I got an email from a reader (hi!) asking a couple of questions, including this one: “In your romantic couples, the women seem to be consistently a little older (or a lot older) than the men. Was this a conscious choice, and if so, is there a reason for it?”
Welcome to the next in this series of posts about ideas behind my books. Today, we’re talking about Magician’s Hoard, which takes place in 1926, featuring Pross and Ibis.
Egyptology offers so many opportunities.
And the 1920s are a tremendously rich period in the history of the field. (I’m pretty sure we’ll be revisiting sometime later in my writing). In 1926, when William Matthew Flinders Petrie was actively excavating and sending materials back to what would become the Petrie Collection at University College London.
In 2015, I visited London, and was able to go to a lecture at the Petrie Collection (on the Egyptology behind the Doctor Who episode, Pyramids of Mars, which had its 40th anniversary that week.) It’s an amazing collection, with all sorts of little treasures and unusual items. Exactly the sort of thing Ibis could usefully apply himself to.
Who would do this?
I knew I wanted to do a book centering on Pross Gates, who appears in Outcrossing as a secondary character. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and independent – not looking for love, but rather stuck in a rut. The more I wrote about Ibis, and his goals and priorities, the more fascinated I was about how they fit together.
Ibis and his religion.
Here’s another bit of worldbuilding. One of my goals for the series is to write a cultural sense of religion that was not purely Christian (or religions of the Book, for that matter…) Many of the characters in my books have family practices related to deities associated with places, family lines, or particular professions.
Ibis, though, Ibis is very clearly a devotee of Hetheru (also known as Hathor) and Djeuty (also known as Thoth). You can see the little pieces of this through the descriptions of his office, his rooms – and his invocations while making love.
(I should note that Christianity also exists among the magical community – just that it’s one option among many, not the religion of a significant majority. More coming about that in the future.)
Of course, I also have an advantage here – besides my own lifelong interest in Egyptology, my most excellent editor, Kiya Nicoll, has done far more and has also written about it. (The Traveller’s Guide to the Duat, a guidebook to the spirit world of ancient Egypt. Comes with poetry of a variety of flavours and great good humour.)
I admit I’m also delighted about working a discussion about the complexities of Rudyard Kipling into a romance novel, and the character’s various reactions the ongoing colonialism (present in the 1920s in both Egypt and India.) There are a lot of things about Kipling that hold the memory, but his politics could be exceedingly awful.
The challenges of growing up in that environment (and how it affected Pross, who has not had the direct nearby support of her parents since she was 10) and Ibis (whose family other than his youngest sister are in Egypt, and who also had to deal with being visibly not like many of his peers in school) were something I wanted to bring out.
And of course, I wanted to gesture at some other common magical ideas, the ranges of what magic can do, and spend a little time at Schola, one of the five focused schools of magic in Albion. (We’ll be seeing more of it in a future book.)
Finally, without getting into spoiler territory, who doesn’t love a hedgehog? Most usefully for my purposes, besides being appropriate to the application, they are classic animals of both the British Isles and of Egypt.
Let me know if you’ve got more questions about my ideas or how they make their way into books! And of course, you can get your copy of Magician’s Hoard if this intrigues.
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.
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.
Don’t tell my other books, but this one might be my favourite so far.
It features Pross Gates (widowed bookseller who’s taken on some research projects, previously seen in Outcrossing) and Ibis Ward, Anglo-Egyptian researcher who’s using his skills to translate items in the Petrie Collection.
- The world’s most adorable hedgehog.
- A thoughtful discussion of the complexities of Kipling and empire-building
- A look at Schola (the most elite of the magical schools in the series)
- Kemetic religious practices, including my ‘I can’t believe I just inserted a bit of a hymn to Hetheru (Hathor) in a romance novel, I love my life’ achievement.
Many many thanks to Kiya, my editor, for not only for the usual amazing job taming my commas, wrangling my missing sentences, and telling me I need more ponies, but particularly for consulting on the Egyptology on this one. (Expertise on tap should be used and valued!)
If this sounds like your kind of thing (or that of someone else you know), a proper blurb and buy links are available here. Currently available at Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, and others are working their way through the system.
Also keep an eye out here and on my Twitter feed for some more posts in the coming days. I can’t resist sharing some awesome Egyptological images I’ve been stockpiling including adorable turquoise hedgehogs.