Hearts at War came out of a small spark. For a while, I had talked to people close to me about writing a book for Jabari, what sort of circumstances would finally force him into a relationship and give him growth at the time time. Like… possibly a year+ ago. I think it came into my head when I was thinking about Zuri/writing Zuri’s story. (and I already have ideas for a couple of the other siblings that are not Hisao)
There’s a long, detailed thing I could post about not wanting to write Jacky last July. Royal Pawn had just released, I needed to be writing Rogue Alpha. I did not want to, and there’s a bunch of reasons for that. I started at the beginning of that manuscript and wanted to scream. In the end, I wrote Hearts at War real quick, then went back to Jacky, feeling so much better. Hearts at War, on the timeline, went after Rogue Alpha, but I needed the change of pace. I could get away with writing it, have both in editing at the same to check details… so I did. I wrote Hearts at War first and I was so much better for it.
Writing this book was smooth. It flowed out of my brain and onto the page. I had such a connection to the idea of this book that writing it was “easy”. Writing is never easy. I wrote 10-12 hours a day on this book. Even if it came easily, that still takes a toll on the body in secret ways. Emotionally, though? I connected to this book and to these characters and their stories. So the spoilers… will be a little personal. Let’s get into it. I’m going to ramble, a lot. There’s a lot we can break down, things I just want to say to say them.
At the base concept, starting to think of Jabari getting a book, I knew there was a teenager involved. The idea that he’s not just finding love but something he’s never had, this idea of fatherhood that fits him really well… on paper. He’s so much more damaged than we know. Even without his past, he just isn’t in a place where he can explore who he is. He’s trapped in the position of eldest son, being strong for everyone, the General. It’s his identity.
It would be so easy to make this entire book seem like “oh yay, we got to have a Jabari book.” It would be easy to say it’s only his book, and only think everyone else is just there to make him grow. He wasn’t my favorite character in the book. He wasn’t the character who really told me the story. I adore Makalo, but he wasn’t either.
Aisha walked into my head and asked to tell me a story. In the end, this mother, this powerful woman, was the person who guided me through this book. She showed me how she healed, and showed me what she had to heal from. I was following her, trying to keep up, just like Jabari was.
She’s wonderfully complex. It would be so easy to say: This can’t be a romance. She’s made an awful mistake and she shouldn’t have done that. She doesn’t deserve forgiveness until she apologizes. But I write these books, so I got to write the mother I wished had. The woman who could put what she believed her children needed first. Jabari realizes this over the course of the book, because Aisha refuses to be anything or do anything but what she feels is best for Makalo. She’s just as traumatized as Jabari, but she was strong enough to begin healing long before this book started. Someone who showered their child in unconditional love, sheltered and protected this little life in her care. She didn’t give him expectations, or a life of potential fear and conflict. She didn’t burden him with the mistakes she or his father made. She only gave him love and acceptance, a place where he could find himself. She didn’t have any of that, not at all. Her mother is her deepest trauma.
In her most heart broken moment, she was in charge of someone precious, someone she knew was vulnerable and powerless. Instead of repeating the mistakes done to her, or letting another give him a different type of pain. She would try to be the mother she wished she had.
Writing her, even now in review, honestly brings tears to my eyes. (And I will fight for her. You’ve been warned.)
As for the book’s plot itself… I’ll jump straight to Subira. I hinted Subira was up to something at the beginning, and I adored having three generations of this family on the same page. I enjoyed presenting the juxtaposition of Hasan’s reaction to Subira’s reaction to this situation. Hasan was immediately blaming Aisha. Subira got real with Jabari. Subira doesn’t put her children on pedestals, that’s for sure. Readers will have to make their own decisions about which was the better parent reaction.
Also, when witches are involved, Subira will eventually get involved. It might not always be quickly, but she’ll make her way there… sooner or later. Sometimes, she needs lots of time to figure out what she needs to do, but in this case, even if it hadn’t been her family, she would have intervened.
(Some of you will have questions about Levi from Snared: KS2. The Tribunal got him before anyone in their family could, and the Tribunal witches stuffed him into a prison before anything could be done. Not every person can be in every place at every time for these sorts of situations. So yeah, the family kills witches that know this sort of magic, to steal power from others, but they can’t handle literally every case of it. Let’s be realistic.)
It was her family, though, and she remained calm. I have a feeling she was shaken by the scene she found, but she’s the matriarch and she had to remain calm. Her son was falling apart. Her family was watching this unfold while they were powerless. They all hope she can be the one to fix it and she recognizes that too.
Makalo having to find some power, but also I wanted to have a boy who is just a boy. He’s a hero, absolutely. He fought and protected himself, because his mother taught him enough and his father told him the score, but he’s still just a boy. This was a big moment for him, and he reacted to it as best as he could then didn’t know what to do. However, I love him. Through the whole book, I adore him. Real MVP, Makalo.
And we could get into the nuance of the family call if we wanted, the siblings and their behavior. Or maybe how well Zuri knows Jabari. It’s sad how much she knows about her brother… and yet was missing this one crucial part of his life.
I really can’t type essays on my own books, though. I mean, I could, but I’m here to express the biggest pieces of the book to me and then let y’all talk to me about your favorite parts so…
Let’s get talking!