Therese here. It is my privilege to tell you about WU contributor Juliet Marillier‘s latest book release–another in her mega-popular Sevenwaters series–called Flame of Sevenwaters. If you’ve never read one of Juliet’s books, please do yourself a favor and pick up one or half a dozen of them ASAP. Juliet is a beautiful wordsmith and master world-builder, with characters you come to understand intimately and plots you’ll care about.
I’m also glad to announce that Juliet will be giving one signed copy of Flame of Sevenwaters to one WU commenter–no mailing restrictions. Winner will be chosen in one week via a random number generator, and contacted via email for shipping address. Enjoy!
Q: What’s the premise of your new book?
Juliet: This is the sixth and (for now, at least) last book in the Sevenwaters series. Like the other books in the series, it’s built around the delicate relationship between the fey and human inhabitants of the Sevenwaters forest, which at this point has turned quite dark and perilous. Flame also has its own theme: how past trauma can cast a very long shadow over not only the victim but all those involved, and how families struggle to deal with this. It’s the first novel I’ve written in which the narrator / protagonist has a significant disability, and through her the reader discovers to what extent this affects her life choices. It’s also about sacrifice and healing (sounds grandiose, I know, but this novel does wind up a pretty substantial saga.)
Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
Juliet: The novel is narrated by Maeve, whom we met in Child of the Prophecy. Maeve suffered terrible burns at the age of ten, and was sent away to live with her aunt, an expert healer, in Britain. In Flame of Sevenwaters, she returns to Ireland after ten years away, when asked to accompany a highly-strung horse on the sea voyage. Maeve’s special talent is being able to soothe and control difficult animals. When she reaches Sevenwaters, Maeve’s confidence that she has set the past behind her is severely shaken. There is escalating tension between her father, Lord Sean, and the fey prince Mac Dara, whose son has renounced his fey heritage and married into the Sevenwaters family. Mac Dara is committing acts of violence and mischief in order to pressure his son into returning to the Otherworld as his successor. A group of men, including a neighboring chieftain’s sons, has vanished while riding on Sevenwaters land. As the bodies of these men are found, one by one, murdered in bizarre ways, and the offended chieftain marches in with his personal army, Maeve and her young brother Finbar are drawn into a perilous mission to set things right once and for all. Their quest will set them in mortal danger.
Q: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
Juliet: Maeve has to become an action hero despite her physical disability. As a result of the childhood fire, she has permanently clawed fingers, which limit her ability to perform many tasks, from feeding herself to riding a horse. She has worked extremely hard at coming to terms with this, has invented new ways of doing things, and has learned not to see herself as a victim – indeed, she’s a forthright, rather outspoken person thanks to being fostered by the remarkable Liadan and Bran. Her skill with animals has earned her wide respect – in this story she rehabilitates a pair of feral dogs, as well as working with the difficult yearling, Swift. But when she finds herself out in the forest, alone and far from home, Maeve faces a much higher degree of challenge. Her brother Finbar, seven at the start of this novel, has his own challenges. Wise beyond his years and possessed of visionary ability, he is at the same time just a little boy, and Maeve’s first instinct is to keep him safe. But Finbar has other ideas. If Maeve follows her brother’s plan, they may win peace for Sevenwaters. But at what cost?
Q: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?
Juliet: I had to think very hard about what her disability would mean for Maeve. Having stretched credibility quite a bit by allowing her to survive her burns in a period when there were no antibiotics and probably only rudimentary hygiene, I then had to work out what she would and wouldn’t be able to do. I looked at every aspect of her daily existence, both when she’s in a house with her maid to help her, to the lengthy passage when she’s crossing country alone. It’s hard to forage when you have limited hand movement. It’s hard to do basic things like pulling up your stockings, getting shoes on and off, relieving yourself tidily, when you can’t bend your fingers. The more I considered Maeve’s life the more admiration I had for people with disabilities and the ways they cope. At the time when the book is set, a high-born woman like Maeve would have been pretty much unmarriageable with a condition of this kind, since it would prevent her from doing spinning, weaving, sewing, cooking and most other domestic tasks women were expected to be competent at. In addition Maeve has facial scarring, which would further reduce her value in the marriage market. Her exceptional ability with animals and her fine character would, for most suitors of the time, be insufficient to outweigh this, though the fact that she’s a chieftain’s daughter would weigh on her side. I hope readers will be pleased with the way I ended her story, which I believe takes this historical reality into consideration while allowing her to be her uncompromising self!
In addition to Maeve’s personal story, Flame of Sevenwaters contains the conclusion of the ongoing story about Mac Dara, the devious Otherworld prince, and his quest to see his son Cathal succeed him as leader of the fey inhabitants of Sevenwaters. This thread involves a longstanding Sevenwaters character, the druid Ciaran, and a mission to find the key to Mac Dara’s downfall. While Maeve’s story is told in first person, the novel also includes a sequence of scenes called Druid’s Journey, in detached third person, which I wrote in the mode of a traditional tale. Interweaving those two elements and having them join at the climactic point was one of the writing challenges of the novel.
Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?
Juliet: I built in a lot of things I care about, including animal rescue! I had avoided making Maeve the protagonist of a novel before, because I thought her significant disability, along with the time and culture she lived in, would make it too hard to craft a story line that would be satisfying for a contemporary reader. Then I decided I had to tackle the challenge. I was really pleased with the way the book turned out and delighted to be able to give a favorite character, Ciaran, a place at center stage as well. Ciaran has been in all six books of the series and has never been given the POV, so it’s been an interesting exercise building his character via others’ perceptions along with his actions and speech.
Also, it feels good to reach an ending point with this long-running series. I haven’t quite said I won’t ever write another Sevenwaters book, because such statements are perilous – what if that was the only thing my publisher would take? But I’m looking forward to embarking on a brand new adult fantasy series.
Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of Flame of Sevenwaters!