The Second of the Series! Caroline Stevermer was kind enough to answer some questions about College of Magics. I’m excited to learn that the sequel, A Scholar of Magics is about the likeable Jane, and that there is a third book in the works RIGHT NOW.
Tamago: When we first meet Faris, she is rough and untrained. It isn’t until we see Faris in the Glass Slipper rescuing Gunhild that we come to realize Faris is a strong character. In many YA books, girls like Faris transform to become more conventional. In College of Magics, Faris transforms to become more the strong character we are introduced to here.
Caroline: Long answers are good, right? Then I’ll mention that I got the idea for the book in the first semester of my sophomore year of college. I thought of the final plot element nine years later. Unfortunately, I was so excited, I told the story to a close friend before I’d written it down. I am, it turns out, one of those people who shouldn’t talk about what they write until they’ve actually written it down. The whole story turned to ashes. It took me another five years to pull myself together and actually finish the rough draft so revising could begin. It went through many, many drafts.
All this was a very long time ago indeed, so forgive me if my answers aren’t as specific or accurate as they would have been right after the book was originally published. I wrote A College of Magics because I wanted to read a ripping yarn in which the protagonist was a woman. The books that inspired me (for example, The Prisoner of Zenda and its sequel, Rupert of Hentzau) invariably relegated girls to subsidiary roles where they had nothing to do but look pretty and act nobly. I wanted Faris to be imperfect and independent. Perfectly reasonable people dislike her intensely, and I don’t blame them.
Tamago: What do you hope readers will take away from your portrayal of Faris?
Caroline: The key word for Faris was always truculent. I hope that the disadvantages of having a short temper are made clear in the course of the book.
Tamago: How do you see Jane influencing Faris? How do Jane and Faris complement each other? How does Faris influence Jane?
Caroline: Jane shows Faris the merits of finesse. At first, Faris views the world in absolutes. As events unfold, she begins to understand things are not as simple as they’d seemed. Jane is adept at showing Faris that a small amount of fussiness and discrimination can return great benefits.
If Faris is a hammer, Jane is a compact but thoughtfully selected toolkit. At the beginning of the book, Jane has a fine grounding in theory, but as the book moves on, she takes more and more delight in putting her ideas into practice, something she wasn’t able to do back when she was within her family’s sphere of influence.
Faris shows Jane that it is possible to sacrifice nonessential details (such as excess luggage or a varied diet) to achieve a greater goal. Jane cares for her family a great deal, but by the time she appears as the protagonist in A Scholar of Magics, she pays much less attention to her family’s ideas of propriety and much more to choosing a life that puts her skills to work.
Tamago: When Faris rescues Tyrian, his loyalties shift from her uncle to Faris. What is Tyrian’s view of Faris up to this point? When does Tyrian realize he’s interested in Faris?
Caroline: I think initially Tyrian is far from impressed with Faris. His opinion of her improves the night of the Glass Slipper. He doesn’t really get interested in Faris until she frees him from Menary. (I’ve always thought there was something more to Menary’s spell than mere transformation.) From then on, his first allegiance is to her.
Tamago: Both Tyrian and Faris undergo significant transformations at the end of the story. Any agenda you have in mind there? Where do you see their relationship going?
Caroline: What a tactful way to phrase it! I congratulate you.
I’m working on the third book (after A Scholar of Magics) right now. One of the biggest challenges is to deal realistically with their relationship, which would be complicated enough without the necessity to keep it a secret.
Tamago: At first blush, Brinker looks to be the villain of our story, but both we and Faris come to realize that he has more complicated aims than personal gain. How would you describe their relationship?
Caroline: I think Brinker holds Faris in considerable affection. If Faris fully realized how fond he is of her, I think she’d be both disgusted and exasperated.
Tamago: Galazon means many things to Faris. At the beginning of the book, she wants to be nowhere else. By the end of the book, she is not returning. Is there anything symbolic in this change? What does leaving Galazon denote about Faris and her world view?
Caroline: This is a toughie. I wrote two answers, and neither one really succeeds in saying what I mean. Since you encouraged me to hold forth, I’ll include them both.
Answer 1) The relationship between Faris and Galazon is at the heart of the book I’m working on now. Since I’m one of those people who can’t talk about what they’re working on without sucking the life out of it, I’d better leave it at that.
Answer 2) To save Galazon, Faris has to stay away. I’m sure that symbolizes something. (Something childishly simple, I fear.) I can’t let myself think about it too much. If I try to analyze it, I’ll kill it. I think it’s going to take a lot of words to fully explore this notion. A book’s worth, probably. I hope.
Thank you for letting me natter on. And more than anything, thanks for reading A College of Magics and finding it worth thinking about afterward. I really appreciate it.