When anyone asks me to describe the world of the MAGE AND EMPIRE books, I immediately say “It’s all about magic and multiple lives.”
The lovely thing about magic is that authors can freely reimagine how it works for their books. Add twists. Change the so-called rules. Decide where and how magic operates. And who is allowed to use it. For this series, I wanted the magic to be other than a set of spells to be memorized, or a magical amulet, or a finite gift that only a few have. Here, magic is an infinite current that exists outside and alongside the ordinary realm. This current is a potent element—a hurricane and not a biddable thing. Using magic is like diverting a wind from a larger storm.
That said, over the centuries, magic users came to rely on the trappings of spells and amulets, a sort of a mechanical means to harness the mystical. With these “spells”—and lots of practice—nearly anyone can light a flame, or seal a letter against prying eyes. Much more experienced mages discovered how to store bits of the current’s power in an object, such as a wax seal, an amulet, or even a jewel. Very handy if you want to make a living selling pre-packaged magic.
Like any beginner, Anna Zhdanov starts off memorizing the phrases to summon the current:
Ei rûf ane gôtter. Ei ruf ane Lir unde Toc. Komen mir de strôm.
I call to the gods. I call to Lir and Toc. Come to me, the current.
But as she progresses deeper into her lessons, she begins to understand the language used, even the words themselves don’t matter. It’s a question of focus, of emptying the mind of everything and reaching for the balance point between worlds.
Practice and stubbornness are the key.
And caution. Magic might be damned useful, but it can also be dangerous. Complicated magic, the kind that lets Anna view the past, can lead to hours or days lost.
A soft green scent mixed with the ever-present salt tang. The crash and gurgle from the surf doubled, reverberating from past and present. Time slowed, until each moment stretched out, and she could examine it as she would a physical object.
…the skies a dark blue, smudged with rain clouds. A wind blew steadily from offshore, buzzing with the residue of lightning. Then, a flock of birds exploded from the trees. She heard a garbled shout, the high-pitched squeals of panicked horses. Next came a series of thuds and metallic crashes. A man burst into view, running straight toward her. He passed directly through her…
Startled, she lost her grip upon the past. Hours had slipped away while she delved into the past. All that remained of the sun was a golden thread running along the horizon.
The part about multiple lives is a bit more complicated.
Shorter version: Everyone lives, dies, and is reborn, over and over through time. Everyone remembers bits and pieces of those past lives through vivid dreams.
But! Your new life isn’t a copy of the past one. Sex and gender and class can change. A bonded servant might return as a prince. A queen might return as a scholar or merchant.
What doesn’t change is the ability to choose. It’s not a matter of fate or free will. It’s both.
Let’s unpack that.
If you are Anna Zhdanov, your life isn’t some predetermined script. Maybe your choices are constrained by your gender and sex and class. Maybe those choices appear small in the overall scheme. But you can choose, and the weight of each choice affects the rest of your lives to come.
At the same time, you’ll find yourself drawn into the same unfinished business in life after life. The same is true for those around you. Your path will cross theirs throughout the centuries until that business is revolved.
Back to Anna. Anna Zhdanov was born free, the daughter of an impoverished scholar. When her father dies in debt, she chooses to sell herself into bonded servitude. (For some definition of choose.) She can choose to do whatever it takes to regain her freedom. She can choose to betray her friends. Or she can decide to do what’s right.
At some point, the choices she makes, however small, will turn into mountains.
It was her talent for tracking magic that got Anna Zhdanov sent to catch a thief. A scholar’s daughter sold as a bond servant, she has no desire to recover the Emperor’s jewel for herself. But a chance to earn her freedom has driven her to the untamed Eddalyon province, awash with warm breezes, lapping waves, and more danger than she could possibly guess.
Within days her cover as an indolent noblewoman is in question, and it’s clear there’s more to Anna’s task than she knows. Soon she’s the captive of the unpredictable pirate captain Andreas Koszenmarc, hunted by the Emperor’s guard, besieged by a brigand queen, and at odds with her only friend. She must trust someone if she is to survive. But when all that’s certain is that everyone is hiding something, it’s no simple thing to choose . . .