Paula Brandon is the author of The Traitor’s Daughter, the first volume in a fantasy trilogy. We spoke about science and magic, and how being a traitor can sometimes be a heroic choice.
Could you tell us a bit about The Traitor’s Daughter and how you were inspired to write the book?
The Traitor’s Daughter is the first volume of a fantasy trilogy set in the Veiled Isles–a place where the energy that powers magic emanates from a vast underground phenomenon known as the Source. The origin and true character of the Source exceed human knowledge, but some of its characteristics are understood. It’s a kind of natural generator, spinning eternally on its central axis. From time to time, however, the direction of the Source’s spin can reverse–and when this happens, the nature of magic changes. In fact, the nature of reality itself changes. The Reversal, as it is known, turns the world into a place uninhabitable to humankind, but thoroughly hospitable to the Inhabitants, an ancient race supporting a huge collective intelligence, that ruled the Veiled Isles before the coming of man.
It’s become apparent to those with the knowledge to read the signs that the Source is about to reverse itself–a catastrophe for humanity. It’s a catastrophe that can be averted, however–it’s been magically averted in the past, more than once. It’s a task beyond the power of any single sorcerer–or “arcanist,” as they’re called here–but the conjoined power of some half dozen skilled adepts, working as one, will suffice to accomplish the task.
It is a time, however, of social and political turmoil. Skilled adepts–never a plentiful commodity at the best of times–are particularly difficult to locate and enlist now. And the few that can be found are bitter enemies–by birth, by blood, by nationality, or by reason of personal insult and injury. How can they work together? How can they overcome their mutual loathing, to endure the most intimate imaginable contact, via the linkage of their minds?
That was the idea I started out with, when I first began plotting this trilogy. I was taken with the idea of a small group of people–enemies, seething with hate for one another–forced to work in closest proximity. I spent most of the first book carefully building intense detestation, and then, when explosion was imminent, shoved them all together.
Launching a series has to be a little daunting. You’re laying the framework for what is yet to come. Did this weigh into any of the creative choices you made in telling the story?
It’s true that launching the story was daunting, because I knew that it was going to be a big, long project, with many elements and plot strands that I was going to have to juggle successfully. The sheer size was daunting. But The Veiled Isles Trilogy isn’t an open-ended series of self-contained novels, all set in the same world or universe. It comprises three books, and they tell the entire story. They’re not self-contained books, either–in fact, the first two volumes both end with cliffhangers. Actually, it’s more like one huge novel divided into three parts. I had the entire story plotted before I ever wrote a word, and many (probably most) of the initial creative choices you ask about were made during that plotting phase. Of course, there were more choices to be made as I wrote, but knowing exactly where all the characters were going made them relatively easy. I did a bit of deliberate foreshadowing, but only a little. For the most part, I wrote Book I, The Traitor’s Daughter, with an eye to building a solid foundation for all that I knew would be happening at the end of Book III.
Some magic and some science exist in the world of The Traitor’s Daughter. Can you talk a bit about the relationship between these two branches of knowledge?
The relationship between magic and science? I have to admit, I never sat down and consciously considered it. When I think about it now, I’d say that I present magic as a kind of ultimate science, which in its highest form, blends with art. That is, I don’t see it as “supernatural” or operating outside of or in defiance of the laws of our physical world. Rather, its practice involves a deep understanding of principles that may be obscure and abstruse, but relate directly to our reality. Wait a minute–that IS science, isn’t it?
Was there a historical era, nation or event that inspired the setting or characters?
I had a general, fuzzy image of Renaissance Italy–city states; Fifteenth Century level of technology, more or less; names with an Italianate sound, sometimes. But it’s only the slightest flavor–a starting point for my own ideas about a place called the Veiled Isles.
The line between traitor and loyal citizen are relative on one’s position, and sometimes loyalty is villainy and treason heroism. As a writer, how do you manage such a complicated concept without getting bogged down in the details?
The concept you mention is certainly implicit in my book–but I don’t believe I got bogged down in details (at least I hope I didn’t) because I never at all thought in terms of Managing a Concept. My mind rarely strays far from basic issues of plot and character. I’ve got a plot worked out, and a set of people to breathe life into it. I’ve got, as a main character, an extremely sheltered, eighteen-year-old rich girl, suddenly plucked out of her safe and luxurious nest, set down in a harsh world that she has never experienced, confronted with sights and situations that she has never imagined–how does she react? How does it affect her thoughts, her beliefs? How does it change her? And then there is her father, the traitor of the title–a wealthy, powerful, middle-aged man, for the first time in his life battling forces beyond control of his money and power. Will the experience alter his view of the world that he thought he knew so well? It’s through the perceptions of these characters (and others) in the book that a concept may express itself, as an integral part of the story.
Do you have a favorite traitor in history?
If I have to name a favorite traitor in history, I think I’d go for Brutus–betrayer of his friend Julius Caesar, but savior (in his own estimation) of Rome. Now, there’s a man perfectly exemplifying the treason/heroism ambiguity that you just mentioned.
Where can we find you online?
I’m going to start a Paula Brandon Facebook page, almost immediately.