Robin LaFevers's "Medieval Obsession"

SLJ spoke with Robin LaFevers, who concludes her thrilling "His Fair Assassins" trilogy set in 15th-century Brittany with the exciting 'Mortal Heart.'
Listen to Robin LaFevers reveal the story behind Mortal Heart, courtesy of mortalheart With Mortal Heart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014; Gr 9 Up), Robin LaFevers wraps up her trilogy 'His Fair Assassins,' set in 15th-century Brittany at a time when France was vying for the Bretons' land and trying to convert the citizenry to Catholicism. Throughout the series, her heroines find themselves in a nunnery for a variety of reasons—most unexpected, some highly dangerous, all compelling. The first book, Grave Mercy, followed Ismae, one of the young women trained as an assassin at the convent of St. Mortain, whose initiates still worship the Celtic gods, including St. Mortain, the god of death. Ismae was charged with finding out who from the duchess of Brittany’s inner circle was leaking her secrets to the French. In the second, Dark Triumph, narrator Sybella took readers into the heart of an enemy Frenchman's household. Deadly games, political intrigues, plot twists and turns, unforgettable characters, and romance are the hallmark of this brilliant series, which ends with the story of Annith, who leaves the convent when she learns she is being groomed for a role she finds untenable. What drew you to this time period? I've always been obsessed with the Middle Ages. I grew up thinking fairy tales were historical fiction until I was about nine. When I was working on the Theodosia books, I took a writing class. One of the questions posed by the teacher was "If you could only write one book, what might it be?" I thought: it would be set in the Middle Ages, it would be epic, there'd be a romance (though unsure if it would survive), and I'd put characters in a crucible to see what changes would happen in their lives. That's pretty much exactly what I did. Why Brittany? I was influenced by Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills—the character of Merlin placed in Roman Britain. I knew I wanted that same flavor. I was looking around Europe for a place I could set the story. Then I came across Brittany and read that it held onto its pagan beliefs a lot longer than its neighbors. They had 500 saints, only one of which was sanctioned by the Catholic Church: Ankou, who collects the bones at night in his cart. Off the coast of Brittany was an island where the last of the nine Celtic druidesses lived. Is the duchess a historical figure? I came across two more bits of research: many a noble woman in the Middle Ages preferred joining a convent to performing societal roles because it gave them more autonomy, and there was a 12-year-old girl who inherited a duchy and was promised to a half-dozen monarchs in Europe. Clearly what this girl needs is a group of death's handmaidens or assassin nuns to help her. Ismae, Sybella, and Annith are there from the beginning. Did you have a strong sense of each of their stories as you began the trilogy? I started telling Ismae's story, and as soon as she got to the convent, we met Annith, and I thought, "What kind of person is she that she came as a baby?" About 20 pages into the book, I knew I'd be telling three girls' stories. I knew Sybella was banished to the point of nearly being insane. But I didn't know why. I knew halfway through the first book that Annith had a history that tied her to the convent. The women emerge stronger for their childhood challenges, determined to take care of themselves. Was this important in having them identify with the young duchess, who's surrounded by men trying to make decisions for her? When I write, I start with characters' wounds. I knew that because of their wounds and the fact that they survived them, they'd be not just stronger but transformatively so, taking these characters to a whole new level of being and operating in the world. One of the things we have to share is our experiences and to show someone—in this case, the duchess—that they have options and to give them a new perspective. We loved Beast, Sybella's romantic interest. Tell us about the origins of his character. He just showed up on the page. He threatened to upstage Duval [Ismae's love interest]. He was so much bigger than life. He was such a surprise and such a delight. He refused to accept the fact that he was ugly and that he was expected to behave in a certain way. I've been fascinated by berserkers. My brother and son had out-of-control tempers for a time. The thing is, people like that can also be very gentle. We want to paint in a black-and-white brush; I rarely see people like that in the world. What inspired the Hellequin? They are rooted in medieval mythology. Most of the western European countries had a version of the wild hunt—Germany, England, France. Some thought they were faeries. Some priests witnessed them and characterized them as souls tortured, a kind of purgatory on earth. How difficult was it to create Mortain—a god with very human proclivities? In the Celtic tradition, many of the gods and goddesses mingled with humans. There are stories of gods laying with mortals and having mortal sons and daughters that have heightened talents. Did you always know that Annith would develop a unique relationship with Mortain? I did know from the beginning—about 150 pages in. Part of my brain is clicking ahead, as with Sybella and Beast and how they intertwine. What you do so well here is to explore the yin and yang of transgression and repentance, revenge and mercy, over and over again. It begins with Ismae in Grave Mercy, when she starts to question her orders and rely on her own judgment of character. It was inherent to the concept. I wanted these girls to serve death, but I wanted them to be sympathetic, not sociopaths. I had to construct a world in which these were not serial killers running around in costumes. I had to think about how we perceive death. It used to be part of the cycle of life and what people expected. It wasn’t until the Black Death and the Plague that people began to fear it. Earlier cultures perceived it differently. I don't like the idea of death always being evil and horrible. It's not. If you know anyone incurably ill, there are times when death is a relief. We forget to step back and look at the bigger picture. TB imageListen to Robin LaFevers reveal the story behind Mortal Heart, courtesy of  
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Kimberley Griffiths Little

I love this interview of Robin - and I ADORE this series!!! The Beast is awesome and all the mythology fascinating!

Posted : Nov 13, 2014 01:18



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