to win a sterling silver triple spiral pendant. At one of my other group blogs, LGBT Fantasy Fans and Authors, you can win a copy of The Druid Stone simply by listing a bisexual immortal (if that sounds hard, don't worry—the post gives plenty of hints!)
For my post, I'd like to talk a bit about influences. We all have inspirational, foundational writers that we look up to. One of mine is C. J. Cherryh, a prolific writer of many science fiction and fantasy novels, series and stories. She has the kind of vivid anthropological imagination that’s so crucial to world-building in both genres. When she writes science fiction, I always get the sense that her aliens are really and truly alien, not just humans with a few forehead wrinkles. The non-human races in her fantasy books are just as unique and compelling. Some of them she invents out of whole cloth, but she's also written several books inspired by Celtic mythology: The Ealdwood Saga, Faery in Shadow and "The Brothers", a short story that serves as the prequel to Faery in Shadow.
What I love about all these books is that they go back to the roots of Celtic mythology and strip away the Tolkienisms that most fantasy readers are used to. I'm a Tolkien fan myself—I grew up reading him—but there's a limit to how much Tolkien-lite I can handle, and I reached that limit decades ago. Cherryh's Celtic fantasy is told in epic language, but it's clean and spare, not pompous. The supernatural inhabitants of this world are what the ancient myths would be like if they were made flesh. They are not simply a sexier version of modern humans. They have godlike, animal and human qualities in unpredictable measure, and their motives are often left a complete mystery.
Of all these books, Faery in Shadow and “The Brothers” are my favorites, because of the tight plots and because of the relationship between Caith mac Sliabhin and Dubhain. Caith was fostered by outlaws but is the son of a chieftain, and Dubhain is a pooka, a shapeshifting water horse, though he most often takes the form of a dark-haired young man. They’re thrown together by the machinations of Dubhain’s faery overlord, Nuallan. If you think this set-up is perfect for romance, you’d be right, and there’s a massive amount of homoerotic tension between Caith and Dubhain. Dubhain, being essentially inhuman, often torments Caith with a smile, but is forced to obey him and frequently says he loves him. Caith is a seriously depressed dude and full of anger towards the magical world. He hates having Dubhain’s service forced on him, but he also relies on him heavily. Despite the strong tension and some tender moments between the two, there’s no romance or sex at all in these books. The overall tone is incredibly dark and grim. In fact, they’re as close to true faery noir as I’ve ever read, and the dark side of humanity is shown just as much as the dark side of the supernatural.
The setting is pre-Christian Scottish highlands. There’s no attempt at location in a timeline, and I can’t judge the historical accuracy, but the feeling of this world is amazingly genuine. The descriptions have a timeless, mythic weight, balanced perfectly with concrete sensory details. I felt Caith’s frustration as he travels over the difficult terrain, and the landscapes of this book are absolutely gorgeous. I received a strong sense of a misty, watery world, visions of dark green over grey stone—a cold wind from a cold sea.
Many things about this book influenced my own writing. A little bit of the tension between Caith and Dubhain—the way that it involves antagonism and power play, certainly—transferred over to Sean and Cormac’s early relationship. Finnbheara owes a lot to Nuallan, both in his morality and in his role in the narrative, although we gave our own sidhe lord much more of a twisted sense of humor. The overall back-to-the-basics approach to Celtic fantasy also structured my approach to world-building in The Druid Stone. Heidi had exactly the same philosophy, although in her case it was more informed by her extensive college studies in Celtic history. We researched the hell out of everything supernatural we put in there, and we weren’t satisfied unless we knew it came from primary sources. Lastly, the mystery and suspense are incredibly powerful in Faery in Shadow. The obscure motivations of many of the key players result in true conflict, nothing like the sort of easily predictable stuff you’ll find in books of any genre that use suspense as a sort of last-minute seasoning instead of an integral part of the plot. We knew we wanted to tell a tight, exciting story with some dangerous twists and turns; we worked on that goal from the very beginning and saw it through to the end.
The Druid Stone is a very layered book. Layers of history are, themselves, a major theme of the book. There are lighter, irreverent, thoroughly modern layers on the surface, and many layers of romance as well, but the deepest, darkest, most ancient layer—the world of the mounds that reaches out to menace our lovers—is very much influenced by the story of Caith mac Sliabhin, kinslayer and cursed hero.
Cormac Kelly runs a paranormal investigation business and doesn't have time to deal with misinformed tourists like Sean. But Sean has real magic in his pocket, and even though Cormac is a descendant of legendary druids, he soon finds himself out of his depth...and not because Sean's the first man he's felt anything for in a long time.
The pair develop an unexpected and intensely sexual bond, but are threatened at every turn when Sean's case attracts the unwelcome attention of the mad sidhe lords of ancient Ireland. When Sean and Cormac are thrust backward in time to Ireland's violent history—and their own dark pasts—they must work together to escape the curse and save their fragile relationship.
Find it at Carina, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.