Cover Reveal: Oathbreaker

The covers of the Into the Wonder novels have “grown up” with the story, from something more “kid-friendly” (one person described them “old-school Nancy Drew”) to something a bit more serious and “mature.” This was approximately 87.3% by accident.

At any rate, here is the cover of Oathbreaker, which will become available later this month at

With Oathbreaker, the story of Taylor Smart comes to a fitting end. It has been a fun ride. I’ve learned a lot and may have accidentally taken on a new hobby that I find highly enjoyable.

What’s next? I’ve got a few ideas kicking around in my head, so don’t be surprised if something new pops up either in this space or somewhere else.

Technology and the Fair Folk

When I first decided to have Fair Folk in my Into the Wonder series fire elf shot from shotguns, it was purely in service of a pun. Mortals may have buckshot and birdshot, but the fae have elf shot! This one decision, however, ultimately exerted a good bit of influence over how I imagined the Fair Folk interacting with technology. Suddenly, they were not mired in medieval stasis but open—at least at some level—to later technological innovations. This was fine, of course, because much of northern European faery lore comes from a later (though still pre-industrial) stage of history, and that was where I had started in working out the “rules” for my fictional world. But shotguns strongly implied machine tooling, and that set me to thinking about other ways modern technology might impinge upon the lives of elves, pookas, goblins, and the daoine sídhe. Here, then, are some of my semi-random thoughts on the matter.

Technological innovation in the Wonder has moved more slowly than it has on human earth. In general, Wonderling society in North America operates at technological level comparable to that of late in the Age of Exploration or the earliest stages of the Industrial Revolution (roughly AD 1700–1800).

The Relative Rarity of Tech

Wonderling tech is not as prevalent in their society as it was in ours in the late 1700s, however, for a number of reasons. Most obviously, inhabitants of the Wonder are able to use magic to accomplish many of the goals for which Topsiders must rely on technology. There is little incentive to develop technological ways to enhance a farm’s yield when all one needs to do is turn a few friendly pookas or poleviks loose in the fields! Why develop technological means of transportation and long-distance communication when the ring network and a good Seeing Stone can work at least as adequately as anything mortals have devised—if not far better?

Another limiting factor is the widespread aversion to iron and steel among the true fae. (This is not a significant factor for other denizens of the Wonder such as dwarves, little folk, trolls, etc. It does, however, limit the overall demand for products made of iron or steel.)

Add to this that many inhabitants of the Wonder have a deep connection to and appreciation for the natural world. Beings who have lived for centuries in harmony with springs, fields, forests, and trees are not likely to forsake these things for technological advances that, left unchecked, may threaten to mar or even destroy them.

Furthermore, the Wonder in general lacks an economic system conducive to widespread industrialization. Inhabitants of the Wonder engage in barter with strangers or outsiders and cultivate complex networks of patronage with their associates in an intricate social hierarchy. In such an arrangement, there is little to no incentive for a young sprite to leave the farm in order to work in large urban factories. Therefore, whatever technology is available is still almost exclusively the product of small cottage industries.

The final limiting factor is purely cultural. Although the inhabitants of the Wonder benefit from eighteenth-century technology, their clothing, values, and other aspects of culture are generally closer to fifteenth–sixteenth century. Many in the Wonder are wary of technological innovations beyond this Renaissance-era horizon.

Technological Diffusion from Topside

It should be noted, however, that some Wonderlings are quite acquainted with the Topside world, both in historical times (Mara Hellebore knows of Shakespeare and Spenser) and more recent decades (Danny Underhill is familiar with Walt Disney, Janis Joplin, and Michael Jordan). It is quite possible that a well-read fae could be the equal of any Topside scientist or engineer in terms of the underlying principles of modern technology even if his or her society has not produced all the intermediate steps needed to reproduce it. Algebra and calculus, the germ theory of disease, modern genetics, atomic theory, and other advances are easily comprehended by astute Wonderlings.

Furthermore, many inhabitants of the Wonder are known to enter patronage relationships with Topsiders (“Friendlies”) which might result in the Topside client trading technological trinkets for magical favors.

I have left a number of hints about Wonderling technological capabilities here and there in the Into the Wonder series, however. Moe Fountain’s home has indoor plumbing, including a heated shower (steam pump?). A guard reads a periodical magazine (printing press), there is a clock in the dining hall of Dunhoughkey (clockworks, machine tools?), and various characters deliver elf-shot using blunderbusses, muskets, and shotguns (gunpowder, machine tools). All of these fit very well within eighteenth-century parameters.

Two Borderline Cases

There are two instances of technology more clearly associated with the early nineteenth century. In The Devil’s Due, Lawdwick Vesper carries canned foodstuffs in his pack (c. 1810), and in Children of Pride, Shanna Hellebore’s cell at Dunhoughkey is adorned with photographs (1839). I’ll admit I hadn’t nailed down the tech level in the Wonder as precisely as I since have when writing these details, so what follows may be something along the lines of a writer’s saving throw. Be that as it may, here is how I might be tempted to justify these details.

In the case of Vesper’s canned rations, (1) this innovation is so close to the AD 1800 cut-off as to be virtually negligible, and (2) Nicolas Appert first began working on his food preservation method after a chance observance that food cooked inside a jar didn’t spoil unless the seals leaked. Had the same observation been made fifty to a hundred years prior, canning would be an eighteenth-century invention. Furthermore, (3) since some inhabitants of the Wonder are aware of mortal innovations, there is nothing inherently implausible about canning foods using eighteenth-century technology—all that is really needed is a suitable canister, a pressure cooker, and a heat source.

In the case of photography, Shanna’s cell décor is perhaps best explained by appeal interactions between Wonderlings and Topsiders. Well-read inhabitants of the Wonder would know the basics of photography as it is practiced on human earth—in fact, many of the necessary technical innovations are pre-nineteenth century: the camera obscura, silver nitrate, silver chloride, and the photochemical effect. Indeed, a passage in the novel Giphantie by Tiphaigne de la Roche (1760) anticipates photography.

The first attempt to capture the image in a camera obscura on a light-sensitive substance was made by Thomas Wedgwood around 1800, and it is not inconceivable for Wonderlings to have developed a process something along the lines of a daguerreotype (1839) or perhaps even the wet collodion process (c. 1850).

What do you think? Is there room in Faery Land for gunpowder, machine tools, steam engines, and the cotton gin? Or do you prefer your fantasy races to be strictly medieval?

Fan Questions: Sídhe Politics

Dana, a faithful reader, asks:

What’s the relationship between Chief Matron and Primus, when they’re not married? and how much power (in a matrilinear society) does the Triad hold, especially in relation to the Primus?

Someone has been paying attention! In the Wonder, sídhe Courts are led by a Triad of (female) “Matrons” and by a (male) Primus, something like a chieftain or petty king. The Triad is related to the “triple goddess(es)” of Celtic mythology such as the Irish war-goddesses Badb, Macha, and Anu, but the idea goes back at least to Roman times, when unnamed “Matres” or “Matrones,” apparently goddesses associated with fertility and family life, were worshiped across northern Europe.

The Primus is a stand-in for fae kings like Finnvara, who is said to have ruled the daoine sídhe from Cnoc Meadha in County Galway.

As I’m imagining it, then, sídhe society is not strictly matriarchal, meaning women are in charge. Rather, it is matrilineal, meaning inheritance passes through the mother, not the father as in the ancient and medieval cultures of Europe. For a frame of reference, many Native American tribes (including the Cherokee) are matrilineal. A person belongs to the clan of his or her mother, and one’s “blood relatives” are counted exclusively in terms of one’s mother’s family.

In Cherokee and other Native American cultures, there is a balance of power between the sexes in which the men are in charge of hunting, war, and diplomacy while women are in charge of farming, property, and family. That isn’t a perfect model of what is going on among the sídhe, but it’s close: The Primus is something like the head of state, conducting diplomacy, leading in war, and generally ensuring that the Eldritch Law is upheld. Meanwhile, the Triad is more like the supreme court, resolving inter- and intra-clan conflicts and handing down decisions on how the Eldritch Law should be applied.

That perhaps explains how power is shared between the Triad and the Primus. Now, to the other part of Dana’s question:

Most of the time, the Primus will be the husband of the Chief Matron or ranking member of the Triad. She, in turn, is the ranking (female) member of the ruling house within each Court. This is what readers see with Crom Cornstack and his wife, Mara Hellebore. (Since inheritance passes from mother to daughter, women never take their husbands’ surnames!) As we will see below, it is also possible for the Primus to be the son-in-law or other close relation by marriage of the sitting Chief Matron.

But the situation is currently different in the Summer Court. The former Summer Primus was Vergosus Bright, who was married to Anya Redmane, the Chief Matron. But Vergosus faded in the 1970s. (The Fair Folk don’t die, as a general rule, but will “fade” when they have grown weary of this world.) Normally, the Primacy would then have fallen to the husband of Anya’s daughter—who would herself become next in line to fill the position of Chief Matron. (There would be a convocation of the house of Redmane to ratify the choice, but most of the time this is purely ceremonial.) Unfortunately, Anya did not have any daughters.

This caused the normal succession to shift to Anya’s cousin Martha and her husband, Ambicatus Bright (the brother of Vergosus—sídhe families tend to be somewhat inbred). Ambicatus would be elevated to Primus, and Martha would become Chief Matron, Anya retaining the powerful position of Chief Matron Emerita.

Here is where things got sticky, however. You see, Ambicatus was publicly humiliated when he fell victim to a rather elaborate prank. Although the perpetrator insists this was not his intention, the end result was that Ambicatus’s reputation was so damaged that it became unthinkable that he should ever serve as Primus. He and his wife went into self-imposed exile so as to avoid being the target of scorn and derision for the next several hundred years.

This left the Summer Court in a mess, as there were no other women of the Redmane line to whom to turn. (Nuala Redmane, the daughter of Martha and Ambicatus, was too tarnished by Ambicatus’s disgrace and only barely held on to her own seat on the Triad.)

At this point of social upheaval, the rival house of Fairchild, led by Dubessa Fairchild, compelled Anya and Nuala, the remaining members of the Triad, to offer Dubessa a seat on the Triad and to name her husband, Belas Wakefire, as the new Primus. This was at least somewhat tolerable in that both Dubessa and Belas had Redmane males in their respective family trees.

Backed into a corner, the Triad agreed to Fairchild’s demand. For the last forty years, the Summer Court has found a way to share power between these two influential families with only a minimum of open hostility.