WU contributor Juliet Marillier’s newest book, Cybele’s Secret, has released today. Fans of Marillier’s lyrical historical fantasy novels (me included!) will be devouring this latest story, which picks off where Wildwood Dancing left off. Isn’t the cover art gorgeous?
Enjoy this Take Five interview with Juliet!
Q: What’s the premise of your new book?
Cybele’s Secret has elements of mystery, adventure story, romance and thriller, plus my usual blend of history and fantasy. It’s a coming of age story for the narrator, Paula. She and her companions in adventure face some extraordinary challenges and all of them learn life lessons – Paula’s has to do with the nature of true wisdom. (She’s a scholarly girl who believes she can find the answers to most problems in books.)
Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
This is a companion volume to Wildwood Dancing rather than a sequel, and it’s set in Ottoman Turkey. Seventeen-year-old Paula and her merchant father, Teodor, sail to Istanbul to purchase a rare religious artefact, Cybele’s Gift. This proves to be no ordinary trading venture, and they find themselves in deadly danger. It’s not just rival bidders they have to fear, but more sinister forces. Under the patronage of a wealthy Greek scholar, Irene, Paula uncovers a trail of intriguing clues. It becomes clear that the forces of the mysterious Other Kingdom have a quest for her, and that the agent they are using to set the trail is her lost sister, Tati. Shadowed by her bodyguard, Stoyan, a young man with his own secrets, Paula sets out to solve the mystery. Complicating the situation is the charismatic pirate captain, Duarte, who seems to have a finger in every pie. A wild chase by sea and land sees Paula and her companions undergoing trials and tests beyond anything they could have imagined, and learning lessons in wisdom, trust and love.
Q: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
There are mental challenges such as puzzles and riddles – it’s not always scholarly Paula who is best at these. There are extreme physical challenges, too. In this story I included many of my own worst fears, such as crossing rickety suspension bridges, crawling through narrow tunnels and being deep underground with no light. As well, each of the main characters has to face psychological challenges. Each must reassess personal strengths and weaknesses and recognise past errors of judgment.
Q: What unique challenges did it pose for you, if any?
In the current international climate there is probably some risk in a person of Anglo-Celtic origins writing a novel set in a predominantly Muslim country – Cybele’s Secret takes place with Istanbul under Turkish rule, but at a time when international trade flowed through the port and the city was home to a wide variety of languages and cultures. I did a lot of research on religious practices and customs, and spoke to people in Istanbul to try to get this aspect of the book correct. My central characters include people of various religious faiths and ethnic backgrounds, and I hope I’ve been even-handed in the way I showed them. It was wonderful travelling to Turkey to do research for the novel – just walking around amongst such rich history was overwhelming. I took hundreds of photos of little pieces of pottery, pages of old books, intricately patterned tiles, crumbling buildings, stray cats and so on. Not a tourist picture among them! There are some sad street dogs over there. I wished I could have taken one or two home to Australia.
Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?
Tackling a completely new setting, for which I had to learn about an unfamiliar culture. Writing a story with mystery elements, rather than a straight historical fantasy. Last but not least, the wonderful feedback from readers (the Australian and UK editions of the book have been out for a while now.) Both adult and young adult readers have loved the book. A lot of my recent email has been from young readers asking whether I’m planning a third in this series. I can’t answer that yet – it’s one of several future possibilities. But I do listen to my readers.