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All Historical Fantasy Coverage

All the Seas of the World  by Guy Gavriel Kay

Kay tells small stories of hope and resilience in an expansive fantasy world modeled on the Renaissance era.

All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

Babel by R.F. Kuang

Set in an alternate Victorian Britain, R.F. Kuang’s standalone historical fantasy is an unforgiving examination of the cost of power.

Babel jacket

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Dean’s deliciously dark debut is a haunting story that’s part fairy tale and part nightmare.

The Book Eaters jacket

Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid

Inspired by Eastern European history and folklore, this fantasy novel is a tender love story as well as a chilling tale of escape from abuse.

Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid jacket

Leech by Hiron Ennes

Dark and horrifying, Leech is perfect for readers who wish that Wuthering Heights had been more like Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation.

Leech by Hiron Ennes jacket

The Maker of Swans  by Paraic O’Donnell

If you like beautiful things, read The Maker of Swans, an enthralling dance over the line between literary fiction and magical fantasy.

The Maker of Swans jacket

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

This dark fantasy starring a possessed chicken and a feminist avenger represents the burgeoning “hopepunk” ethos at its finest.

Nettle & Bone jacket

A Restless Truth by Freya Marske

Marske’s second historical fantasy is a stunning, sensual love story wrapped in an exciting murder mystery.

A Restless Truth jacket

Sign Here by Claudia Lux

Sign Here is both a hilarious reimagining of Hell as a corporate nightmare and a painfully realistic exploration of morality in the modern world.

Book jacket image for Sign Here by Claudia Lux

Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott

Inspired by traditional tales of Baba Yaga, Nethercott’s Thistlefoot is a weird and wonderful triumph.

Book jacket image for Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott

Discover more of BookPage’s Best Books of 2022.

There is probably no better way to sum up 2022 than to say it was a year dominated by both horror and hopepunk—sometimes even in the same book.
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Despite being a book about augurs and warlocks, angels and demons, C.L. Polk’s stylish magical noir Even Though I Knew the End is distinctly and heartbreakingly human.

It’s the late 1930s in grimy Chicago. Helen Brandt, a brilliant wizard who was exiled by her order and now works as a detective, has a terrible secret: She offered her soul to a demon to save her family from a car crash. Her part of the bargain is due on Jan. 13, 1941—Helen’s last day on Earth.

After taking photographs of the crime scene of a horrific murder that she’s investigating, Helen brings her evidence to Marlowe, an underworld crime boss and bona fide femme fatale. Marlowe confirmes what Helen already suspects: The murder is the work of the White City Vampire, the most dangerous villian in the city. Marlowe wants Helen to find the vampire and is willing to pay handsomely. The prize? “A thousand dollars cash . . . and your soul.” As it turns out, Marlowe is a demon, and this job can give Helen the thing she thought she’d never have: salvation and a chance to live a full life with her lover, Edith.

Even Though I Knew the End rockets along from the very first page, and Polk’s ability to enrich the story while upping the pace is impressive. Their alternate Chicago reveals itself efficiently, each detail woven into the narrative exactly when it’s required. A sense of mystery and discovery is ever present, which is quite fitting for a detective story.

Fans of John Constantine, the occult PI of DC comic books and film fame, will find a lot to like in Polk’s fantastically rendered depiction of a celestial war. With corrupt motivations on both sides, it’s often unclear which is more dangerous. Mortals aren’t defenseless, especially if they can wield magic (enchanted bullets make more than one appearance), but there’s still a constant sense of danger, and humans often end up as collateral damage.

Despite the aforementioned fantastical elements, Even Though I Knew the End is, at its heart, a love story. Helen and Edith’s tender relationship is immediately compelling, and, as befits a noir, Edith’s importance to the story grows as Helen’s investigation deepens. Helen’s past choices weigh heavily upon her, and we see how tightly she clings to Edith, especially in the gripping final chapters. To be without her would be hell on Earth, Helen thinks. But Even Though I Knew the End ultimately poses a torturous question: Is the price ever too high to be with the one you love?

Even Though I Knew the End is a stylish magical noir with a heartbreakingly human love story at the center.
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Siblings Rosemary and Aaron Harker rarely get mail, and when they do, it’s usually to alert them that some Uncanny creature has eaten its mundane human neighbor. As Huntsmen in 1913 New England, Rosemary and Aaron’s role is to hunt those dangerous supernatural beasts alongside their alarmingly large and faithful hound, Botheration, who can transform into a gargantuan hellhound when the situation calls for it. When they receive a letter from their cousin’s widow requesting they investigate his death, the two Huntsmen pack a trunk full of various deadly implements and, along with Botheration, board a train to the small milling town of Brunson in upstate New York. Once there, they find an unexpected morass of savaged bodies, unionization and the occult that will lead them past the typically abnormal to the stubbornly impossible.

The author of several fantasy series, Laura Anne Gilman is a practiced storyteller, and her expertise shows in Uncanny Times. She doles out answers to her plot’s puzzles with a miserly hand and tempered foreshadowing, spinning Rosemary and Aaron’s investigation into a parable of greed, vengeance and love gone horribly awry. The Harker siblings are more akin to proxies for the reader than protagonists: This story belongs to Brunson itself, and the Huntsmen’s role is to unravel the secrets of the town and its vibrant cast of inhabitants.

Gilman is clearly building an arc meant to span several books, so a number of key questions are left unanswered. The specific mystery plot of Uncanny Times is concluded cleanly, if not necessarily happily for all involved, but the book itself still ends on a cliffhanger. Important characters with extensive backstories relevant to the Harker family history flit in and out within single chapters, bringing tantalizing glimpses of a broader cataclysm unfolding just outside the atmospheric environs of Brunson. It feels like watching the first season of a slow-burn show and hoping it doesn’t get cancelled, both because the show is enjoyable and well crafted and because the remaining loose ends would forever weigh on your mind.

Uncanny Times may be a small story. But, like Botheration at the start of an Uncanny hunt, it is poised to explode into a much, much larger one. And Gilman is far too canny a writer to waste such a tempting start.

A tantalizing start to a new historical fantasy series, Uncanny Times follows siblings Rosemary and Aaron Harker as they hunt supernatural monsters in 1913 New York.

Freya Marske’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut, A Marvellous Light, is a stunning, sensual companion novel that follows the threads of the same overarching mystery: a threat to the magical community in Edwardian England. A Restless Truth focuses on Maud Blyth, sister to A Marvellous Light’s Robin, as she discovers her own strengths and explores her sexuality in this magical murder mystery. 

Maud is working as a lady’s companion for the older and sometimes aggravating magician Elizabeth Navenby aboard the transatlantic ocean liner Lyric. When Mrs. Navenby is found dead in her room with several valuable items missing, Maud suspects foul play. As Maud learns more about her employer’s life, she realizes the murder may be connected to the mission Robin and his partner, Edwin, pursued in the first book in the series: to protect three artifacts so powerful they can affect all of the magic in the world.

A delightfully brash and boisterous cast of possible suspects and allies drives the story. There’s Lord Hawthorne, a gentleman with a reputation for sexual prowess; Alan Ross, a shady journalist with a keen ear for gossip; and Violet Debenham, an alluring actor-turned-heiress whose scandalous past only makes her all the more enticing. As they turn the decks of the Lyric upside down in their search for the killer and the objects they stole, Maud is the relatable center of the storm. She’s an immediately engaging protagonist, both because of her desire to prove herself to her brother and the magician community and because of her evolving understanding of her sexuality. Marske conjures yet another spellbinding romance, this time between Maud and Violet, who is as sharp-tongued and adventurous as Maud is wide-eyed and curious. Sparks fly between the two young women upon their first meeting, but will their connection last after the murder is solved? 

A Restless Truth is a thrilling mystery and a lush historical fantasy that will leave readers breathless—both from its exciting plot twists and its captivating romance.

Freya Marske’s follow-up to A Marvellous Light is a stunning, sensual love story wrapped in an exciting murder mystery.
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The season is upon us: Wrap a scarf around your neck—tightly—and crack open a book of undead intrigue.

A Dowry of Blood

A queer, feminist reimagining of Dracula, S.T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood starts with its narrator, Constanta, reclaiming a small bit of power. She refuses to grant her abuser a name, instead referring to him as “you” throughout the book. Her abuser is a prototypical vampire, vulnerable to sunlight and silver, who sires new vampires by giving them his blood. He finds Constanta near death, grants her immortal life and, despite calling her his bride, sees her as a possession. Over the years, Constanta is joined by two other consorts—Magdalena, a politically savvy philosopher, and Alexi, a sprightly socialite and actor—who become her friends, lovers and allies. 

A Dowry of Blood focuses on Constanta, her abuser and his other spouses; no other character is present for more than a handful of pages.This narrow focus, along with several time jumps and Constanta’s stream-of-consciousness narration, creates a dreamlike haze. As each new consort enters the narrative, the house’s atmosphere transitions from cloistered and dank to frenetic with need and simmering rebellion. The story’s specificity ebbs and flows according to Constanta’s memory: Events she struggles to recall are blurry, but she hyperfixates on what she remembers in rich detail. 

In the tradition of the best vampire stories, Gibson uses her characters to explore how centuries of time would affect a once-mortal mind. A Dowry of Blood whisks readers through human history, arriving at the dawn of the 20th century, drenched in blood.

House of Hunger

In the fantasy world of House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson (The Year of the Witching), an industrial revolution is in full swing, condemning the ancient houses of nobility to a slow decay into irrelevance. The House of Hunger is one of these dying houses, but it’s still influential enough to continue indenturing bloodmaids like Marion Shaw, who is eager to accept the position when it is offered to her.

At the House of Hunger, she will be treated well, fully fed and paid enough to keep herself and her brother afloat before receiving an enormous pension once her service ends. But during her time as a bloodmaid, Marian’s blood will be harvested to grant health and beauty to the houses’ aristocratic members. In Henderson’s world, blood has magical properties and is also used in medicine, steam engines and other scientific endeavors.

Countess Lisavet, head of the House of Hunger, already has four other bloodmaids, and Henderson uses them to illustrate the dangers of Marion’s choice. Cecilia, the countess’ oldest bloodmaid, is also her favorite lover and primary blood donor. She is consumed with desire for Countess Lisavet and is extremely jealous when the countess’ eye turns toward Marion. Lisavet manipulatively distributes her favors, whether they be sexual, emotional or verbal. She makes her bloodmaids’ lives revolve around her until they find themselves defined by her attention.

House of Hunger begins with dark secrets and ends with secrets darker still. Readers will be on the edges of their seats as Henderson slowly unveils the grotesque horrors at the heart of her inventive, gothic society.

Sink your fangs into these two novels, both of which offer a unique spin on bloodsuckers.
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With its hundreds of spires and stone facades, Oxford University looks like a cathedral of knowledge, unassailable and ancient. What dangerous texts might its highest towers and deepest libraries contain? R.F. Kuang’s Babel perfectly employs Oxford as a backdrop for the story of a group of eager students in the middle of a magical war. A standalone fantasy that takes its cues from The Secret History and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Babel is a methodical, unforgiving examination of the cost of power and the pain of achieving it.

When the family of a young boy named Robin Swift dies of cholera, a stern English professor takes him away from China. He arrives in an alternate Oxford, England, in 1828 and is thrust into lessons in language so that he might one day join the prestigious Royal Institute of Translation, also known as Babel. Throughout his years of study, Robin hopes to eventually attain the highest knowledge Babel offers: the mysteries of silver-working, a magical process that has helped the British Empire maintain its worldwide dominance for decades. Sensitive to the injustices wrought by Babel and silver-working, Robin joins the Hermes Society, a secret organization that steals silver and sabotages the expansion of British power from within. Are Robin and his fellow members revolutionaries? Or are they doomed to be powerless witnesses to the march of empire?

Kuang’s Poppy War trilogy is one of the most acclaimed fantasy series of the last few years. A finalist for the Nebula and Locus awards, the series was vicious and engrossing, dark and thoughtful; I personally couldn’t put it down. Babel feels different from her first trilogy, but this is undoubtedly a Kuang novel. There’s a sense of inevitability in her work, each book moving toward a climactic breaking point. 

This carefully built momentum results in an addicting read. Kuang takes her time ramping things up, focusing for the first half of Babel on Robin’s assimilation into school and broader English culture, finding friends and growing up. Kuang nails the ups and downs of being young with precision. It’s nearly impossible not to compare Babel to Harry Potter, but Kuang’s magical teens feel more grown-up, more layered than J.K. Rowling’s well-known trio. Their banter, camaraderie and angst consistently satisfy as anger and loss harden them, and as they eventually realize the horrible truths they couldn’t grasp as young students.

Kuang, who is completing her Ph.D. in East Asian languages and literature, has gone to incredible lengths to wrap the history and evolution of language into silver-working, which is an impressively unique magic system. The Bablers, as students in the Institute of Translation are called, uncover meanings lost in translation and historical connections between words and then etch them into silver bars. If the words have a strong connection, magic happens. It’s a wonderful way for Kuang to incorporate a topic she clearly loves and deeply understands.

Ultimately, Babel asks a pointed question: What is the price of power? The novel’s full title is Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, which both gives the book a sense of realism and hints at Kuang’s ultimate answer. British colonialism perpetrated destruction on every civilization it encountered. Babel provides a long overdue reckoning, cast in silver and doused in blood.

Babel, R.F. Kuang's standalone follow-up to her acclaimed Poppy War trilogy, is an unforgiving examination of the cost of power.
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The Monsters We Defy is a book about demons—or as Clara Johnson calls them, Enigmas. Clara was born with the ability to see and interact with Enigmas, making her highly sought after as a sort of broker between these dangerous spirits and the people who seek their help, costs be damned. Clara is all too aware of the severity of those costs: The only reason she has continued to act as spiritual go-between is to satisfy a compulsion from her own deal with an Enigma, made years ago. But when young people in her orbit start becoming listless or disappearing, she is dragged into a sordid conspiracy that could wreak havoc in the mortal world and must fight for both the survival of her peers and her own freedom.

Author Leslye Penelope successfully blends a folkloric sense of the supernatural, derived from sources such as Ethiopia’s Kebra Nagast, with a Gatsby-esque vision of the Roaring ’20s in Washington, D.C’s ‘s African American community. Replete with historical figures, including a youthfully insouciant Langston Hughes, the unflappably paternal Carter G. Woodson, who founded the Journal of Negro History, and even a cameo from W.E.B. Du Bois, The Monsters We Defy is a fascinating blend of the real and imagined. Even Clara is based on a real person: Clara Minor Johnson, a Black teenager who killed a white policeman in self-defense when she was a teenager. Penelope seamlessly weaves the historical figure into the character of Clara and her world of spirit magic. Throughout, she emphasizes the tenuous nature of Black high society in this era, existing within a white-dominated world it can never fully penetrate but cannot afford to ignore. In Penelope’s hands, the glamour of all-Black masquerade balls, where bootleggers mingle with politicians and opera stars, is an act of defiance, both of the racial power structure of the day and of stereotypical depictions of African American life during this era.

The most effective aspect of The Monsters We Defy is how Penelope portrays the Black experience on its own terms. Even the magic is derived from a combination of African mythology and traditions from the African diaspora, particularly hoodoo. The result is a novel that is both a well-crafted fantasy romp (with a healthy dose of happily-ever-after romance) and a work of revisionist fiction that elevates a vital, oft-overlooked slice of history.

The Monsters We Defy is a well-crafted fantasy romp set among the Black elite of 1920s Washington, D.C.
Behind the Book by

Maya Deane’s childhood obsession with the Iliad led her to the secret history of trans-feminine people in the ancient world and, ultimately, to reimagining Achilles in her debut, Wrath Goddess Sing.


I have not always been drawn to the Iliad—only since I was 6 years old. I asked my father to read me something that wasn’t for children, and he, a linguist with a classical bent, picked the Iliad, because I might as well start at the beginning.

I now know, of course, that the Iliad is not the beginning (neither is Gilgamesh), but I fell headlong into the epic, obsessed with Athena and thus obsessed with Achilles, whom Athena protects from herself—that is, from Achilles’ own rash behavior and emotional decisions—at every turn.

You’ll notice I call Homer’s Achilles “herself,” too. Achilles was the first question mark for me, the first sign that something about the story of the Iliad didn’t quite add up.

As I grew older, I learned the myth of Achilles on Skyros, also called Achilles among the maidens. The outlines of the story are simple: Thetis hides Achilles on Skyros, disguised as a girl; Odysseus and Diomedes go to find the warrior and instead find young women; they find the true Achilles by offering all the girls swords, and only the disguised boy wants one.

This story struck me as ridiculous. First, as I suspected at the time and have since confirmed, everybody likes swords. Second, who would actually fall for that ruse?

In spite of these questions, the myth would not leave my mind. But every version of it I encountered seemed wrong, from first-century poet Statius’ unfinished Achilleid onward. In Statius’ version, Achilles literally changes into a woman to “invade women’s spaces” and rape the Skyrian princess—a grotesquely transmisogynist version of the story.

Read our review of ‘Wrath Goddess Sing’ by Maya Deane.

Despite being little-known to the general public, the story of Achilles among the maidens has been so popular in art that, for the last 2,000 years, the character has frequently been portrayed as a woman in paintings and sculptures. From mosaic floors in classical Greece to oil paintings from the Italian Renaissance to the statue gardens of Versailles, Achilles is a woman warrior, beautiful and armed to the teeth.

Haunted by the myths, I learned more and more of the deep and scattered history of trans women, a palimpsest erased and whitewashed over and over again by colonizers from the conquistadors to the Victorians. Trans-feminine people existed in every society and culture and time, from the lamentation singers of Inanna in ancient Sumer to the priestesses of Athirat in Canaan to the gallae of Kybele and the castrated worshippers of Diana of Ephesus to the mystery cults of Aphrodite Ourania and the enarees of the ancient Scythian steppe. Everywhere, women like me had been buried under layers of history. Victorian museums literally kept collections of nude statues of trans women hidden from sight, loath to destroy antiquities but unwilling to reveal us to the world.

All of this distilled into a single question: What if Achilles were like me?

And when I asked that question, a long-buried possibility was at last revealed. If you want to read that history, you’ll find it in Wrath Goddess Sing.

Photo of Maya Deane by nlcrosta.

Achilles as a woman is just the tip of the iceberg. Author Maya Deane reveals the secret history of trans women in the ancient world.

In Francesca May’s stunning, gorgeously composed fantasy debut, Wild and Wicked Things, a dissipated coven of witches and a meek young woman become unexpected allies.

Annie Mason has led a quiet and ordinary life. When her estranged father dies shortly after the end of World War I, she reluctantly travels to Crow Island to take care of his estate. The island also happens to be the very place her former best friend, Bea, resides in a fancy house on the sea with her new husband. Crow Island is famous across the land for its faux magic parlors and fake spells and potions, but Annie soon learns that its inhabitants also practice true, darker-than-imagined magic. When she rents a summer cottage next to the infamous Cross House, where a coven throws lavish parties that feature Prohibited magic, Annie is given an opportunity to find a place—and maybe a person—that actually feels like home.

May seamlessly transports readers to the shores of Crow Island, straight into the shoes of Annie and de facto coven leader Emmeline Delacroix. Annie is whisked away by the island’s enchantment, and May’s prose echoes F. Scott Fitzgerald to capture the finery and wild parties of the era. And while Annie originally thinks she’s being bewitched by the coven’s magic or the island, she comes to realize that she is simply following her innermost desires. The supposedly cursed island gives her time and space to come to terms with grief over lost loved ones and her internalized shunning of her sapphic sexuality. Emmeline’s inexplicable and undeniable magnetism is a clever plot complication but also the perfect setup for a passionate, slow-burning queer romance that feels forged in destiny.

Under all the glamour, Wild and Wicked Things is also a nuanced exploration of intergenerational trauma and abusive relationships. Emmeline hovers over her adoptive siblings, Isobel and Nathan, even though their abusive guardian, coven founder Cilla, is long gone. Annie finds herself in a similar situation as she tries to shield Bea from a marriage gone wrong, and she and Emmeline bond over their roles as protectors and healers. But nothing is truly black and white, from the witches’ backstories and intentions, to Bea’s desires, to Annie’s past. May does not shy away from the macabre, and every twist is better and eerier than the last.

May’s thrilling fantasy takes familiar tropes, mashes them with a mortar and pestle, sprinkles them with a bit of herbs and throws them into the cauldron, creating a fresh and exciting take on witchy historical fantasy.

Wild and Wicked Things is a stunning, gorgeously composed historical fantasy with a compelling queer romance at its heart.
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Dead Silence

A small, underequipped crew discovering a long-lost ship sounds like an interesting enough premise for a novel. But what if that long-lost ship holds a gruesome and unexplainable secret? Now you’ve got my attention. S.A. Barnes’ Dead Silence mixes horror, mystery and sci-fi into a thrill ride sure to shock you out of your reading rut. The crew of a small repair ship at the edge of space picks up an unexpected signal. It leads them to the hulking, dark shape of the Aurora, a luxury space cruiser lost 20 years ago. Team leader Claire Kovalik decides they should salvage the wreck and bring in the lost ship. Once aboard, however, the crew discovers that something went very, very wrong on the Aurora. What follows is a claustrophobic race against time as the ship’s horrors begin to affect the crew one by one. Dread slowly builds as small, frightening moments inside the Aurora multiply, showcasing Barnes’ patient plotting and steady pacing. This is one of those time-warp books—the ones where you look away from the clock, then look back and it’s suddenly way past your bedtime.

Redwood and Wildfire

Sometimes reading a book is like paddling a rushing river: You just have to jump in and see where it takes you. Such is the case with Andrea Hairston’s richly layered Redwood and Wildfire. In early 1900s America, magic is as old as the swamps, the woods and the bayous. Some people, descended from those who have lived for generations under canopies of cypress trees and Spanish moss, can harness that magic. In Peach Grove, Georgia, Redwood, a Black woman, and Aidan, a Seminole Irish man, both have this talent. The two kindred spirits set out on a grand adventure in search of a place of their own, with Chicago, the City of Lights, as their final destination. Hairston describes a country at the tipping point between an ancient past and an electrified, dazzling future. The reader will feel this tension within the prose, as well as these two misfits’ yearning to create a life in which they can be their fullest selves. It’s immediate, it’s unflinching and it’s wonderful.

Hunt the Stars

Jessie Mihalik’s thrilling first entry in her Starlight’s Shadow series, Hunt the Stars, is a perfect example of why bounty hunters are such classic sci-fi characters. It’s hard to find a more compelling conflict between getting paid and doing the right thing. War veteran-turned-ship’s captain Octavia “Tavi” Zarola gets a job offer that could make her and her crew rich for years. The problem is that the one paying is Torran Fletcher, a ruthless alien general that Tavi once fought against. Despite her misgivings, Tavi brings Torran and his crew of fellow telepathic Valoffs on board. During the job, Tavi and her crew discover a plot that threatens peace in the galaxy, forcing her to choose a side even as she grows closer to Torran. Amid all the action and adventure, Mihalik also shows how a group of people in close quarters can become a family. Those developing relationships form the emotional center of the story, especially the connection between Tavi and Torran, which evolves and deepens in unexpected ways. Fans of “The Mandalorian” or “Firefly” will love this sci-fi romance.

A terrifying thriller set on a spaceship and a wonderfully unique historical fantasy will shock you out of your reading rut.
Interview by

When Robin Blyth arrives at his new position in the Special Domestic Affairs and Complaints division, he’s expecting a slightly overwhelming, but typical first day at a new job. What he’s not expecting is to learn that magic is real, and that his predecessor might have been murdered. The deliverer of this news, magician Edwin Courcey, becomes Robin’s guide to the magical underworld of Edwardian England. Freya Marske uses this imaginative framework to spin a tale of conspiracy and unexpected love in A Marvellous Light, first of a planned trilogy.  

Congrats on such a splendid debut. When you think back to the original inspiration for this book, did Robin and Edwin’s story turn out the way you expected?
Thank you! A lot of the worldbuilding and plot events did change in the telling—more on that below!—but the emotional core of the story, Edwin and Robin and their romance, was the first part of the book to cohere for me. I knew who they were, and I knew why and how they would fall in love. That part barely changed at all between the initial inspiration and the final draft.

Edwardian England is rendered so vividly in A Marvellous Light. Did this story and its setting always go hand in hand when you were coming up with the concept? In a similar vein, what does this setting give to the story that other time periods might not?
Somewhat hilariously, the reason I chose the Edwardian era is because of book two’s story and setting being extremely intertwined. I always knew the second book would be set on an ocean liner around the time of the Titanic. But once I started poking around and researching the time period, the manor house party-setting of book one fell perfectly into place. And the greatest contribution of this specific historical setting turned out to be the Arts & Crafts movement, which not only gave me a lot of wonderful visuals but also helped to bring out one of the most important character notes for Robin: his appreciation for art. 

What choices did you make spontaneously while drafting that added the most to the book?
I think of myself as a kitchen-sink kind of drafter. I’ll snatch at whatever offhand world building or character details drift across my mind, and shove them into the text, so that when I need a spanner to fix a plot problem later in the book I can turn around and say, “Well, I’m SURE there was a spanner back in Chapter Four.” Anything that gets used stays in; everything else gets painfully pruned in revisions. 

Read our starred review of ‘A Marvellous Light.’

I wrote myself a spanner-detail about how a magical family makes a contract with their house and land, then found myself at the very midpoint of the book realizing that in order to be consistent with my own world building, I would have to allow a certain unplanned thing to happen. And this thing was so fun and interesting that I immediately stopped and gleefully reworked the outline to see what sort of ripple effects it would have. (Good ones, it turns out!)

When thinking back to the writing process, what passage or section do you most vividly remember?
I don’t want to spoil too much, but the hedge maze scene was definitely the one I had the most fun with. I got to experiment with some more horror-esque tension, which doesn’t appear to a great extent anywhere else in the book, so that stretched some writing muscles for me!

Talk to me about the magic system. Were you inspired by any systems from other works when coming up with your own?
As someone with a methodical mind myself, I’ve always been drawn to magic systems that have an element of the academic to them: those that require study, and patient learning, and don’t come easily. (I’m a sucker for any book featuring a magical school, library or university.) Edwin as a character embodies that kind of magic. At the same time, I wanted this book to have a balance of logical magic and the wilder, more numinous, less explicable magic that lives in fairy tales. The kind of magic that upends an ordered life, just as Robin does for Edwin. 

“For me, the romantic moments in fiction that feel the most authentic are those that are also the most specific. What are the small details that one character is noticing about another?”

Some say that comedy is the hardest dialogue to write, but I imagine romantic declarations can be just as difficult. Do you have any tips for creating romantic moments that feel real and truthful?
A good love story is unique; It should feel like it could only arise between the two (or more) unique individuals within it. For me, the romantic moments in fiction that feel the most authentic are those that are also the most specific. What are the small details that one character is noticing about another, and how do those details become building blocks in the romance? What are the small things they can do for one another, or say to one another, that make the characters feel seen for who they are, and loved in their flawed entirety? Once you know those answers, you can write a line that shouts I love you! as loudly as if the words were spoken.

What work did you have to put in for this book so that the next installments would have a solid foundation to stand on?
When I got to the end of the first draft, I looked back and thought, “Oh—THAT’S what the theme of this trilogy is! And THIS is how it will play itself out in the other books!” Then I hopped on video chat with an author friend who patiently asked me questions while I wailed and gnashed my teeth until I’d properly worked out the backstory of certain characters and the solid bones of the magic system. The first and largest revision included a lot of careful work to lay the foundations for books two and three.

I also made sure to introduce one of book two’s main characters; ditto for book three. The further you get into a trilogy plot, the less room you have for leisurely character introductions. I want my readers to be able to hit the ground running in the later books, and to have the protagonists feel like existing acquaintances they’re keen to know in more detail.

Horrible families are fun as heck to read. I’m definitely fishing here, but will we see more of that in book two?
Horrible families provide a convenient way for a central couple to be drawn together in a you-and-me-against-the-world sort of way. Robin and Edwin are marooned in a book full of human monsters. However, I wrote book two during 2020, and for some reason I had the urge to escape into a fun romp of a book, full of basically decent people. It still has its nasty villains and its amusing assholes—and the two protagonists are definitely still products of less-than-ideal families—but the family setting itself is much less prominent.

Looking back on both the writing and the editing process, what parts of creating these characters and this story are you most proud of?
I’ll be frank: This is only the second novel I ever wrote, so I’m pleased as hell that it even exists. I’m proud that it has a coherent shape, a coherent aesthetic, a heady combination of all my favorite things (magic! murder mystery! sex!), and characters who are vivid in my mind. I’ve spent countless hours of drafting and revision with them, and I’m not sick of their company yet. I hope I never will be. And I’m more than ready for the world to meet them too.

Author Freya Marske shares how she brought a resonant, magical romance to life within the buttoned-up world of Edwardian England.

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