I’d been saying for a while that I feel like there’s an obligation to uphold. Namely, if you’re writing a series in the era of the great ocean liners, you should probably set a book on one.
Also, it meant I got to putter around in some absolutely delightful research about what a magical liner might have, how that changed things, and what sort of ocean life I wanted to include. Part of the fun of a book like this is also that you’ve got a limited setting and set of characters. I love my books with big open spaces and whole cities to explore, but I also turn out to like a book that’s got more constraints and limitations.
First, we have our significant characters. Besides Rhoe and Cyrus here, we have also have Hugh, whose family owns the shipping line, and who therefore not only has a different perspective on some of it, but who can do things like a behind the scenes tour. He’s also got some interesting problems needing solutions.
And then we have a number of other passengers. Some of them are a fair bit more enjoyable than others. Several definitely have their own goals for the trip, and don’t care a lot about what that means for anyone else.
I spent a lot of time while researching this one rummaging through the GG Archives site which has an absolutely treasure trove of everything from menus to entertainment listings to details on specific lines. It’s also got passages from books from the period, such the rather wry (and exceedingly opinionated) “Who’s Who On Board.” It comes from The Great Wet Way by Alan Dale in 1910.
The site was tremendously helpful when I was trying to figure out how quickly the Moonstone might cross the Atlantic, the route they took, and what else I should be thinking about in terms of events on board.
Ocean liners. Great fun.
Rhoe and Cyrus’s sibling relationship
Another thing I wanted to do was spend some time with Rhoe and Cyrus. I’d written Carry On by this point. In that book, Rhoe is a secondary character, and Cyrus appears briefly without any explanation of his context. (Except that it’s clear to Elen that other people in the room clearly view him as important.)
I love the way they are with each other in this book, even though they’ve obviously both been very busy independently in the months leading up to their travel. Despite that – or because of it – within the first chapters, they’re clear on what they’re doing. They’re also clear on their different roles in Albion’s society, and the way people pay much more attention to Cyrus’s than Rhoe’s.
The two of them appear in other books, of course, but usually focused more on one of them than the other, for the obvious reasons. You can find Cyrus’s late-in-life romance, much further on in 1926, in The Hare and the Oak. He also appears briefly in Bound for Perdition and in a number of the Land Mysteries books as an ongoing character.
(I also love Rhoe’s deliberate choices of clothing here, and I wist for rather a lot of her aesthetic dress choices, especially some of the fabrics.)
You can’t have an ocean journey without a sea monster or two, right? My original tag line for this book when I was talking about it with friends was “Taking a magical jewel across the Atlantic. Alas, leviathan!” That’s not quite where it went, but the core of the idea is still there, lurking under the surface.
(No liners are actually harmed in the course of the book. Though as mentioned, there is in fact a prayer in the Church of England Book of Common Prayer of the period that is basically “the sea monsters didn’t get us, that’s great.” It’s the second of the collects of Thanksgiving here. It’s a very big and mystifying ocean out there.)
The thing that gets me about sea monsters is the range of them. Figuring out what kind might apply – and where in the Atlantic they lived – was a fun dive into both lore and what people thought about it circa 1900. Sorting out what the magical community thought (as distinct from the non-magical) is also an interesting challenge.
(Without spoiling the details, there’s a fair bit of ocean life. One of my friends and early readers was a particular help with this book in that regard. It’s all reasonably plausible ocean life, once you allow for magic in the first place.)
And of course, jewels
Like an awful lot of people, I find a lot of the lore about the magical properties of jewels and gemstones absolutely fascinating. As I write this, I’m working on the research for the next book in my writing stack (starting in November 2023), which is Griffin’s romance and which is going to involve Whitby jet. Probably along with other stones, because why not.
Because of that, I’m rereading Victoria Finlay’s excellent book Jewels: A Secret History. She does a thorough dive into both some of the places the stones come from, and the lore and history of finding and mining them. She doesn’t talk about aquamarines – the stone Cyrus is transporting – directly, but it helped me figure out where to look for other appropriate stories.
Check out Sailor’s Jewel for all the ocean liner goodness you might like.