Review and Guest Post of The Curse Giver by Dora Machado
How Fantasy Meets Reality and Reality Enhances Fantasy
Fantasy is a subversive genre, requiring the mind to bend and the imagination to flex. I love the genre's creative freedom, the opportunity to rethink, redesign and reinterpret the human experience in fresh and diverse settings, and the mysteries that magic brings to the human equation. But above all, I love realism in fantasy—the idea that even the most powerful magic is grounded to our sense of self, fueled by the choices we make, and rooted in the people we are. To me, a dose of gritty realism authenticates a story, validates my characters, and makes my worlds "real."
This is exactly what I've tried to do in my books, and my latest novel, The Curse Giver from Twilight Times Books, is no exception. The Curse Giver is about an innocent healer named Lusielle, who is betrayed and condemned to die for a crime she didn't commit. When she's about to be executed, Lusielle is rescued from the pyre by an embittered lord, doomed by a mysterious curse. You might think that Bren, Lord of Laonia, is Lusielle's savior, but he isn't. On the contrary, Bren is pledged to kill Lusielle himself, because her murder is his people's only chance at salvation. Stalked by intrigue and confounded by forbidden passion, predator and prey must band together to defeat not only the vile curse obliterating their lives, but also the curse giver who has already conjured their ends.
I know what you're thinking: How can a classic fantasy like The Curse Giver bring a sense of realism to the reader?
I can think of many ways, but I'll limit my discussion here to three very specific ways in which reality enhances a fantasy story.
First, the quickest and most effective way of establishing a link between fantasy and reality is by connecting the story's main themes to humanity's enduring themes. The Curse Giver, for example, is inspired by our ancient, deeply rooted belief in the power of curses. You can find curses in every culture on earth. It's one of those concepts that transcends background and ethnicity and binds us to our common original ancestors. It's primordial to the human experience.
The curse that inspired me to write The Curse Giver was a tangible object, ancient words inscribed on clay tablets dating back to 600 BC, a desperate attempt at protection, a warning and a promise of punishment. Curses are familiar to all of us and whether we believe in them or not, they are an intriguing part of our history, an irresistible taunt, a "real" mystery that none of us can resist. I think that realism filters up through the story from the inspiration source. We can anchor our fantasy worlds to reality by connecting them to our history and beliefs.
In more concrete ways, reality betters fantasy when it comes through pure and simple in the details. Settings provide great opportunities for realism. For example, The Curse Giver's river-centered world is inspired by the great American waterways: the Colorado River, which I have rafted often; the Mississippi River, which I've had the opportunity to explore; and the Amazon River, which has always intrigued me. Setting and landscapes offer some great opportunities for realism in fantasy and so does geography, especially when the details are vivid, concrete and deeply woven into the heart of the story.
But ultimately, real characters make real worlds. Realism achieves its maximum expression through the human experience as characters tackle the story. For example, in The Curse Giver, Bren, the Lord of Laonia, is a warrior. To be real, the concrete details associated with his trade have to be right. Research is fundamental. I relied on medieval primary sources to make Bren real. From his weapons to his fighting moves, to how he thinks to how he acts—
everything about him has to be consistent and make sense, even if he exists in a fantasy world.
The same is true about my heroine, Lusielle. By trade, she is a remedy mixer, an ancient occupation to the human experience. I spent a lot of time researching medieval medicine, herbalism and the use of ingredients for healing in human history. Lusielle's potions and ingredients—the concrete elements of her practice—make her more real to the reader, more credible and therefore more compelling as a character.
Realism is important even when tackling the villainous and the mysterious. The curse giver stalking Bren and Lusielle wields some potent magic. But is magic really the defining element that makes the curse giver powerful? Evil as the curse giver is, as the story develops, the reader has to ask the hard questions: What's this creature's real nature? What is her motivation? What is the "real" source of her power?
I won't spoil the story's twists just to make a point, but trust me: Fantasy explores some very "real" themes, such as the tenuous boundaries between love and hate, virtue and vice, magic and belief, justice and revenge. These questions, which are at the heart of any good and complex plot, also contribute to realism in fantasy.
But beyond the details, what makes these characters real is their willingness to make choices, fail, cope, learn, adapt and change; to establish emotional connections and engage in each other's quests; to suffer loss, grief and love, just like we do in the real world. Magic is a powerful element in fantasy. No doubt about it. And yet ultimately, what matters most is the strength within. Because in the end, realism in fantasy is all about connecting with the powerful reality of our own humanity.
Lusielle's bleak but orderly life as a remedy mixer is shattered when her husband betrays her and she is sentenced to die for a crime she didn't commit. She's on the pyre, about to be burned, when a stranger breaks through the crowd and rescues her from the flames.
Brennus, Lord of Laonia is the last of his line. He is caught in the grip of a mysterious curse that has murdered his kin, doomed his people and embittered his life. To defeat the curse, he must hunt a birthmark and kill the woman who bears it in the foulest of ways. Lusielle bears such a mark.
Stalked by intrigue and confounded by the forbidden passion flaring between them, predator and prey must come together to defeat not only the vile curse, but also the curse giver who has already conjured their ends.
Dora Machado is the award winning author of the Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, coming this summer from Twilight Times Books. She is one of the few Latinas exploring her heritage and her world through the epic fantasy genre today. Her first novel, Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone, won the 2009 Benjamin Franklin award for best debut novel. Her second novel, Stonewiser: The Call of the Stone, won the 2010 Independent Publishers Book Award's (IPPY) Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy book of the year. Her third novel, Stonewiser: The Lament of the Stones, won the 2012 Independent Publishers Book Award's (IPPY) Silver Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy book of the year. All three novels were finalist in ForeWord Magazine for Book of the Year in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Category. Her latest novel, The Curse Giver from Twilight Times Books is available July 2013.
She holds a master's degree in business administration and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Georgetown University. She was born in Michigan and grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a bilingual fascination for writing, a love for history, and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She enjoys long walks, traveling, and connecting with the amazing readers who share in her mind's adventures. She lives in Florida with her indulging husband and three very opinionated cats.
What an original and phenomenal read! I was immediately swept up in this enchanting world of magic, mystery, and lore. It was a page-turning and once I started, I could not put it down! The world-building was so vivid that it was so easy to get swept away in the fantasy.
Lusielle was by far my favorite character. She already had a horrid life and was betrayed by all the ones she thought cared for her. She was thought to be a witch and damned to burn at the stake. This scene was so well written, you could actually feel the heat from the flames a they were reaching to engulf her. She had known nothing but pain and suffering, but still she soldiered on and helped people that didn't deserve it. She persevered though everything that was thrown at her and remained true to herself. She didn't become bitter and in fused with hatred even though she had just cause. She truly was the hero of this wonderful book.
Bren had an equal amount of bad luck. Cursed for an unknown reason by his father's misdeeds, he watched as everyone he loved died around him. The last of his line, he struggled through the riddles of the curse, trying desperately not to save himself, but the land and the people he loved. She wrote a wonderful champion in Bren, who remained steadfast and hopeful throughout this tale. He was a good man who cared about his people.
This was a fascinating and enjoyable read!! I haven't read a book in this particular genre that I have enjoyed this much in a long time! My only regret is that I only have five spiders to give this book. It truly deserves many more. Hats off to you Dora Machado for such an amazing read!