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Question: I love the Brittany Coast! What made you decide to set Grave Mercy there instead of elsewhere in modern-day France?
Answer: Well, aside from Brittany just being awesome, there were three things:
1. As you mention below, Christianity came late to Brittany, which served the mythology of the story.
2. It truly was inherited by a twelve year old girl, who had to try to defend it from France while she fought off a number of suitors, which made a great backdrop for a YA novel.
3. The last nine known druidesses were said to reside on the Ile de Sein, off the coast of Brittany, which gave sort of an historical anchor for the mythology of the story as well.
Q: The High Middle Ages is a time period that's very different from our own. How much did you have to research in order to make things historically accurate?
A: I did tons of research! Luckily, I am a total research geek and loved doing it. I researched everything from the politics of the duchy, to the young duchess, her councilors, the geography, the customs of that time period, as well as the clothes and furnishings of the day. I tried to make things as historically accurate as I could. However, history is not an exact science by any means, and there are often conflicting opinions on or interpretations of events and customs. One of the things I adore about research is that often when I am stuck in the story or stalled out on the plot, if I dive into the research books, there is often a very cool answer to my story problem there.
I have a partial bibliography listed on my website for anyone else who is as big a research geek as I am. http://www.robinlafevers.com/
Q: I'm a historian, so I'll definitely be checking out that bibliography! You created strong female characters, but somehow managed to keep them within what society would expect of a woman in the Medieval time period. Was it difficult to balance historical accuracy with strong female characters?
A: It was a challenge to strike a balance between a heroine a modern reader could relate to, but still keep true to the roles (or lack thereof!) that women had in society back then. Some of the limitations on them are just so hard for us to grasp! But one of my goals in writing in historical time periods is to capture the worldview of the people who lived then, so it was really important to me to stick to those limitations and then find a way to make them interesting and relevant to today's readers. The truth is that noble women did not have any more say over their lives--and sometimes less!--than women of the lower classes. They were more sheltered and had more luxuries, but their ability to make their own choices about their lives was just as limited. Many women joined convents precisely because living in a convent often gave them more freedom to pursue their own interests than marriage!
Q: That's interesting because I know in contemporary times, women view convents as prisons. The fact that it was reversed in that time period lets us know just how oppressed women were. The next question is about the mythology. I know that Bretagne was the last place in modern-day France to have Christianity forced upon it. Is the Breton mythology used in this novel actual Breton mythology (the Saints, etc.), or did you come up with it yourself?
A: It was an amalgam of Breton folklore, Celtic mythology, and then a generous seasoning of my own imagination. The Christian Church did make a very calculated decision to incorporate earlier gods and goddesses into the church as saints so that the people would be more comfortable converting to Christianity. They did this with holy sites as well as festivals and holidays. And people very much worshiped patron saints and prayed to them to intercede on their behalf. Some of the nine Breton saints in the book are taken directly from Celtic mythology, Saint Arduinna, for example, was a Celtic goddess of the hunt, and Saint Camulos was a Celtic war god. Dea Matrona was based on the mother goddess present in so many pantheons. But the twin goddesses of love for the two very different sides of love were my own contribution. Breton tales of the Ankou, a death figure, and stories of the Night Rowers who were called upon to row men's souls to the otherworld were additional inspiration.
Q: Did you visit Bretagne before writing this book?
A: Sadly, no! But if it sells enough copies, I might be able to visit in the future!
Q: If you could have coffee with any of the characters from Grave Mercy, who would you choose and why?
A: Sister Serafina, hands down. I not only lust after all her poison and herbal knowledge, but I suspect she knows some really juicy secrets about the other nuns at the convent, so I would buy a bottle of wine and see how many of those I could get her to spill. :-)
Q: I know that the sequel covers Sybella's journey. Will it pick up where Grave Mercy left off, time-wise, or will it start at the beginning of Sybella's journey?
A: That is a question I have been wrestling with for the last nine months! It's always one of the hardest parts--knowing where exactly to start the story. I have settled on (I think!) staring where Grave Mercy stopped as opposed to going back to Sybella's time at the convent, but nothing is certain until it's sent to the printer.
Q: Can you tell us what other projects you're currently working on?
A: You know, I used to juggle a number of projects at once, but these books are just too big and complex and multi layered, and involve too much research, to be able to hold anything else in my head. So the His Fair Assassin trilogy and I are in a monogamous relationship. :-)
Q: As complicated and historically accurate as these novels are, that is completely understandable! If you could give Ismae one piece of advice, what would it be?
A: To trust her heart.
Q: Will we ever return to Ismae's story, or has she completed her journey?
A: We will see Ismae briefly in Book Two and Book Three as she reconnects with Sybella and Annith, and learn a bit about how she is doing, but the story won't be told through her eyes again. She had a fairly complete journey in Grave Mercy.
I agree that her journey seemed complete, but I'm glad we'll get to see how she's doing in the future.
Thank you so much, Robin, for taking the time to answer these questions! I loved Grave Mercy, and I cannot wait for the sequel!