For those that don’t know, I chose this picture because it connects to what I’m about to discuss. While I didn’t get into the series due to not having the premium channels at the time, I did hear about this. The actor who played Spartacus in Season 1 got cancer and they wanted to wait until he got better before they moved the story along. This led to a prequel season 2 that looked into some of the supporting cast and villains as well as establishing some good world-building. Spartacus himself was not involved in these events, but it was still part of the series. From what I can tell, it worked.
Not ever series has this benefit though. I remember in comics when Peter Parker was replaced by Ben Reilly who was though to be the real Peter Parker at the time, but was actually the clone that the real Peter Parker thought he was before leaving the series with Mary Jane. If that sentence made your eyebrow twitch then you can imagine how people received it and get a sense of why it failed. Replacing a hero even temporarily is a big risk that can backfire horribly. You can end a series like that if you’re not careful, so it’s smart to leave an acceptable escape route. Reviving a long dead villain with a previously undocumented healing factor and having him claim that he was behind the confusion the whole time is not the way to go. Yes, I have trust issues because of the Spider-Clone Saga of the 1990’s.
For Path of the Traitors, I didn’t go to extremes and made it completely understandable that this is going on. Somebody needs to find the magic crests that are rumored to be the key to the champions’ victory. The champions are unable to travel because of what happened to Luke Callindor in Ritual of the Lost Lamb. They also can’t stray very far from the path leading to their final battle since Windemere is gradually falling apart. So, Trinity’s team has to take the protagonist reins while the champions recoup and then head out. It’s clear that this is a one volume thing, so readers don’t have to fear that this is a last minute hero replacement. The focus will be back on the champions for Warlord of the Forgotten Age or The Forgotten One depending on the title I settle down with. I’m writing this in late June, so hopefully I have this issue figured out by the time this goes live.
I can’t say that I did this without a lot of thought. In fact, this is one of the 3 books that was never in the original 12 volume run. Like The Mercenary Prince stemming from me wanting to showcase Delvin Cunningham for a book and The Merchant of Nevra Coil giving Yola Biggs more development, Path of the Traitors came mostly from wanting to highlight Trinity as more than a high-ranking henchman. From her first appearance, I felt there was more I could do with her and it took a while to realize that she needed to step out of Nyx’s shadow to get there. This also opened the door for a little more evolution on other former villains, but the focus was getting Trinity to the peak that she deserved to stand on. There was also the issue of having the heroes go directly into the final battle after a slew of disasters and tortures, so this book helps to give the idea that they are struggling to recover before entering the final battle. The Baron isn’t exactly going anywhere even though his influence is seeping through this curse.
The hero ‘replacement’ story is definitely a tricky one that should not be taken lightly or launched into without really thinking about it. You can alienate fans of the main heroes because they might not care about the new protagonist. This is why you have to make them care and demonstrate that the events of this story have a strong impact on the other heroes. Again, you need to do this while making it clear that the previous heroes will come back as more than cameos. If they are being pushed to supporting cast for the rest of the series then you probably should do a passing of the torch thing. Either way, you can’t just do it and expect everything to work out. Humans don’t like abrupt changes and suddenly putting out a book where none of the expected heroes are present is a big one. Readers should trust the author, but it could be misunderstood as a sign that you started a new series and forgot to change the title. That or you have given up on the other plot, which doesn’t look good for you. Hence the one piece of advice that will always ring true:
Do what you feel is right for the story, but tread carefully.