The warrior bards of Swan Island find a missing prince and lift an ancient curse in Marillier’s A Song of Flight (Ace, Sept.).
How has your connection to the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids affected your Warrior Bards series?
There’s a strong thread of communication via music and storytelling in this series. As a druid, I recognize the power of storytelling to heal and to teach. Music has the same power—it can build bridges between those who don’t share a common language. Druidry also respects the natural world and an understanding of our own place in the web of life. Nature is significant in all my storytelling; a respect for nature and for all creatures aids our characters in crossing borders, solving problems, and keeping out of trouble—at least some of the time.
Swan Island’s women and men train side-by-side. Tell me about your approach to gender roles.
That was certainly a conscious choice to go beyond what would have been the norm for women in that period and culture. Irish mythology does contain some great examples of warrior women, such as Scáthach who lived on an island and trained the legendary hero Cú Chulainn in martial arts. Within my setting—a distinctly magical version of early medieval Ireland—I drew not only on myth- ology but also on my creation of the Swan Island establishment some time ago in the Sevenwaters series. The ethos of Swan Island includes recognizing individuals for their talents, for what they can offer the team. I felt it was past time for the island elders to recognize that women could offer as broad a range of talents as men and I was keen to create a female character who combined outstanding physical skills with musical talent.
Crows are a central figure in this tale of redemption. Why this animal?
Crows fascinate me. They are seen in mythology and folklore on one hand as omens of bad things to come, possibly death; and on the other, as messengers from the gods. They were a perfect choice for this story, in which the violent and unpredictable Crow Folk—who resemble giant crows—are seen by most people as a scourge, a curse, an enemy to be fought and eliminated, and by our bard Brocc and a few others as troubled outsiders, possibly in need of help.
Tell me about your approach to writing rule breaking characters.
By its very nature the Swan Island community breaks rules—the team there is prepared to undertake missions that may fall outside the rules of law. I write historical fantasy. My stories are not set in our contemporary world or even in true history. But my intention in storytelling is to reflect our real-life choices, our moral dilemmas, our risk taking, our failures and successes, how we meet challenges and how we interact with our fellow humans. I’m not much of a rule breaker myself; that may explain why I love creating brave characters who step outside the established framework.