Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Interview|Juliet McKenna

Juliet McKenna is the author of The Tales of Einarinn, The Aldabreshin Compass, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution and is now working on a new series: The Hadrumal Crisis. I've reviewed several of her excellent books on the blog: just click the "Juliet McKenna" tag at the bottom of this post to access all of my posts about her books. She kindly agreed to do this brief interview with me, and here it is:

Welcome to the blog!

In your three Einarinn series, you feature a number of mages (from both systems of magic) as central characters - Usara, Dev, Naldeth and Branca, among others. Do you think that your very well-defined systems of magic - both Artifice and elemental - have enabled or helped you to do this?

Definitely. I’m fascinated by the idea of magic and how it might really work, in the broader context and on the personal level. Knowing how the underlying magic works means I can really explore the implications. How does having magical abilities affect an individual? What about different magical abilities? How does their essential character affect their magical powers? How do other people react to them? I can’t see how I could do so without that firm foundation.

Also, as a reader, I have to find whatever’s underpinning the truly fantastic in a story is believable. So that’s even more important for me as a writer. I’m also a natural planner-ahead as an author, so getting everything defined was an obvious first step. Which isn’t to say some fascinating unforeseen consequences haven’t turned up along the way.

Currently, do you have any plans to revisit the settings of Kellarin, the Aldabreshin Archipelago, or the location seen (I won't spoil this for non-readers!) in Western Shore in a future series?

I see potential story ideas in pretty much all of these locations – and more besides. Not all of the concepts are strong enough to support a novel though, not so far anyway. That ‘western shore’ is probably the most remote possibility in all senses. I’d like to revisit Kellarin someday, perhaps through short fiction to begin with, to bring those other ideas into focus. That’ll depend on what time I have spare for such projects.

As for the Aldabreshin Archipelago, the trilogy I’m currently working on is called ‘The Hadrumal Crisis’ and if you look at the maps, you’ll see just how close the Wizards’ Isle is to the northernmost warlords’ domains. Let’s not forget the corsairs lurking in those islands and also the fate of prisoners from the Lescari civil wars who’ve been sold down the river to the slavers of Relshaz. So, yes, you’ll certainly be seeing more of the Archipelago. Just not in the way you’re expecting.

In The Aldabreshin Compass series, the Archipelago has an intricate system of divination, using both the "Heavenly" and "Earthly" compasses. Are any of the omens and methods of divination based on real world research and traditions, or just your imagination?

The Aldabreshin system of divination started as background detail in The Swordsman’s Oath, drawing on the various divinations I’d come across in my studies of Ancient Greece and Rome, where it was, to some people at least, very influential. When I was planning the Aldabreshin Compass series, I knew I had to get the specifics defined, for much the same reasons as I define my systems of magic. By then I also had the benefits of the research I’d been doing into symbols as I used the Forest/Mountain runes through the first series of Tales.

So I brought all that together with some further research into the Tarot, the I-Ching, palmistry, the interpretation of dreams and all sorts of other divination from folklore around the world. I also read up on the history of the zodiac as we know it today and used bits of the original Babylonian framework to hang these other ideas on.

It’s all come together with a coherence that’s fascinating in itself and really useful for me as a novelist. It also presents some intriguing challenges when what the heavenly or earthly compasses are telling a character is at odds with what I had planned for the story. I have to stay true to the character’s world view, so that’s definitely where my imagination and lateral thinking skills get called upon. What I might have planned can end up in the bin.

Hadrumal, in your books, is constantly forced to maintain wizardry's wary balance with mainland life. Do you see this as realising the realistic consequences of magical abilities, and, if so, did you set out to do this, or did it turn up along the way?

I saw this balancing act would be necessary from the outset. Magic, fundamentally, is power and power is slippery stuff. Life at the top of any society can be remarkably precarious, especially if the folk on the lower levels of the pyramid get too resentful, scared, impatient, hungry, educated... Ask the ghosts of emperors from Ancient Rome to early twentieth century Russia, and consider what regimes like North Korea and Burma/Myanmar have to do to enforce their control nowadays. Assuming my wizards don’t want to become tyrant-sorcerers, they have to tread carefully.

That said, I’m realising there’s only so much an Archmage can control, even with magic and astuteness. Add to that, the events of all the books so far have been developing a momentum of their own as far as the wizards are concerned. Plus there are always unforeseen events and unintentional consequences. As it happens, this combination has now resulted in The Hadrumal Crisis...

Thank you very much for the interview! I'm certainly looking forward to this new series, as magic has always been one of the most interesting elements of Einarinn.


  1. Great interview! You have caught my attention here with all the magic talk. :) I am curious to start into this series, so I have added it to my WANT list. I hope to give the first book a try sometime in the future. Thanks!

  2. I'd definitely recommend them! They're great examples of what an elemental magic system can do when done right, and that's not something you find often. Plus, I always have a soft spot for earth mages who are actually _useful_. :P