Please welcome long-time Writer Unboxed contributor Juliet Marillier with news of her latest novel Tower of Thorns to be released November 3 by Roc. Juliet is the author of nineteen historical fantasy novels for adults and young adults, including the Sevenwaters and Shadowfell series, and a collection of short fiction, Prickle Moon. Tower of Thorns is book 2 in the Blackthorn & Grim series of historical fantasy/mysteries for adult readers. The first book in the series, Dreamer’s Pool, was published in 2014.
Tower of Thorns will be released in hardcover and e-book with paperback to follow. An audiobook edition of Tower of Thorns will be available from audible.com. The Australian edition of Tower of Thorns is published by Pan Macmillan. Tower of Thorns received a boxed, starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. The stunning covers for the Blackthorn & Grim series are by Arantza Sestayo.
Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?
Tower of Thorns is the second novel in the Blackthorn & Grim series, but can be read as a stand-alone story. However, readers will enjoy it more if they’ve read Dreamer’s Pool first, because the series is very much built around the two central characters, the disillusioned wise woman Blackthorn and her stalwart though damaged companion Grim. These two make quite a journey through the three books of the series as they deal with the challenges of the present and the demons of the past. Along the way this medieval Holmes and Watson prove adept in the solving of mysteries, especially those with an uncanny twist.
Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
The series is set in early medieval Ireland, in the time when the country was a patchwork of petty kingdoms. Changing allegiances and power struggles were common. While the Irish law of the period was remarkably fair, there were plenty who chose to flout the rules. Blackthorn and Grim have in the past fallen foul of a cruel and power-hungry chieftain. Blackthorn wants passionately to bring the man to justice, but is bound by a promise to adhere to certain codes of behaviour for seven years, including not seeking out her enemy. While they wait out the period of this vow, Blackthorn and Grim find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving an eccentric noblewoman, a tower surrounded by a thorn hedge, and a howling monster.
Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
Blackthorn and Grim must overcome challenges both external and internal. Both are damaged by the traumatic events of the past, and their dark memories have a tendency to surface without warning, causing havoc in their lives. In this novel they head to Bann to help Lady Geileis rid herself of the monster whose wailing is casting a blight on her land and its people. But the truth behind this strange situation proves hard to pin down. At the monastic foundation of St Olcan’s, Grim finds himself face to face with the embodiment of his worst nightmare, while an old friend brings dangerous temptation to Blackthorn. In the final unravelling of the puzzle, Blackthorn and Grim face deadly peril and learn new truths about themselves.
Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?
In the first novel, Dreamer’s Pool, I used three first person narrators, each with a different voice, taking chapters in turn. With Tower of Thorns I went one step further. Blackthorn, Grim and Lady Geileis take chapters in turn, but in Geileis’s chapters there is a fourth narrative thread, as she tells an ancient story about the tower, featuring a pair of young lovers. Keeping track of the threads and making sure each voice was individual and easily recognised was an ongoing challenge, but one I enjoyed. I love creating characters from the inside out, knowing their psychology, understanding why they make mistakes and get things wrong and hurt people they are fond of – all those errors people make in real life! The fact that this is a story with fantasy elements makes no difference to that. At heart it is a series about real people and real life challenges, the major one of which is PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) which affects both Blackthorn and Grim.
Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?
Setting myself a technical challenge and, I think, nailing it, judging by the very good reviews! Following these two mature-aged, troubled and difficult characters through the next part of their story. I find both of them wonderfully rewarding to write, and readers have really warmed to them. About that technical challenge – I am taking it one step further with the next book, which I’m currently working on. It’s good to keep stretching oneself as a writer.