I'm delighted to welcome Alma Katsu, author THE RECKONING, the next book in her thrilling trilogy that began with The Taker, a haunting tale of eternal love, betrayal and atonement as a young woman uses magic to bind her faithless lover to her, with tragic consequences. The Taker was chosen by Booklist as one of the top ten debut novels of 2011; The Reckoning has been called “brilliant” by RT Magazine and “beautiful, mesmerizing” by Library Journal. In celebration of The Reckoning's publication, Alma has offered us this fascinating guest post. Please join me in welcoming Alma Katsu!
First, let me thank C.W. for having me on Historical Boys today. It’s a great privilege to get to address his readers. And while I am a great fan of historical novels, I come here feeling like a bit of an impostor because I don’t consider myself a historical novelist. I know I’m not because my publisher told me so. When it came time to suggest artwork for the cover of The Taker, I forwarded jpeg after jpeg of lovely paintings of moody young women in gorgeous gowns until my editor was forced to write back saying something along the lines of, “Your book isn’t a historical and it’s not going to have an oil painting for the cover. Stop sending these to me.”
There’s history to be sure in both my books, The Taker and The Reckoning, but they don’t behave like proper historical novels. C.W., who kindly provided a very nice blurb for The Taker when it came out, put it kindly when he wrote, “The Taker is unlike any novel I have read,” (which delighted me, btw). It’s a very nice way of saying that the book has elements of many genres, not unlike Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander or Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire (but not too much like them, either).
The trilogy follows the story of Lanore McIlvrae, a young woman born in the early 1800s in a remote corner of the Maine territory. She has the misfortune to fall in love with Jonathan St. Andrew, eldest son of the family that owns the logging business that everyone in town depends on. Lanore—or Lanny, as she’s called—comes from a poor family and faces limited prospects, but she’s an intelligent girl and wants more out of life, and this attitude (plus her natural stubbornness) get her expelled from town and sent away to Boston. It’s there that she meets Adair, a mysterious man with otherworldly powers, including the ability to grant eternal life. To become immortal, all you have to do is drink a magical elixir—but there’s a catch: you’ll be bound forever to the one who gave you the potion. Lanny sees this opportunity to get back her faithless lover Jonathan, and gives him the elixir—with tragic results.
The Reckoning and the final book in the trilogy, The Descent, tell the rest of Lanny’s story, following her adventures through history as she tries to atone for the terrible thing she did to the man she loved and come to terms with the terrible, yet terribly compelling, Adair. The secret to his powers isn’t revealed until the very end of the series, when readers will learn if these are gifts from god, a true manifestation of magic, a manipulation of scientific principles or something else entirely.
If you’re still with me, I’ll get to the historical bits now. The Taker is mostly set in northern Maine and Boston from 1810-1822. The story isn’t tied to a particular real-life person or event, and so I’m often asked why I chose that specific time and place. And the answer is: it just sort of happened. Lanny’s home town in Maine doesn’t even exist, but for the story to work, I needed a place that was cut off from the rest of the world, a miniature kingdom for Jonathan’s family to rule. That area of Maine was perfect, with the endless woods and the great Allagash River invoking the idea of a barrier. I picked years when America was still wild in places but civilized in others. But mostly, I picked New England because at the time the story formed in my brain, I had spent most of my life there, in the area I call “Colonial Ground Zero” near Concord, Massachusetts. I find something very romantic about the area: romantic not in the Valentine’s Day sense but in the sense that it was a time of great promise and potential for America and its settlers. Living around these old houses, you develop affection for the people who toughed it out and created a life for themselves in the wilderness.
As much warmth as I feel for New England, for The Reckoning I left Boston and have the reader travel the rest of the world as we follow Lanny’s life. It’s more like a novel of time travel in that respect, though I think the most direct influence is Orlando, the Virginia Woolf novel (and here I’ll be completely heretical and admit that Sally Potter’s outstanding film adaption was more of a direct influence than the book). We get to spend a few weeks with Lord Byron in Pisa and we get to run guns in the Hindu Kush during Rudyard Kipling’s time. We go back to St. Petersburg not once but twice to commune with Russian mystics. We even return briefly to Maine.
I admire the way some novelists are completely faithful to one time period, or one place, settling in as they would a good, long marriage. As a writer, I find it hard to restrict myself like that: I seem to love nearly all times and places. I love to turn over history they way a gardener turns over earth, amazed at the richness I find. I’ll continue this technique in the last book, The Descent, which comes out in 2013, when I’ll take another turn as a historical polygamist. I have a few ideas for bona fide historical novels and if I can get a contract for them, we’ll if I can behave myself and act like a proper historical monogamist.
Thank you, Alma. To find out more about Alma and her books, please visit her website.