Gollancz is thrilled to be publishing Exodus of the Xandim, the conclusion to Maggie Furey’s prequel to her bestselling ARTEFACTS OF POWER series. Here, Maggie talks about the perils of prequels…
THE PERILS OF PREQUELS
PART 1 – THE CHARACTERS
Prequels are not for the faint-hearted. Indeed, they’re a mass of pitfalls and snares for the writer who has been lucky enough to write a beloved story with a devoted fanbase, all on the alert for any mistakes or discrepancies that may slip in. So why did I write the prequels to the ARTEFACTS OF POWER series?
Well, it had to happen. My plan, after finishing the Shadowleague series, had been to write the Aurian sequels – yet I found myself stymied. How could Aurian defeat the Phaerie who’d conquered her city, and send them back into exile? Why had they been banished from the world in the first place, and who had done it? Why was their fate linked with the Sword of Flame, a product of the Mage Wars? Where did the Xandim fit into the picture? The history of Aurian’s world, as told in the first series, was already so complex that I needed to know the whole story, so instead of leaping into the future of the Magefolk, I wound up delving into the past, the most turbulent era of their history: the Cataclysm caused by an entity so formidable that he could reshape the face of the world, the creation of the Artefacts of Power, and the war that almost destroyed all Magekind.
I knew I was treading on dangerous ground. Having created a world with a history that so many readers had made their own I wasn’t going to be able to mess about with events that had already been established. I had responsibilities to the readers who had grown up knowing and loving Aurian and her companions. It was very important to get this right for them. My chief challenges were daunting: Firstly, there was Continuity (how to mesh the new story with the original history.) It was no good trying to cheat, and strike off in an entirely different direction. The readers would feel cheated (and I wouldn’t blame them,) and it would ruin the credibility of both series for them.
Secondly, there were the Characters (how to mesh the major characters who’d been mentioned in ARTEFACTS, whose fates were already decided, with a new cast of players, whose actions might send the plot off in unexpected directions.) This also links back to Continuity – sometimes it’s hard to prevent characters turning into their own Spoilers. For example, when the story opens, the Archwizard is Cyran, Avithan’s father. Yet the knowledgeable reader is well aware that, as the history is described in the original series, Avithan is Archwizard. So what happens to Cyran? At this point my friends the knowledgeable readers are already saying “Uh-oh – looks as if this guy is wearing a red shirt!” Are they right? Or will they be surprised?
The third challenge was Balance (I had to write CHRONICLES OF THE XANDIM to stand alone from ARTEFACTS OF POWER, because a whole new generation of readers had sprung up who might not have read the earlier series – yet there had to be enough connections to the future world; the occasional nod in the direction of future events that would almost be like little secrets or ‘in jokes’ that were shared between myself and the original fans.
Last, and most difficult of all, was Predestination. Readers of a prequel who are familiar with the first series already know that certain things are going to happen (this links back to characters being their own Spoilers.) I had to find ways to make events as interesting and unanticipated as possible, and involve the reader so deeply in the story that certain things would come as a surprise – despite the fact that they were destined to happen all along. Chiannala was a good example. I had lots of fun writing someone so unrepentantly bad!
Where to start, then? My method of writing is character-led, so I needed someone who would serve as a hook to hang the story on; a character who would provide a link between all the different elements and tie the narrative together. Could it be Avithan, the Archwizard of that period? Or maybe one of the Wizards who would come to be revered as Gods: Iriana of the Beasts, Thara of the Fields, Melisanda of the Healing Hands, Yinze of the Skies, Chathak Lord of Fire, or Ionor the Wise? Or what of the villains? Hellorin, the dangerous, capricious Lord of the Phaerie? The winged Mage Incondor or his consort Chiannala, a halfbreed mix of Wizard and human?
There were so many options, yet somehow, none seemed quite right – until I went to an amazing equestrian show called Spirit of the Horse, and found the answer staring me in the face. The Xandim. Shapeshifters, part equine, part human, who had been enslaved by the Phaerie to be their mounts. My heroine would be Corisand, newly awakened Windeye, or Shaman, of the Xandim, who, in order to liberate her race, must find a way to overcome Hellorin’s spell that imprisons the Xandim in equine shape – her dilemma being that while she is trapped in horse form, she cannot access the Windeye’s magic to make herself human. Telling the story from her point of view had a huge advantage, in that neither Corisand herself or any of the early history of the Xandim were detailed in ARTEFACTS, which gave me carte blanche to write her in whatever way I wished.
Clearly Corisand was going to need some outside help – and who better than Iriana of the Beasts? This was, after all, to be a history of the Magefolk. I made Iriana blind because, having lived my own life coping with disabilities, albeit fairly minor ones, I wanted to show that it’s possible use one’s abilities to compensate for physical restrictions. Iriana’s special talent was to form close mental bonds with animals, who permitted her ‘see’ through their eyes. This also gave me a chance to fit in another new character – Melik, Iriana’s cat, who is her closest animal companion and the main source of her vision. Melik was based on my own Ragdoll cat, Merlin. If anyone wants to know what he looks like, his picture is on my Facebook page.
With my two main female characters established I decided that there should be a third, since three is such a significant number in myth and legend. For balance, I wanted someone to represent the Phaerie viewpoint – though, in keeping with the character of her race she would be calculating, capricious, and very much an enigma. Enter Tiolani, daughter of the Forest Lord Hellorin. Would she become a hero or a villain; would she help or hinder Corisand? Even I didn’t know the answers when I began the story – but it was going to be fun finding out.
With Tiolani, I ran into one of the aforementioned Prequel Pitfalls. The Phaerie, unless killed by violence, lead immeasurably long lives – yet there was no sign of Tiolani in the ARTEFACT OF POWER. Clearly she had met with some other fate in the thousand years between the two series. So: should her death be part of this tale? Or would she survive to meet with some future disaster? And wouldn’t the latter option leave the readers with a big, unanswered question bugging them: what did happen to her?
The fate of certain other characters have also given me some sleepless nights, even though they didn’t come into the original history as told in ARTEFACTS. For example, we are told that only six Wizards, the ones who are eventually deified, survive the Mage Wars, yet now my book is peopled with a number of have characters that I, and many readers, have fallen in love with. Can I really kill them all off? It would lead to a heartbreaking conclusion to the story that isn’t my usual style. Will I be able to find them some feasible loopholes and let them live after all? Or would that idea, tempting as it is, be too much like cheating? Would it ruin the story, or redeem it?
With the major players established, the other characters gradually fell into place, leaving only one thing missing. I needed a someone who would be a bridge between the two series; an all-seeing link between past and future. I chose The Cailleach, the Lady of the Timeless Lake, from whom Anvar had won the Harp of winds in the ARTEFACTS OF POWER series. In the beginning of the new series she foresees the disasters to come, and moves into the ordinary world to swell in a location that will be very familiar to readers of AURIAN. Of course, her efforts to avert the Cataclysm and Mage Wars are doomed to failure, and indeed, her interference sometimes inadvertently brings about the very things that she was trying to avoid. Yet at other times her assistance proves to be invaluable, and though I was forced to place limitations on her powers, lest she turn into a kind of Dea Ex Machina that would allow me to get away with taking the easy way out of any problem, (which would make for a very boring book) there were times when I was very grateful for her assistance.
Exploring the lives of my characters was fun, if occasionally a little fraught, but one of the most exciting parts of writing my prequel series was setting the story in a very different world from that of ARTEFACTS OF POWER. As this blog is turning out to be longer than expected, I’m going to talk about the world, the alternative reality of the Elsewhere, and the races that inhabit them in part two – which will be coming soon!