Upcoming: CONSENSUAL HEX by Amanda Harlowe (Grand Central / Atlantic)

HarloweA-ConsensualHex

Consensual Hex has been pitched as “The Craft for the #MeToo era,” which is a pretty intriguing premise. (Very much a fan of The Craft, which I may have seen in the cinema.) Amanda Harlowe‘s debut is a campus novel with a difference, perhaps in the same sub-genre are Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series, but with a dash of The Power?

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to reading this. Here’s the synopsis:

When Lee, a first year at Smith, is raped under eerie circumstances during orientation week by an Amherst frat boy, she’s quickly disillusioned by her lack of recourse. As her trauma boils within her, Lee is selected for an exclusive seminar on Gender, Power, and Witchcraft, where she meets Luna (an alluring Brooklyn hipster), Gabi (who has a laundry list of phobias), and Charlotte (a waifish, chill international student). Granted a charter for a coven and suddenly in possession of real magic, the four girls are tasked by their aloof Professor with covertly retrieving a grimoire that an Amherst fraternity has gotten their hands on. But when the witches realize the frat brothers are using magic to commit and cover up sexual assault all over Northampton, their exploits escalate into vigilante justice. As Lee’s thirst for revenge on her rapist grows, things spiral out of control, pitting witch against witch as they must wrestle with how far one is willing to go to heal.

CONSENSUAL HEX is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive portrait of a young woman coming of age, uncovering the ways in which love and obsession and looking to fit in can go hand in hand. Lee, an outstanding, magical anti-heroine, refuses to be pigeonholed as a model victim or a horrific example. Instead, her caustic voice demands our attention, clawing out from every page, equally vicious and vulnerable as she lures us, then dares us, to transgress. Dark, biting, and archly camp, CONSENSUAL HEX announces Harlowe as a significant talent.

Consensual Hex is due to be published by Grand Central Publishing in North America (October 6th) and Atlantic Books in the UK (October 8th).

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: CREATURES OF CHARM AND HUNGER by Molly Tanzer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

TanzerM-CreaturesOfCharmAndHungerI stumbled across this novel on NetGalley, and it caught my attention. I’ve been aware of Molly Tanzer‘s fiction for a while, and it’s always interesting. The synopsis for Creatures of Charm and Hunger is very intriguing:

Two young witches, once inseparable, are set at odds by secrets and wildly dangerous magic.

In the waning days of World War II, with Allied victory all but certain, desperate Nazi diabolists search for a demonic superweapon to turn the tide. A secluded castle somewhere in the south of Germany serves as a laboratory for experiments conducted upon human prisoners, experiments as vile as they are deadly.

Across the English Channel, tucked into the sleepy Cumbrian countryside, lies the Library, the repository of occult knowledge for the Société des Éclairées, an international organization of diabolists. There, best friends Jane Blackwood and Miriam Cantor, tutored by the Société’s Librarian — and Jane’s mother — Nancy, prepare to undergo the Test that will determine their future as diabolists.

When Miriam learns her missing parents are suspected of betraying the Société to the Nazis, she embarks on a quest to clear their names, a quest involving dangerous diabolic practices that will demand more of her than she can imagine. Meanwhile Jane, struggling with dark obsessions of her own, embraces a forbidden use of the Art that could put everyone she loves in danger.

As their friendship buckles under the stress of too many secrets, Jane and Miriam will come face to face with unexpected truths that change everything they know about the war, the world, and most of all themselves. After all, some choices cannot be unmade — and a sacrifice made with the most noble intention might end up creating a monster.

The novel is the third in the Diabolist Library series, following Creatures of Want and Ruin and Creatures of Will and Temper.

I’m really looking forward to reading this. Creatures of Charm and Hunger is due to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 21st, 2020, in North America and in the UK.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Interview with THOMAS OLDE HEUVELT

HeuveltTO-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Thomas Olde Heuvelt?

I’m a Dutch guy who writes pretty scary novels. I started out pretty young, and even now, after five novels, I look younger than I am. So much that at signings, people always thought I was the minion helping with the book sale instead of the author. Two years ago — I was 30 then — I was having dinner with Peter Straub and Jeff VanderMeer and a bunch of other writers in Washington, and I was asked for ID when the waiters poured the wine. They thought I was their adopted child or something.

Oh, right, serious biography stuff. I also won a Hugo. And I have a novel out internationally in 2016 called HEX.

Your latest novel, Hex, will be published by Hodder in the UK. It looks rather fabulous: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?

Thanks — I’m totally in love with the cover. It’s so creepy! HEX is a creepy book about a modern day town, haunted day and night by a 17th century witch whose eyes are sewn shut. The town is virtually quarantined by its elders to prevent her curse from exploding. Frustrated with being kept in lock down, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting, but in doing so, send the town spiraling into… well, into very dark times, to frame it nicely. Also, I’d say that with HEX, I set off to write the scariest book I could imagine. I took elements from classical horror and tried to turn them around in a modern, twisted way. The witch’s haunting is very rock ‘n’ roll. She’s always there. She walks the streets day and night. She enters your home. She stands next to your bed for nights in a row. The town is bugged with cameras and there’s this control centre that tries to hide her from sight all the time. But besides the supernatural power, it’s a book mostly about human evil. Continue reading

Review: HALF BAD by Sally Green (Penguin)

GreenS-HalfBadPBThe most frustrating novel I still couldn’t stop reading

You can’t read, can’t write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.

You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.

You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.

You’ve been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.

All you’ve got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.

Easy.

I have very, very mixed feelings about Half Bad. On the one hand, Green writes very well – there isn’t a bad sentence or garbled phrase in sight. The pacing is excellent. But, the story was in many ways deeply troubling, not to mention buried by certain choices the author made to make the novel more “gritty” (as she admits in the author’s acknowledgments at the end). Usually, I drop novels I don’t like very quickly, but with this one I kept reading. Partly because I was intrigued, but eventually because I was hopeful that the story-proper would begin at some point. Sadly, the novel did not properly deliver. Continue reading

Interview with DANIELLE JENSEN

JensenD-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Danielle Jensen?

Danielle is an unrepentant daydreamer, which is a highly undesirable attribute for most professions. Life might have gone quite poorly for her if she hadn’t discovered her knack for translating dreams into novels. 

Your debut novel, Stolen Songbird, is due to be published by Strange Chemistry in April 2014. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader? Is it part of a series?

Stolen Songbird is Book 1 in The Malediction Trilogy.  This is the blurb that will be on the back of the book:

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the mountain. When Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she realises that the trolls are relying on her to break the curse.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind: escape. But the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time…

But the more time she spends with the trolls, the more she understands their plight. There is a rebellion brewing. And she just might be the one the trolls were looking for…

JensenDL-StolenSongbird2014

What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

Stolen Songbird was inspired by a dream I had about a city buried by rubble. Inspiration comes from everywhere: people I meet, things I see, movies I watch, books I read, etc., and it all sits in my brain waiting to bubble up as parts of plot.

How were you introduced to reading and genre fiction?

Tolkien-HobbitMy dad got sick of reading kid’s books to me when I was little, so he started reading me fantasy novels when I was in grade 1, mostly Tolkien and Eddings. I’m from a family of readers – it is what we do. 

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry?

It can be tough, but I love it. The people in this business are amazing.

What’s it like, being a (soon-to-be-)published author? Is it what you expected? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

It’s exciting, but very stressful. I didn’t expect for there to be so much work required of me that had nothing to do with writing another book. I write or do book related work every day, but I’ve learned to recognize when I’m getting an attack of the crazies and need a break.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

I made my first attempts at writing a novel when I was in my mid-twenties, and I look back on my efforts with amusement. I realized I wanted to be an author in 2009, and that was when I decided I was going to throw every ounce of determination I had into getting published. Took a few years, but here I am. 

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

It feels like epic/alternate world fantasy is in a stronger place than it was five years ago, which is obviously good for me. 

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

I’m currently working on Book 2 of The Malediction Trilogy, and after that’s done, I’ll immediately start working on Book 3. I do have other fantasy projects waiting for the day I have some spare time on my hands.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

LarsonSB-DefyOther than the news, I don’t read much non-fiction. As far as fiction goes, I’m currently reading Defy by Sara B. Larson.

What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

That I can’t sing or play a musical instrument.

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

I’m most looking forward to seeing the cover for the sequel, which I’m guessing will be around November.

***

Be sure to check out Danielle Jensen’s website, Twitter and Facebook for more information on her books and writing. Stolen Songbird is due to be published on April 3rd 2014.

Upcoming in the UK: “Black Jewels Trilogy” by Anne Bishop (Jo Fletcher Books)

Anne Bishop’s award-winning BLACK JEWELS trilogy is coming to the UK! The first trilogy in the series will be published in the UK by Jo Fletcher Books: Daughter of the Blood (March 6th 2014), Heir to the Shadows (May 1st), and Queen of the Darkness (July 3rd). JFB are publishing the first trilogy in Bishop’s Urban Fantasy series, but in the US the series has already grown to nine books, published by Roc Books. (If they’re as successful in the UK as across the pond, I’m sure the others will soon follow!) Below are the synopses for the three novels, and also the covers for the first two (third hasn’t been unveiled just yet).

Bishop-BJ1-DaughterOfTheBloodUKDAUGHTER OF THE BLOOD:

The Darkness has had a Prince for a long, long time. Now the Queen is coming.

For years the realm of Terreille has been falling into corruption, as the powerful Queens who rule it have turned to cruelty.

But there is hope – a prophetic vision has revealed the coming of a Queen more powerful than any other. And once the foundations of her power – father, brother, lover – are in place, she will emerge from the darkness, bringing freedom.

For she is the living myth, dreams made flesh; not just any witch, but Witch.

Bishop-BJ2-HeirToTheShadowsUKHEIR OF THE SHADOWS:

Witch – the Queen who would bring freedom to the realms – has come, but now she is lost in darkness, and has a long road to recovery ahead of her.

While her adopted father, Saeten, waits for her to return to the living world, the third side of the triangle needed to complete the prophecy – the lover, Daemon – walks in the Twisted Kingdom on the edge of madness.

As insidious whispers and dark schemes ferment treachery and betrayal, Jaenelle must make a choice: to protect those she loves, she must be more than an heir, she must become a Queen.

QUEEN OF THE DARKNESS:

Jaenelle Angelline now reigns as Queen-protector of the Shadow Realm. No longer will the corrupt Blood slaughter her people and defile her lands. But where one chapter ends, a final, unseen battle remains to be written, and Jaenelle must unleash the terrible power that is Witch to destroy her enemies once and for all.

Even so, she cannot stand alone. Somewhere, long lost in madness, is Daemon, her promised Consort. Only his unyielding love can complete her Court and secure her reign. Yet, even together, their strength may not be enough to hold back the most malevolent of forces.

This third synopsis was taken from the US edition, as JFB haven’t yet released information, outside of the publication date, for their edition. I don’t imagine it’ll be that different – it is, after all, the same book (there may just be a few tweaks).

Upcoming: “Half Bad” by Sally Green (Viking YA/Penguin)

GreenS-HalfBadI just spotted this via an advert on Goodreads (well-played, Google Ad Algorithm, well-played…). The cover really caught my eye, and I thought I’d share it on here. It’s pretty cool, no? I particularly like the way the blood in the water has been shaped (in a surprisingly realistic way) into a face, in an otherwise minimalist image.

The premise is pretty interesting, but I have a suspicion that it’s perhaps a little reminiscent of something else… If only I could remember what it reminds me of… Anyway. Here’s the synopsis:

One boy’s struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.

You can’t read, can’t write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.

You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.

You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.

You’ve been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.

All you’ve got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.

Easy.

Half Bad will be published by Penguin UK in March 2014. Penguin are also publishing in the US and Canada. It is Sally Green’s debut novel, and the first in a projected trilogy. The author is also on Twitter. Described as “supernatural thriller set in a modern world inhabited by covert witches”, I am pretty sure there are going to be a lot of people interested in reading this. Despite the obvious Harry Potter parallels (justified or not, as they may end up being). There’s a slightly different synopsis on the book’s website:

Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled like a dog, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world’s most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan’s only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers — before it’s too late. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?

I did some Googling, and it turns out that the rights to this novel have already been sold in 25 foreign rights deals. Within 13 weeks of Penguin’s first acquisition. Holy crap, that’s impressive. The Bookseller rightly (perhaps rather tamely) referred to the deal as “unprecedented”. No idea how much it went for in the first place – in secret-publishing-deal-speak, the deal was only referred to as “substantial”. This sort of deal is pretty unusual, so yeah. I’m a bit more intrigued…

Witchblade: Rebirth, Vol.1 – “Unbalanced Pieces” (Top Cow/Image)

Witchblade-Rebirth-Vol.01Writer: Tim Seeley | Art: Diego Bernard | Inks: Fred Benes, Alisson Rodrigues | Colors: Arif Prianto of IFS

In the wake of Top Cow’s Rebirth, Sara Pezzini has relocated from New York to Chicago and struggles to adapt to being a private detective. Pezzini quickly discovers that a change of scenery and occupation hasn’t changed one thing… the Witchblade is still a magnet for the supernatural Quickly drawn into a conflict between two mystical gangs, she must once again balance her responsibility as bearer of the Witchblade with her personal life.

Collects: Witchblade #151-155

I haven’t read a great deal of Witchblade comics, or other comics in Top Cow’s universe (Artifacts, The Darkness), but I’m somewhat conversant in the mythology. I read the first book by Ron Marz, which was itself a reboot/jumping-on-point, but then became distracted by the New 52 and a selection of other books (I’m not proud of it, but… Batman, baby!). After it was announced that Tim Seeley was taking over writing duties, my interest was piqued once again, having rather enjoyed his Hack/Slash horror-comedy series. So I dove in… And rather liked what I found.

I’m not sure that this needs a particularly long review. People who know the series already will know pretty much what to expect – it’s dark, gothic, but also slick. The only major difference is the location, as Sara has moved to Chicago (interestingly, that’s also where Dick “Nightwing” Grayson just moved to in the DC New 52). For new readers, this book has a lot of extra material that gives you some background. It’s not essential to read in order to enjoy this, though, as the concepts are pretty tried-and-true, but with some well-conceived and original developments.

Seeley blends a private investigator storyline and feel with just the right amount of weird in the first issue/chapter to get us intrigued. But then things get really weird – Sara tangles with biker witches, age-sucking creatures with a very strange version of their own ‘Witchblade-armour’, and a strange, supernatural beastie with a long history of fighting bearers of the Artifacts…

Things are not going well for Sara in her new environment, and her sense of displacement and ennui is well written. She’s finding her place, and it’s not going particularly well – on the social, financial, and divine purpose fronts. Add to this a policewoman who has it in for Sara, and a rather unsatisfying romantic (un)attachment with a stage magician harbouring an ulterior motive.

The story is well-written, well-paced and well-realised. Despite my aforementioned lack of fore-knowledge of the extended Witchblade mythos, I didn’t have any trouble following this. It’s weird, it’s sometimes amusing, it’s often creepy. The art team does a great job of bringing Seeley’s story to life on the page in crisp, sharp artwork. It’s eye-catching and vivid. I’m very glad I picked up volumes two and three in the ComiXology sale the other day, as I think I’ll be sticking around for a lot more of this series. I may have to try out the Rebirth The Darkness series, too.

If you are a fan of supernatural stories, filled with the occult, magical and gothic weirdness – not to mention a few gribbly beasties – then Seeley’s Witchblade is absolutely for you. Definitely recommended.

Excerpt: THE WINTER WITCH by Paula Brackston (Constable & Robinson)

Very happy to be able to share this extract from Paula Brackston’s latest novel, The Winter Witch (the sequel to The Witch’s Daughter). The novel, part of the Shadow Chronicles series, is published today by Constable & Robinson in the UK.

BrackstonP-2-WinterWitch

***

Chapter 4

How dare he touch my books! He was rifling through my possessions, as if they belong to him now. As, indeed, they do. As I belong to him, I suppose. Am I to be left nothing of myself ? I lift the lid from the crate once more, just to reassure myself that nothing has been taken. No, they are all here. He was looking at Pilgrim’s Progress. Has he ever read it, I wonder? Has he any interest in stories? I have seen no books in the house thus far. Perhaps he keeps them to himself, in his room. The room he will no doubt expect me to share with him one day. What would a man like Cai read? A man who has lived all his life in one place, save for droving, what would he choose to read?

Dada selected these books. Each and every one meant something to him; his choices were never whimsical or left to fate. He had his favourites. This one, with its fine red leather binding, he never tired of – Tales from the Thousand and One Nights. How he loved this book! And how I loved to hear him read from it, or to recount tales from memory, as he often did. The cover feels warm, as if my dada had just this minute left off reading it. As I run my thumb across it the title spells itself out to me, cut into the leather, even though the gilding has long been rubbed away by palm and lap. A heavy sadness settles upon me, as it so often does when I recall the pain of his leaving.

When I remember how he was one day there, and the next not. And how when he went away he took my voice with him.

Of a sudden I am overcome by weariness. The journey, the dragging sorrow of homesickness, this strange house, unfamiliar society, the heat… all have taken their toll so that now all I wish to do is sleep. And yet I fear still I will not be able to. If I clutch Dada’s book close against me, tight to my heart, it may be I can bring to mind some- thing of the warmth of his presence. Here, I will lay myself down on the rug in this pool of sunshine that brightens the colours of the woven wool. I close my eyes and wish I could go to where dear Dada is. But he is lost to me. So many times I have tried to find him, to travel as only I can to be near him. But he is gone. So completely. The only comfort left to me is to remember. To revisit those soft-edged images and rememberings of my time with him. To recall one of those precious moments my memory has entombed and preserved like an ancient treasure. A moment when he was close to me. I shut my ears to the cry of the serf ’s cuckoo outside. I curl myself around the book, burying my nose in the dry, powdery pages so as to keep away the bitter aroma of burnt vegetables and sulphurous coal fumes that drift up the stairs. I screw my eyes tight shut, allowing only the dappled dance of the sun on my lids. Slowly images appear. A dark night, still and warm. A fire, outside, at the far end of the garden. And at last, Dada, sitting beside it, his face illuminated by the flames. He always preferred to be out of the house, much to Mam’s displeasure. So long as the weather would allow it, after eating he would retreat to this quiet little place, assemble twigs and branches, and within minutes would be settled by a cheerful blaze, his clay pipe in his hand, an ease relaxing his shoulders. An ease which eluded him when he was forced to remain enclosed with slate or thatch separating him from the stars. I would clamour for him to tell me a tale and, after a token resistance, he would agree, sucking on his pipe, eyes raised to heaven as if looking for divine guidance for his story selection. And then he would begin. Oh, he was an excellent storyteller! My young mind, flexible as willow, would follow the twists and turns of the adventure, pictures flashing bright before my eyes, the howls of wolves or the singing of maidens filling the night sky around me. I was enthralled. Spellbound. Indeed, most of his best-loved tales turned upon some sort of magic. Magic, he told me, was some- thing to be taken seriously.

‘Travellers understand about magic,’ said he. ‘I’m not claiming they’re all sorcerers and such like, only that they know magic when they see it. Your Romany ancestors crisscrossed the globe, Morgana, and on their travels they saw many marvelous things and encountered many wonderful beings. That’s how they gained their knowledge, from distant lands and strange customs of even stranger people. Travelling was my habit, my natural state, you might say, until your mother caught me in her web.’ He laughed. ‘She’s a good woman, your mam, but she’s not like you and me, girl.’ He leaned forward, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial level. ‘You have the magic blood in you, Morgana. I’ve seen it. Do not fear it, as some do. It is a gift, though there are times you may not think it so.’ He sucked hard on his pipe, which had gone out. He paused to light a spill in the fire and touch the glowing end to the bowl of tobacco. Abundant smoke temporarily obscured him, slowly dispersing, wisps of it curling from his nose. I was seven years old and I had a dragon for a father.

‘If you are not able to travel,’ he told me, ‘the next best thing is to read. Read all you can, girl. And store up that knowledge, for you never know when you will need it.’ He paused, sitting straight, looking thoughtfully at me. I have often, over the years, tried to see what was behind that expression, what it was he was trying to tell me. ‘A person has to tread his own path, Morgana. Life will set things to pulling you in all directions, tugging you this way and that.’ He puffed once more, leaning back so that the light from the fire could scarcely reach him, two smokinesses rendering him faint, ghostlike. The only substantial thing about him was his voice. ‘Tread your own path,’ said he once more.

The next morning he was gone, and I never saw him again.

The memory lulls me to sleep and when I awake some hours have passed and the room is in darkness save for a short candle flickering on the windowsill. I am surprised to find the patchwork quilt has been taken from the bed and placed snugly over me. Cai must have done it. Must have come to speak with me, found me sleeping, and thought to make me more comfortable. The man is a riddle. I might sooner have expected him to wake me and tell me to make his supper. I rise and peer out of the window. The night is bright, constellations clear, the moon aglow. It is hard to judge the exact hour, but the house is quiet, as if I am the only one awake.

I drop the quilt on to the bed and snatch up my woollen shawl instead. I take the candle and lift the latch on my door carefully. Again, as I pass the door to Cai’s bedroom, I sense something out of kilter with the still silence of the night. I have the sensation of being observed. I pull my shawl tighter about me and continue downstairs. I have already identified those boards and stairs which complain at my footfalls, so I am able to descend to the kitchen quietly. The fire in the range is out. There is a faint smell of smoke lingering, but the unpleasant evidence of my calamitous attempt at cooking has gone. The table is cleared and everything returned to its proper place. Conflict unsettles me. I am glad proof of my clumsiness has been erased, but I am uncomfortable at the thought of my husband having to wash away the grime of my error. It should not fall to him. And now I feel strangely in his debt. Hunger rumbles in my stomach and I fetch a lump of cheese and a hunk of bread from the pantry. I am about to sit on the window seat when I see Cai is sleeping in the carver at the far end of the table. I wonder I have not woken him with my blundering about. How often, I wonder, has he fallen asleep down here? I remember after Dada went away I would sometimes find Mam in her chair by the kitchen range. She would explain it away as having been overtired and having drifted off. Only later did she admit to me she found her bed too lonely. Does he still miss his first wife so? Am I to compete with a ghost?

Now I notice the corgis curled at his feet. Bracken opens one eye, recognizes me, surely more by scent than sight in the dimly lit room, gives a half-hearted wag of his tail and goes back to his slumbers.

Hush, little one! Do not wake your master.

Cai is sleeping deeply. I am close enough to reach out and touch him. He looks younger, somehow. In repose his features lose something of the sternness that I see. Or at least, I see it when he looks at me. Am I so perpetually bothersome? His collarless shirt is of good quality, and that is a fine woollen waistcoat. I can see the fob and chain of a gold watch. He likes to look… respectable, I think. Even when at home, tending his livestock. Not the image some of the drovers have, with their long coats and rough ways. I admit, though, he has always presented himself well. On the occasions when I saw him at Crickhowell market he was well turned out, despite being on the move with the herds. Mam and I sold cheese there when we could, buying cheap milk from Spencer Blaencwm’s dairy where we worked. Mam would pick wild garlic and together we would churn it into creamy rounds to sell. Business was always good when the drovers came through. That is where Cai first saw me. He could have been under no illusions as to what I was. A dairy maid with a sometime cheese stall at the smallest market in the shire. He would come to inspect our wares on the evening of his arrival, and in the morning before the drove went on its way. Then he would visit on his return journey, when he was unencumbered by his many charges. A year and a half of passing through and pausing. Snatched moments in which to convince himself he had found a suitable bride. And to convince Mam my future lay with him. I will say, he purchased a large amount of cheese! Perhaps it was that which led him to believe I might be capable of cooking. I recall he did his best to look prosperous, sensible, dependable.

And now look at him. Longer eyelashes than a man should be blessed with. Skin tanned from the outdoor life, but not yet weathered. His hair is streaked gold by the summer sun. There are several years between our ages, yet as he sleeps I see the boy in him. Unsure of himself. Vulnerable. Oh! He is stirring. I have no wish to be found standing here, watching him. He mumbles something, his eyes still closed. Both dogs lift their heads from their paws. I hasten from the kitchen and back to my own room.

An Interview with DEBORAH HARKNESS

Harkness-ADiscoveryOfWitchesUKPB

Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches and it’s sequel, Shadow of Night, seem to have taken readers by storm (the former debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list at #2). The series features a mysterious, magical text, vampires and witches. It actually sounds pretty intriguing, and I should really get around to reading it at some point. (Emma already reviewed the first novel for CR, in February 2011.)

In celebration of the paperback release for the second novel (of three, in the All Souls trilogy), Harkness’s US publisher organised a Q&A. Below are some of her answers.

NB: I have tweaked the wording of the questions, but none of the author’s answers were changed, altered or truncated.

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, the first book in your series, begins with Diana Bishop stumbling across a lost, enchanted manuscript called “Ashmole 782”, in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Your protagonists, Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont, are still trying to uncover its secrets in SHADOW OF NIGHT. You had a similar experience while you were completing your dissertation. What’s the story behind your real-life discovery, and how did it inspire the creation of these novels?

I did discover a manuscript – not an enchanted one, alas – in the Bodleian Library. It was a manuscript owned by Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer, the mathematician and alchemist John Dee. In the 1570s and 1580s he became interested in using a crystal ball to talk to angels. The angels gave him all kinds of instructions on how to manage his life at home, his work—they even told him to pack up his family and belongings and go to far-away Poland and Prague. In the conversations, Dee asked the angels about a mysterious book in his library called “the Book of Soyga” or “Aldaraia.” No one had ever been able to find it, even though many of Dee’s other books survive in libraries throughout the world. In the summer of 1994 I was spending time in Oxford between finishing my doctorate and starting my first job. It was a wonderfully creative time, since I had no deadlines to worry about and my dissertation on Dee’s angel conversations was complete. As with most discoveries, this discovery of a “lost” manuscript was entirely accidental. I was looking for something else in the Bodleian’s catalogue and in the upper corner of the page was a reference to a book called “Aldaraia.” I knew it couldn’t be Dee’s book, but I called it up anyway. And it turned out it WAS the book (or at least a copy of it). With the help of the Bodleian’s Keeper of Rare Books, I located another copy in the British Library.

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Are there other lost books like this in the world?

Absolutely! Entire books have been written about famous lost volumes – including works by Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare to name just a few. Libraries are full of such treasures, some of them unrecognized and others simply misfiled or mislabeled. And we find lost books outside of libraries, too. In January 2006, a completely unknown manuscript belonging to one of the 17th century’s most prominent scientists, Robert Hooke, was discovered when someone was having the contents of their house valued for auction. The manuscript included minutes of early Royal Society meetings that we presumed were lost forever.

SHADOW OF NIGHT opens on a scene in 1590s Elizabethan England featuring the famous School of Night, a group of historical figures believed to be friends, including Sir Walter Raleigh and playwright Christopher Marlowe. Why did you choose to feature these individuals, and can we expect Diana and Matthew to meet other famous figures from the past?

I wrote my master’s thesis on the imagery surrounding Elizabeth I during the last two decades of her reign. One of my main sources was the poem “The Shadow of Night” by George Chapman – a member of this circle of fascinating men – and that work is dedicated to a mysterious poet named Matthew Roydon about whom we know very little. When I was first thinking about how vampires moved in the world (and this was way back in the autumn of 2008 when I was just beginning A Discovery of Witches) I remembered Roydon and thought “that is the kind of identity a vampire would have, surrounded by interesting people but not the center of the action.” From that moment on I knew the second part of Diana and Matthew’s story would take place among the School of Night. And from a character standpoint, Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, and the other men associated with the group are irresistible. They were such significant, colorful presences in Elizabethan England.

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In SHADOW OF NIGHT, we learn more about the alchemical bonds between Diana and Matthew. In your day job, you are a professor of history and science at the University of Southern California and have focused on alchemy in your research. What aspects of this intersection between science and magic do you hope readers will pick up on while reading SHADOW OF NIGHT?

Whereas A Discovery of Witches focused on the literature and symbolism of alchemy, in Shadow of Night I’m able to explore some of the hands-on aspects of this ancient tradition. There is still plenty of symbolism for Diana to think about, but in this volume we go from abstractions and ideals to real transformation and change – which was always my intention with the series. Just as we get to know more about how Elizabethan men and women undertook alchemical experiments, we also get to see Matthew and Diana’s relationship undergo the metamorphosis from new love to something more.

Did you have an idea or an outline for SHADOW OF NIGHT when you were writing A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES? Did the direction change once you sat down to write it?

I didn’t outline either book in the traditional sense. In both cases I knew what some of the high points were and how the plot moved towards the conclusion, but there were some significant changes during the revision process. This was especially true for Shadow Of Night, although most of those changes involved moving specific pieces of the plot forward or back to improve the momentum and flow.

The events in SHADOW OF NIGHT span the globe, with London, France, and Prague as some of the locales. Did you travel to these destinations for your research?

I did. My historical research has been based in London for some time now, so I’ve spent long stretches of time living in the City of London – the oldest part of the metropolis – but I had never been to the Auvergne or Prague. I visited both places while writing the book, and in both cases it was a bit like traveling in time to walk village lanes, old pilgrim roads, and twisting city streets while imagining Diana and Matthew at my side.

It’s perhaps lazy to refer to Twilight, given the inclusion of vampires in your novels. But, unlike Stephanie Meyer’s leading couple, Bella and Edward (who meet in the halls of a high school and, from my limited exposure to the movies, seem entirely controlled by their rampant hormones), your main characters Matthew and Diana are established academics who meet in the library of one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. Your vampires and witches drink wine together, practice yoga, and discuss philosophy. Did you conceive of these characters because of something you thought missing in the fantasy genre?

There are a lot of adults reading young adult books, and for good reason. Authors who specialize in the young adult market are writing original, compelling stories that can make even the most cynical grownups believe in magic. In writing A Discovery Of Witches, I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children’s vampires and witches.

HarknessD-AuthorPicA DISCOVERY OF WITCHES was a huge success, and has now been published in 37 countries. What’s your reaction to the novel’s success? Was it surprising how taken fans were with the novel?

It has been amazing – and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan – to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in Diana’s world.

Last summer, Warner Brothers acquired the movie rights to the All Souls trilogy (Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer David Auburn has been tapped to pen the screenplay). Are you looking forward to your novels being portrayed on the big screen? Any casting ideas, from family, friends or fans that have caught your fancy?

I was thrilled when Warner Brothers wanted to translate the All Souls trilogy from book to screen. At first I was reluctant about the whole idea of a movie, and it actually took me nearly two years to agree to let someone try. The team at Warner Brothers impressed me with their seriousness about the project and their commitment to the characters and story I was trying to tell. Their decision to go with David Auburn confirmed that my faith in them was not misplaced. As for the casting, I deliberately don’t say anything about that! I would hate for any actor or actress to be cast in one of these roles and feel that they didn’t have my total support. I will say, however, that many of my readers’ ideas involve actors who have already played a vampire and I would be very surprised if one of them were asked to be Matthew!

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Fans of the novels can also join Deborah Harkness and her editor Carole DeSanti, the author of The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R, for a virtual book event on BookTalk Nation on June 4th at 2pm EST. You can join by phone and buy personalized copies of the book by ordering online here. For more about Harkness’s All Souls trilogy, be sure to check out her website.

A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night are published by Penguin in the US and Headline in the UK.