! I’m thrilled to be chatting with you as I just finished up Empire and I am completely in love with this series. First, I’m going to try and do this interview without any spoilers…which is hard, but I think we can manage. –Katherine Locke
- I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Alexander of Legacy of Kings, the first book in the series, is based on Alexander the Great and so the historical figure’s sexuality comes into play in Legacy and much more in Empire. How important was it to you to include Alexander’s sexuality? And how would you say your Alexander identifies?
Historical records indicate that as a teenager Alexander was so ambivalent about girls it worried his parents—not because there was something bad or wrong about being gay (it was considered merely a matter of personal preference at the time,), but because the king and queen wanted grandchildren! So his mother and father hired a ravishing young courtesan named Kallixena to seduce him, but we don’t know if she actually did. We do know they didn’t get grandchildren from her. Some sources say Alexander never touched the 365 women in King Darius’s harem when he conquered Persia. We do know that when he finally married his first of three brides at twenty-seven, he was head over heels in love and had a child with her.
There’s no doubt that he deeply loved his best friend, Hephaestion, and called him a second version of himself. Many people after Alexander’s death thought they were gay lovers, and it’s certainly a possibility, but we have no records from the time saying so.
I picture Alexander as a person focused on ideas, strategy, and action. In the series, while Hephaestion and Jacob are sexually very interested in girls, Alexander prefers to have an emotional or intellectual connection with them.
- How did your understanding of Alexander change as his sexuality plays out more on the page? Did you find yourself writing him differently? Did it open up more plotlines for him or did it close doors?
Some of my other characters couple up and initially I wanted to give Alexander a girlfriend, boyfriend, or both. But the more I studied Alexander, and the more I got into the character’s mind, it just didn’t seem right. While Alexander flirts with romance in Empire of Dust, he doesn’t get physical like the other characters. He’s focused on ruling, winning, becoming a great king. The needs of the body aren’t that important to him. According to historical records, when he went on campaign, he could put up with heat, cold, hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and pain without a complaint. He turned down the beautiful girls and boys offered to him at every city. I think he lived mostly in his mind.
- Did you ever worry that you’d get pushback from your publisher/editor/marketing team because of Alexander’s identity?
No, I have an incredibly supportive team at Harlequin Teen. Plus, there’s a whole genre of YA LGBTQIA+ fiction these days. The Blood of Gods and Royals series can’t really be put in that category, but it does address Alexander’s rather perplexing sexuality as part of the historical past.
- There are many intertwining storylines and characters in both Legacy and Empire. How did you choose your characters? Are they all based on historical figures?
The historical characters are Alexander, his parents King Philip and Queen Olympias (who really was considered a witch and did keep snakes in her bedroom), his half-sister Cynane, Hephaestion, his tutor Aristotle, and Great King Darius of Persia. I invented the other characters as new threads to weave into the historical story, threads of magic, conflict and darkness.
I also wanted these fictional characters to show what life was like away from the glitter of the palace. So Katerina and Jacob are raised by a potter in a tiny village and know what hunger feels like. Zofia of Sardis, though she has grown up in a luxurious Persian palace, soon finds herself captured by slave traders and goes on a physically demanding, psychologically demeaning journey with every privilege gone. The world of Alexander’s time was as multi-dimensional as our own is today, and when my readers close my books I want them to say two things. The first is, “Wow! That was an amazing ride.” And the second is, “I know so much now about ancient Greece and Persia.” I call it stealth education. You sort of sneak it in there while the readers are enjoying themselves.
- Tell me about your research process, especially as it pertains to depictions of sexuality of that time period.
There are many fascinating books on sexuality in the ancient world, and I’ve probably read them all. Anyone interested in learning more should go to bookfinder.com and in the title box search for “sexuality ancient world.” In order to write authentically about a different place and time, you need to have two streams of research. One is the things that people used: the houses, food, clothing, transportation, lighting, heating, medicine, and weapons. The other is the ideas that affected people’s lives: religion, government, conquest, philosophy, and issues regarding slavery, women, and sexuality. You need to have a good grasp of them all before you sit down to write because on any single day in any character’s life they were all important.
- Empire of Dust takes Alexander to a new and darker place. What’s it like writing a character who seems to be straying farther from the person he imagined himself to be?
In Empire of Dust, Alexander deals with the pressures of ruling as regent of Macedon in his father’s absence. While it was easy for him to criticize his father’s decisions, now that Alexander is in charge he has a new appreciation of how hard it is to rule. Everything seems to be falling apart as he deals with invading warriors, pirates, and Persian spies. In his desperate attempts to make people respect and fear him, he launches into a brutal direction that isn’t who he really is.
Sometimes we all stray far from the people we imagine ourselves to be. It can be a good thing, getting in touch with who we really are rather than who we pretend to be or who others want us to be. Sometimes it’s a bad thing when we venture into areas that simply aren’t right for us. Even those cases, though, can have an upside. We learn the lesson, correct our course, and get back on track.
- Any advice to aspiring authors writing LGBTQIA+ characters?
I would tell them to remember that our sexuality, while certainly important, is usually not the single defining aspect of who we are. We are first and foremost kind and funny, supportive and smart, courageous and compassionate. We are loving sons and daughters, caring friends, and inspirational co-workers. And we are also gay, straight, bi, asexual, or transgender. So I would advise aspiring authors to make sure their LGBTQIA+ characters are well nuanced and fully human, not a cardboard cut-out with a label on his forehead that says GAY.
Unfortunately, we live in a world of such labels. Alexander’s society did not. They didn’t care who someone loved, and in that respect they were way ahead of us.
Thank you so much and we’re so happy to be adding Empire of Dust to the LGBTQIA+ YA shelves! Empire of Dust is out TODAY, so go pick it up!
New York Times best-seller Eleanor Herman brings her skills as a historian to an exciting new Young Adult series on Alexander the Great at sixteen, the four-book Legacy of Kings: Blood of Gods and Royals. Eleanor has hosted shows for The History Channel and the National Geographic Channel on Henry VIII, the ancient Greek city of Aphrodisias, and the Hindenburg. She is an expert commentator on numerous episodes of a national show coming out this fall.
Eleanor lives with her husband, their black lab, and her four very dignified cats in McLean, VA. She is a member of the National Press Club, where she often moderates book events, a queen mother of Cameroon, an elections officer, and a volunteer for the aging in Fairfax County, VA. She can be found online at www.eleanorherman.com