Almost from the moment I first daydreamed of this impossible world where the sun never set, I knew I wanted at least part of the story to take place at a royal court. I’ve harbored a not-so-secret fascination with royals, palaces, and the complex court intrigues that spring up around them for as long as I can remember—I’ll go ahead and blame a childhood filled with La Belle et La Bête, Camelot, and The Swan Princess on VHS, and The Lioness Quartet, Crown Duel, and Summers at Castle Auburn on loan from the library. So one of my favorite aspects of building this world was inventing all the rules of politesse and decorum governing this royal court.
The court of the Amber Empress—known in the book as Coeur d’Or—is inspired mainly by European royal courts of the 17th and 18th centuries, with a focus on Versailles and the court of King Louis XIV, nicknamed the Sun King. The deeper I researched Versailles, the more I became fascinated with Louis—as an ambitious and cunning young king, he managed to consolidate his rule and cement a centralized and absolute monarchy in France largely through controlling his aristocracy with complex court structures. Because he kept his nobles housed at Versailles, he was able to keep track of who danced attendance on his every move (including his bathroom breaks!) in order to dole out favor at his whim. He encouraged a kind of competitive extravagance among his aristocracy. His courtiers would spend absurd amounts of money on parties and constantly changing fashions in order to maintain favor at court, leveraging their estates until they were broke and their peasants were starving. Louis would then float them credit, ensuring they were in his debt. He kept such firm control of his nobility that his reign saw an unusually long period of internal peace in France—with such a strong central court, Louis’ nobles were literally unable to plan any rebellions or uprisings like the Fronde of his youth.
I really loved the idea of such a calculating monarch, but I also wanted to explore a environment so strictly mandated by etiquette and modes of decorum. What if the golden noose around the nobility of a royal court was cinched too tightly? What would that breaking point look like?
That’s what inspired the Gauntlet. I imagined something that might once have started off relatively innocent—a way for legacies to practice their powers, or a kind of harmless mock battle scenario—twisted by a ruthless monarch into a way to control her court. To instill fear, inspire constant feuding, and flaunt power to rivals. Outwardly—with its extravagant costumes, opulent design, and air of revelry—it might appear to be yet another courtly diversion for bored aristocrats. But like many things in Coeur d’Or, it is just perfume to mask a stench—its glamor hides malaise, tyranny, and creeping treachery.