Laurie Forest’s young adult fantasy novel, The Black Witch, was released amongst some controversy. The book takes a fearless and direct approach to the topics of prejudice and injustice, with a complicated and highly-flawed main character who enters a world that will open her eyes to integration and diversity. The book has received glowing praise from authors like Tamora Pierce and Robin Hobb, and starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.
A lot of readers weren’t prepared to see the world through the eyes Elloren and live in her ordinary world that is so focused on cultural purity and conservatism, however, and made their opinions known on social media. The themes of the book are certainly highly charged, especially in today’s political environment, and the journey of the heroine of this book from a place of extreme prejudice to a position of acceptance and activism, overcoming hate and racism, is something that could bring hope to readers as we live in a world with some sad parallels to that in The Black Witch. Please welcome Laurie Forest to this week’s Geek Speaks…Fiction! as she tells us what made her geek out while she was writing her debut novel. And be sure to check out her Pinterest page, where she has a lot of images of her inspirations as well!
One thing that’s fun about writing epic fantasy is an author gets to throw every geeky thing they have immense love for into the mix. It’s hard to narrow down just a few geek-tastic elements thrown into The Black Witch, but I’ll try to narrow it down to the absolute geekiest.
Oh, I love writing dragons. Especially dragons that have the potential to learn to shapeshift to human later in the series (minor spoiler 😊). And anyone who reads Wandfasted (e-book prequel to The Black Witch–out this July) will realize I had a blast writing an epic dragon army battle scene. Imagining what it would be like to have mammoth black dragons whooshing by overhead, so close that you can feel the hot wind being pushed down onto you from the force of their powerful wings, is quite thrilling.
Ever since reading Prof. Lupin’s character in Harry Potter, I’ve been hooked on books with shapeshifters. I’m fascinated by the mix of human with another species, and have included Lupines in my book (wolf-shifters), Selkies (seal shifters), and wyverns (dragon shifters). Later books will have Kitsune (fox shifters) and possibly more species of shifters with affinities for sea creatures (I’m thinking whale shifters and shark shifters). I have a small fan-base pushing for turtle shifters, but I’m not completely convinced to go in that direction, lol.
I’m a complete sucker for magical schools, two of my favorite being Hogwarts (Harry Potter) and the University from the brilliant Name of the Wind–and if you haven’t read this yet stop everything you are doing and go get it! The Black Witch takes place at Verpax University, where my main character, Elloren Gardner, goes to study to become an apothecary. I had so much fun modelling the University loosely on Oxford and getting inside it’s Spine-stone halls, especially the underground Metallurgie lab, the Astronomie tower and the Apothecarium (I’m entranced by the idea of magical greenhouses that look like old-fashioned, glass walled Victorian greenhouses).
I’ve got a different take on wands in The Black Witch, but they’re wielded in a traditional way – waving them around and reciting spells. In my world, though, magic runs along affinity lines for the Gardnerian Mages–air, earth, fire, water and light. Most Mages have weak magic or no magic. But some have different levels culminating with Level Five (a Mage of great power). Every mage has a different combination of weak/strong affinity lines (my MC Elloren has fire/earth as her most powerful lines). Working out a fantasy magical system is both exciting and infuriating (because there are so many details!). The other peoples in my world have variations of rune-based magery, the Urisk’s rune-magery based in the use of rune-marked gemstones. I’m still working out all the systems of rune based magic, the dark pyrr-demon magery perhaps the most interesting to work out (because monstrous magic is pretty fun to write).
I was so excited when my publisher told me they were included my map! (attached is my original drawing for the map and the final map) I adore fantasy maps, my all-time favorites being the maps drawn for The Lord of the Rings. Leigh Bardugo’s maps (The Grisha Series) are also stunning. And Alison Croggon’s maps (The Pellinor Series) are exquisite. The map included in The Black Witch is the Western Realm (where we spend Book One). My favorite part about this map is the imposing Spine, two great vertical Spine-stone walls that bracket the entire of the snakelike country of Verpacia to the north (Northern Spine) and to the south (Southern Spine). Elloren gets to climb to the top of the Southern Spine in Book Two of The Black Witch Chronicles, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing the scene and picturing myself right there in the fantasy landscape. I’m currently working on the map for the Eastern Realm (where the bulk of Book Three takes place).
Of course, I could go on and on with things I love that have been thrown into The Black Witch: diamond-paned glass, Elves, epic landscapes (The Spine), lanterns, tea, horse-drawn carriages, underground passages, stained-glass windows, domed ceilings covered in murals, textiles, etc. For a walk through some of my visual inspirations, go to my Pinterest page.
About The Black Witch:
Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.
When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.
As evil looms on the horizon and the pressure to live up to her heritage builds, everything Elloren thought she knew will be challenged and torn away. Her best hope of survival may be among the most unlikely band of misfits…if only she can find the courage to trust those she’s been taught to hate and fear.
About Laurie Forest:
Laurie Forest lives deep in the backwoods of Vermont where she sits in front of a wood stove drinking strong tea and dreaming up tales full of dryads, dragons and wands. The Black Witch (May 2, 2017 – Harlequin TEEN) is her first novel, and Wandfasted (The Black Witch prequel, July 1, 2017 – Harlequin TEEN) is her first e-book novella.
Visit her realm at laurieannforest.com