Fantastic History #25: Digging Deeper by Stephanie Burgis

One of my biggest pleasures in any fantasy series – whether I’m reading or writing it! – is getting to explore more and more of the fantasy setting as the series moves on – which also means peeling away layer after layer from its surface appearance to figure out more of what’s really happening underneath.

For instance, in the first Harry Potter book, Harry’s dazzled by the beautiful, inexplicable magic of the feasts at the Hogwarts banquets, which seem to come out of thin air. In the second book, he discovers that those feasts are actually being prepared by house elves who aren’t even being paid for their work. As the books go on, he starts to realize that the smug attitudes of most wizards towards those unpaid and disdained house elves are actually indicative of a LOT of serious problems hidden beneath the sparkling surface of that fabulous wizarding world.

But digging deeper doesn’t always expose darkness. Sometimes, it just gives even more interesting layers of complexity. In Effie Calvin’s The Queen of Ieflaria, the two heroines (princesses who’ve been betrothed for political necessity but – of course! – fall in love over arguments and baby dragons and more) argue over how religious they should each really be, and how much the gods’ desires should matter to them. The second (standalone) book in that series, Daughter of the Sun, leaps to an all-new pair heroines in a different part of the same world – but this time, one of the heroines is a literal (chaos) goddess, so we get to see that world and its religions from her very different point of view.

In my own novella Snowspelled, Volume I of The Harwood Spellbook, Cassandra Harwood rails against the social rules of her alternate-history 19th-century Angland, which is ruled by a Boudiccate of hard-headed, practical women while leaving all of the emotional, irrational magic to the gentlemen. Cassandra herself has fought hard to become the first recognized woman magician in Angland – the one and only exception to those rules – but for the sake of all the other frustrated magical girls in her nation, she finally decides to found Angland’s first-ever college of magic for women as a triumphant conclusion to that first story.

But that isn’t the end of her story. In Thornbound, Volume II (published February 25th!), Cassandra has finally opened Thornfell College of Magic – but she’s facing massive opposition from multiple sources, all of whom are determined to shut her school down. To her, it’s a simple issue of justice that magically-talented women be allowed to study magic – but to many successful women politicians, as well as to many successful male magicians, her new school presents a dangerous challenge that could topple all of their gender-based hierarchies and take away all of their own gender’s comfort and security.

Although I am personally on Cassandra’s side in this debate (for many of the same reasons as her politician sister-in-law, who wants justice for all, not comfort and security for some), it was really fun as a writer to get to explore all of the bigger implications of change in this second volume of The Harwood Spellbook – including the real fears and understandable dangers as well as the chances for improvement and real progress for everyone, no matter what their gender might be.

Similarly, it was so much fun to explore a different geographical part of Cassandra’s world. In Snowspelled, she was snowbound in a house party up north (in the equivalent of Yorkshire), where Angland shares an uneasy peace with an elven kingdom. Cassandra herself comes from the south of Angland, though, and Thornfell, on her family estate, backs onto a gorgeous, mysterious bluebell wood very much like the ones I’ve explored with my own kids on the borders of England and Wales. There are no elves in the south of Angland, but there are many varieties of fey, and their own relations with Angland and its citizens are complex and individual and full of their own tensions and possibilities.

As both a reader and a writer, I love getting to explore new angles on familiar, beloved worlds in every new book in a series. I hope you guys will enjoy exploring more of Angland in Thornbound! (And if you haven’t read Snowspelled yet, the ebook edition is on sale until the end of February for just 99c/99p – so you can scoop up some frothy feminist romantic fantasy set in Angland right now and see if you do want any more. (ed note: which you do.))


Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles and coffee shops. She writes wildly romantic adult historical fantasies, including Snowspelled, Spellswept, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets, as well as fun MG fantasy adventures, including The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, The Girl with the Dragon Heart, and the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy. She has also published nearly forty short stories for adults and teens in various magazines and anthologies. You can find out more and read excerpts from her books at her website.

Snowspelled is on sale for 99c/99p until the end of February at Amazon, B&N, Kobo and Smashwords.

Thornbound comes out on February 25th and is available at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks and Smashwords.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.