Friday, February 28, 2020

Elemental Magic

The line between historical fiction and historical fantasy at times seems rather slim. I consider my own novels straight historical fiction—admittedly with a large dollop of romance, but the romance is never the whole point of the story. Yet the world of the sixteenth century, in any part of the world, was saturated with religion and spiritual forces and flat-out magic.

My characters believe in all of it, none more so than Grusha in Song of the Shaman, who doesn’t quite subscribe to the idea that she actually ventures into realms beyond our own but who nonetheless behaves in every respect as if otherworldly spirits exist and she can contact them. The people she interacts with believe it too; their faith, more than anything else, is the source of her healing power.

Let’s move now to the wholly fictional world of Gabrielle Mathieu’s new Berona’s Quest trilogy, which forms the subject of my most recent interview on the New Books Network. Gabrielle is, in addition to a fellow member of Five Directions Press, the host of New Books in Fantasy and Adventure. So her channel is the main location of her interview, but it is cross-posted to mine.

And that seems appropriate. It’s true that at no time in our world have we seen a vicious Water Demon, mother of all life on earth but mad as hell after spending six hundred years in a cage under the ocean after her last attempt to wipe out her human creations. Nor do we have to flee the destructive (or are they constructive?) efforts of massive ogre-like creatures called Elementals. We are like the residents of Mathieu’s Vendrisi, scholars and scientists and traders.

Yet the land of Berona’s birth, Trea, has definite parallels to medieval Europe, although its priest cult serves a goddess rather than a god. Trea, the magical heartland, hosts scattered communities of farmers and vineyard keepers, lords and ladies, merchants and townsfolk. They all use swords and plowshares, keep their women under wraps and their men in positions of authority, and dole out education, privileges, and luxuries according to accidents of birth. The politics are as vicious and self-serving, the capacity for treachery as great, the pleasures of love as delicious, and the pains of loss as devastating as in the world we know—despite the presence of an occasional dwarf, magician, or elfin Elder.

So even if you like your fiction without a dose of spells and sorcery, you may well enjoy Girl of Fire, the first novel starring Berona and her comrades. Or just listen to the interview, summarized below.

The rest of this post comes from New Books in Fantasy and Adventure.

In the fantasy medieval land of Trea—a conservative society that despite its worship of the goddess Amur respects her human daughters only as wives and mothers—eighteen-year-old Berona has limited expectations for her future. Securing a handsome husband who will win her heart and teach her to dance seems like enough of a challenge, given that her father keeps presenting her with candidates who can neither appeal to nor appreciate her fiery nature. But Berona remains hopeful until a nighttime encounter at the stream that runs near her house brings her face-to-face with humanity’s ancient enemy, the Water Demon, desperate for revenge after six hundred years locked deep in the world’s oceans.

The Demon threatens Berona and her family, and to protect her parents and younger sister, Berona accepts help from a magician, member of an outlawed sect with a philosophy of life very different from that of the Intercessors of Trea. The magician has been searching for the Girl of Fire, who according to ancient prophecy is the only person who can defeat the Water Demon, and he becomes convinced that Berona is the one he seeks.

But Berona is untrained, and the Demon already on the move. As the Elemental forces of Nature awaken and treachery splits those committed to help her, Berona struggles to reconcile her own essential strengths, the demands placed on her, and the lessons she must master against a foe who destroys from within, by manipulating her victims’ deepest fears and appealing to their hidden desires.

Gabrielle Mathieu, the author of the Falcon Trilogy and host of New Books in Fantasy and Adventure, kicks off her new series, Berona’s Quest, with Girl of Fire, a deeply researched and endlessly inventive exploration of a world in which disrespecting the environment can, quite literally, get you killed.

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