With Requiem of Silence (Griffin, Aug.) Penelope sends out the Earthsinger Chronicles with all the magic, mayhem, death, and romance fans expect.

The series’s magic system is centered on Earthsong, the power of life, and Nethersong, the power of death. What inspired this magic system?

It’s really an outgrowth of the spiritual tradition I was raised with and how it shaped my outlook. I was raised a Christian Scientist, a religion that relies on spiritual healing. Though I’m not practicing any longer, I still respect the amount of faith that takes and I’ve always been drawn to metaphysical thinking and systems. Ideologies like “mind over matter” and “we create our own reality” are at the root of Earthsong. Someone far more “woo-woo” than I am once told me the universe vibrated at a certain frequency or note—C-sharp maybe?—and that stuck with me for years. The notion of Earthsong, or at least the name, came out of that idea. So when I was thinking about magic, I was thinking about energy and the connection of all beings. The idea that some folks can tap into the source of life energy that we all share and manipulate it seemed like the most natural form of magic to me. Nethersong didn’t really appear until late in the writing process for book one, but to paraphrase one of the characters, death is more powerful than life. After all, it always wins. So nature, requiring a balance, would create at least a few Nethersingers to offset the Earthsingers.

Despite the fantasy setting, the politics feel very real. To what extent were you drawing on real world events?

That was certainly in play in the refugee situation depicted in Requiem of Silence. When I was first writing Requiem, I was writing in terms of the Syrian refugee crisis at the time because I initially started this book in 2013. Over the years there have been other refugee crises, all of them analogs for what takes place in the book. In Song of Blood & Stone [book one], the analog was police shootings which were in the news as I was writing. Just general inequality, general tension between two groups.

A major feature of the series is the strong female characters. Tell me about your relationship to the cast.

My favorite character is not who I relate to the most. I relate the most to Jasminda, but Kyara is my favorite, though I can say that about so many characters. As my first heroine from my first book, I think Jasminda will always be closest to my heart. I took her through some things in Requiem, made her really struggle. It’s hard to put characters through things when you love them. But I wanted to explore the darker side of what racism does to people, and the bitterness and hatred it brought out in Jasminda because I’m also addressing it in the larger community.