Meet Niels Bosch, the autistic hero of my debut fantasy novel “Night’s Reign”.
Table of Contents
Background and Setting
Niels grew up in Dorhedde, a medium-sized town in Darsrijck. His world, Sor, is one of seven interconnected worlds in a universe simply known as The All.
The opening scene of chapter one shows Niels in his natural habitat: the House of Prayer in The Barlows, a small rural community in Briscona.
The familiar scent of incense and burning candles, and the susurrant sound of water made him feel at peace with himself and the world. It always did. The Sanctuary was his home.
Who is Niels Bosch?
His Holiness Niels Bosch is a young priest with a troubled and mysterious past.
"I was born on the twelfth day of First Moon 9720, in the capital city of Ebaru. Not the part you know from the vidisphere and magazines, where the people wear silken robes, the streets are paved with gold, and the sun radiates brilliantly from the white marble palace walls and their golden-roofed towers. That was not the Ebaru my mother knew."
He’s a good-looking man with dark skin, black hair, and golden eyes. He likes to cook, practises martial arts three times a sevenday, and spends most of his free time studying. Not that he has much free time.
In our own world, Niels would be diagnosed with ASD, but autism is not a known condition on Sor, so he is just seen as “different”.
He sat down on the floor, curled up in a ball, and started rocking back and forth gently, humming to himself in a low voice. He had experienced these, what he called panic attacks, for as long as he could remember. Only, back when he was a child, they had most often looked more like temper tantrums.(...) They were neither tantrums nor panic attacks. He knew this with absolute certainty, though he didn’t know what else to call them. Nobody seemed to know. Not even Papa, who was a paediatrician. He once said some children simply were like that. They were easily overwhelmed and would either break down or shut down when they could no longer cope. They could learn how to handle their overwhelm better, but as far as Papa knew, they never outgrew it.
Not surprisingly, Niels is a sensitive young man, whose emotions run far deeper than one would be able to tell by his facial expressions. He cares deeply about the people in his life, and would readily give his own life to save the lives of his loved ones. Niels has a strong sense of right and wrong. Truth and honesty are two virtues he values highly, but he seems allergic to the word “destiny”…
An Ancient Curse
But there’s more. Our autistic hero was born under the influence of a nasty curse that might just kill him. In fact, it already almost did exactly that when, at age fourteen, Niels attempted suicide.*)
As we follow Niels throughout the story, we discover that he is an extremely intelligent young man gifted with a formidable talent to make the dumbest choices. Though not entirely his own fault—his ill-advised choices are often informed by his autistic nature—his lack of insight can land him in the most uncomfortable, embarrassing, or even dangerous situations.
As he relieved himself, he heard a knock on the door. Erl’s balls! Visitors? At this ungodly hour? When he was still practically naked? For one moment he hesitated. Then he decided to just open the door. Whoever it was would sarding well get what they had asked for. A grumpy, half naked priest. Moments later he stared at a small figure in a wheelchair and his bravado melted. He felt the heat rise to his cheeks as he stammered, “B-Beldenka?” “Well, well. Good afternoon to you too, Mr Sexybutt.” With a mischievous grin on her face she looked him up and down. Several times.
Want all the basic info on Niels in one place? I put together a beautiful character profile, which you can download right here:
Motivations and Goals
Niels’ goal is simple: He wants to live the quiet life of an ordinary priest. He also wants a wife and children, because that’s one of the duties of a priest: to procreate and make sure his priestly line doesn’t die out. Unfortunately, he has so far not had much luck in that department and he seriously doubts he ever will.
Destiny, however, has other plans: he has to lift a curse and save the world. But that aside, he’s been on the run from a mentally unstable king and the highly skilled Royal Assassins of Ebaru for most of his life. So far, he has been able to dodge them, but the assassins don’t care about collateral damage, and Niels has lost many loved ones at their hands. The Assassins are unlikely to give up the chase, and Niels will ultimately have to deal with them and with King Hannassan of Ebaru. That’s not something he is looking forward to.
Unwilling though he is, he knows he cannot put the confrontation off forever, and together with his cantor Beldenka (Bel), his bodyguard Mikhandor and Bel’s old friend Yeleksim (Leks), he sets off on a perilous quest that can only have one of two outcomes: victory, or death.
Character Development of our Autistic Hero
In the story-within-the-story Niels takes us back to his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, which allows us to see how he grew into the man he is at the time of the story. We learn early on that his mother died in childbirth and his father is unknown. We also learn that his mother left him a special gift; a golden pendant which he is supposed to wear on his bare skin day and night as it will give him strength. Later on, we learn that this pendant does quite a bit more than that, and it plays a significant role in Niels’ life and the progression of the story.
Although Niels’ adoptive parents love him and are good to him, his childhood is not a happy one. This is partly due to his autistic nature which not only makes it hard for him to function in an environment where his senses are in a near-constant state of overload, but also impairs his ability to interact with people in a socially acceptable way. As a result his classmates ostracise him, and even many adults (including his adoptive mother) have no idea how to deal with his apparently idiosyncratic behaviour.
A suicide attempt, followed by a prolonged stay in a mental hospital, forces him to leave home and country, and to return to his roots, to Ebaru. There, our autistic hero learns some uncomfortable truths about himself and his lineage, and he struggles to come to terms with these new truths. However, he also finds a new source of strength, and forges some unexpected friendships.
After his graduation from the seminary his priestly career gets interrupted several times by attempts on his life, and although he managed to escape unscathed, these attacks invariably result in the deaths of friends and loved ones.
Not surprisingly, Niels is reluctant to let Bel—or anyone else—into his life when he accepts his new position as priest of The Barlows. Bel’s stubborn insistence on creating a bond scares him, and makes him fear for her life. As the story progresses and Niels sees how well Bel handles herself and how capable she is, Niels is able to gradually let go of his fears—even though he remains fully aware of the danger.
By the end of “Night’s Reign“, Niels has embraced who he is, and is ready to accept his destiny.
Relationships and Interactions
During his childhood Niels develops a strong bond with a local priest, who becomes his mentor and accompanies him when he has to go to Ebaru. In Ebaru Niels strikes up some lasting friendships, however, most of these friends die when the Royal Assassins attempt to kill Niels.
Niels feels guilty over their deaths, even though there was nothing he could have done to prevent what happened. It’s a burden he carries with him for the rest of his life.
Despite his initial reservations, Niels develops a bond with Bel soon after his arrival in The Barlows. Bel introduces him to her old friend Leks, who soon turns out to be more than he pretends to be. Last but not least, there’s Mikhandor, also known as Mig, who has been watching out for Niels for longer than Niels can remember.
Later on, other people join Niels and Bel on their quest, until finally they come face to face with King Hanassan of Ebaru.
We discussed Niels Bosch, the autistic hero of Night’s Reign, and the central conflicts in this dark fantasy story, looked at Niels’ autistic nature and the significance of the curse he carries. We also touched upon his relationships and personal growth, leading up to the confrontation with the antagonistic king of Ebaru.
Last, But Not Least
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*)If you are feeling suicidal, please, GET HELP!