One of the things I love most about writing about Albion is being able to weave people through different books.
Sometimes this is in a big way. All the books in the Mysterious Charm series deal with people who are friends or allies or co-conspirators (as the case may be) with Lord Geoffrey Carillon.
But sometimes it’s more subtle.
Take Farran Michaels, for example. He first appears (if you read the series by number, which isn’t chronologically in time) in the first chapter of Goblin Fruit as one of the young men apprenticed to the auction house. He turns up later in Magician’s Hoard as a representative of the auction house (he’s now a more senior apprentice).
But how did he get there? And what’s with his particular gift for materia and objects? That’s where Seven Sisters comes in. While it’s his uncle who’s the hero of that book, Farran’s present for much of the action.
I love being able to tuck those little touches in. Albion is a sizeable community, but it’s not huge. With only a few more academically focused magical schools, people who went to those schools tend to know each other. Others interact in significant but small professional communities.
And, as an author, it’s a lot more fun to do a passing mention of a character I’ve already gotten to know in passing, rather than Random Standin#42.
Readers new to the series with that book should be able to follow everything, but people who’ve read and remember other books in the series should get a little bit of extra amusement, seeing a story from a different side.
It’s also a fun way for me to introduce characters who will be relevant in later books I’m already planning to write. You’ll be seeing more of a couple of guests from Carillon’s dinner party in On The Bias down the road, for example.
There is of course, one place right now where that’s a little trickier: Goblin Fruit and On The Bias. It’s very hard to disentangle Carillon (Lord, investigator, and Pavo breeder) from Benton, his valet. However, I also enjoyed the chance to see a bit more of Benton’s very real skills and talent, and to learn more about why Benton has chosen that role and service for some very good reasons.
The idea for Goblin Fruit was actually the first idea for the series. Long story short, it came out a fannish project where we were coming up with books and works that might have been read.
I have loved the Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey books since I first read them (sometime in my early teens), and Lord Geoffrey Carillon is very much meant to be cut from a similar cloth as Wimsey.
They’re both intelligent men who underplay their brains to be more effective investigators in varied social circles, and they’re both younger sons of respected noble families. And they both had a bad war that included some amount of intelligence work in the midst or aftermath. But Carillon has inherited the title (and its obligations), and had to return from his explorations abroad to take over his duties. That, naturally, includes finding someone to marry so there is a next generation.
I’m also fascinated by Christina Gabriel Rosetti’s famous poem, “Goblin Fruit” about two sisters, one of whom tastes the food and drink of the trooping goblins and is enchanted, saved by her sister’s loyalty. That formed the core of the plot for this book, figuring out what kind of magical temptation would be there, and how Lizzie and Laura would deal with it.
I wanted to talk about tuberculosis. I knew from the beginning that part of the reason Lizzie was so protective of her younger sister was because Laura had been in poor health for most of her adult life so far. The more I thought about it, the more tuberculosis – still a very present threat in the 1920s before the discovery of antibiotics – was the thing I needed to talk about. I love how that plays into part of the solution of this book (skills that Laura learned from long years in sanitariums and dealing with medical staff) and how it plays out in Laura’s own book, In The Cards.
Other bits of worldbuilding: This was also an excuse to explore non-human magical beings (there is more of that to come, in various ways), and I loved the idea of exploring a magical costume party. (The women dressed as Upper and Lower Egypt may well make a further appearance down the road…)
(Added, February 2022: Psst, there is more Carillon goodness coming later this year. Sign up for my newsletter to be the first to hear all about it.)
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (who is deafblind) just won a Hugo Award (one of the major awards in Science Fiction and Fantasy) for her work on the issue Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction.
She started a Twitter thread of recs and comments about works by and about people with disabilities – there’s some great stuff there from a wide range of genres and perspectives. (And a lot more I want to go read that I haven’t yet.)
I don’t usually identify myself bluntly as disabled but I have half a dozen chronic health issues. They add up to somewhere between mildly and moderately disabling depending on what’s flaring at the moment, but my life is mostly set up that a lot of it isn’t that noticeable. Embodiment is weird.
But I missed the Twitter thread originally because it was a migraine day. (Thanks, weather…)
If you’ve read my books, you’ve probably noticed that they have a bunch of main characters with disabilities and chronic health issues that affect their lives. For the books that are out now, that includes:
- Rufus and Carillon who both deal with with what we’d now call PTSD (trauma from the Great War) that come out in different ways. (They had different experiences and are different people, so that makes sense.)
- Laura, who has survived tuberculosis (but spent the better part of a decade in and out of sanitariums and other treatment).
- Giles, who was blinded in a (magical) gas attack in the war.
- Magician’s Hoard doesn’t have a character with an explicit disability, but a main character has a highly stigmatised magical ability.
And in books you haven’t gotten to read yet, we have Laura’s point of view (and romance), a secondary character with a major facial injury, a secondary character who is deaf and who signs, and an autistic hero. (Coming in the not too distant future!)
How those stories come out on the page is (of necessity) mediated by the fact I’m writing about the 1920s. Our language and understanding of some of these things was different (and those communities and the tools people used were also different). But I truly want to write books that reflect the lives that I and my friends live – which are full of all kinds of people.
Welcome to 1924, when a mysterious, addictive, and quite possibly dangerous new magical drink is sweeping the house parties of Albion. You can read the blurb over here (along with links to purchase from your favourite sites).
I’ve loved Dorothy L. Sayers and her mystery novels for a long time. I was introduced to them by my father, and read the copies I inherited from him so often I’ve had to replace them (a couple of them twice…) Goblin Fruit grows out of that love in many ways.
Lord Geoffrey Carillon is not Wimsey – they differ in a number of specifics. But they both had a bad war, that shook their sense of self. Carillon spent several years on expeditions to wild and lonely places, before inheriting the estate from his older brother. There’s pressure on him to support and protect the people on his lands, marry, and do a dozen other things.
Lizzie Penhallow has had a bad few years. She worries about whether her sister will have a relapse of tuberculosis, about how to keep the chimeny on their family home from falling down. And about whether anyone will ever hire her for anything she’s good at, after her father and uncle disappeared on an expedition (along with all the money invested in them.) Like Harriet Vane in the Sayers novels, she’s dogged by scandal, but also very practical about using her skills and her intelligence to try and find a way out.
I’m mostly not a poetry person, but I’ve also been a big fan of Christina Rosetti’s poem Goblin Market for a long time, and been fascinated about the way the sisters interact. Lizzie and Laura here sometimes have a hard time. They don’t always trust each other, they get things wrong. I love having a chance to explore that (and don’t worry, Laura gets her own book down the road – In The Cards, book 5 in the series, tells a lot more of her story and what happens next for her.)
There’s so much more to tell, so there’ll be a few more blog posts coming your way, as well as some short stories for the mailing list.