I asked Beth Cato to visit my blog today and talk about how religion plays a role in her fantasy novels. Not many authors are brave enough to try to give their characters religious views, but Beth has done so, both with real faiths and those of her own invention. Beth’s novels The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown are on sale for $1.99 and $2.99 right now, so it’s a great time to give them a try. Her latest novel, Breath of Earth, will be released in just a few weeks, on the 23rd.
Here’s Beth, on faith, magic, and respect:
When I began to write my Clockwork Dagger novels, I knew I wanted my heroine to be a character of profound faith. At the time, it seemed like many of the fantasy books I was reading–and enjoying– had leads whose devotion to religion consisted of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Some were downright hostile to religion.
I created Octavia Leander as a different sort of heroine. She’s a profoundly gifted magical healer whose power arises from the entity she worships, the Lady’s Tree; the gigantic world tree is regarded as mythical, even by other healers. In Octavia’s steampunk, non-Earth world, people acknowledge the power and usefulness of magic, but it’s considered backward. I took inspiration from how the Force is regarded in Star Wars Episode IV. The power of magic is acknowledged, but with an eye roll. Octavia is sadly accustomed to disrespect toward the Lady.
Through both books in my series, I put Octavia through her own version of the trials of Job. I wanted faith to be Octavia’s defining characteristic, even as circumstances cause her to despair and call out to the Lady in a full-on jeremiad. However she questions and doubts, Octavia still turns to the Lady for both gratitude and comfort. She doesn’t lose that part of identity.
I’ve had people ask me, why take this different angle? Personal experience. This kind of faith is very real within my family (though not in regards to a gigantic world tree). I didn’t have to look far for examples for Octavia’s fortitude and devotion.
I took a different approach with my new book, Breath of Earth. Unlike Clockwork Dagger, this new series is set on Earth: an alternate version of 1906, with America and Japan allied as a world power with China in their crosshairs. My heroine, Ingrid Carmichael, is a geomancer who can contain and use the energy that flows from the earth during quakes. In order to set her apart from Octavia, I wrote Ingrid as a woman who acknowledges God, but is not an active practitioner in any faith.
She has grown up in a world with different religious dynamics, too. Japan has had a heavy influence on San Francisco and American society as a whole, with Buddhism and Shintoism becoming more prevalent. Christianity has likewise worked more into Japanese society. Mythological creatures are not so mythological– just hidden or rumored to be extinct– meaning many other faiths are also touched on throughout the course of the book.
In Clockwork Dagger, I established my own religion, and that gave me tremendous freedom as a writer. In Breath of Earth, I had to pause and think through everything with care. After all, I was writing about “folktale” entities that are not folktales to some. They are real beings who should be respected.
However, as a writer, this also made things tricky. I, as the author feel one way, but my characters exist in a world full of biases and privilege. I needed to be true to my book’s time period. This made for a delicate balancing act, no question– and I’m sure readers will let me know if I err. That’s okay by me.
The Golden Rule is essential here. My fictional characters, like Octavia, ask for respect for their faith; it’s all the more essential for people of the real world to be accorded with proper respect for their beliefs as well.
Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE. Her newest novel is BREATH OF EARTH. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.