This page is where I ramble about how the universe works. And also a bit about why I’ve set things up the way I have.
For ease of reference I’ve divided it up by species.
The original plan for vampires was to make them fairly classically Stokerian. It was kind of a reaction against the scene you always get in these kind of stories where the experienced vampire sits down and tells the new vampire / mortal / reporter that Dracula was totally wrong about everything. I still ditched crosses and garlic though, mainly because it’s just a bit difficult to take seriously. You can’t have immortal predators routinely taken out by French restaurants.
Probably the biggest idea I nicked shamelessly from Stoker was vampires who can go out in sunlight but whose “power ceases, as does that of all evil things, at the coming of the day”. I guess I just thought it was cool. The other, less traditional feature of vampires in the series is that they tend to be quite mutable, which is why so many of them have funky shapeshifting powers. I know there’s this idea of vampires as unchanging prisoners of eternity but you just couldn’t live like that, right?
In a strange sort of way – if you don’t count the murderous bloodlust – there’s something quite redemptive about my take on vampirism. The most successful and powerful of them are people who, in undeath, made peace with parts of themselves they couldn’t in life.
For what it’s worth, in this setting, the only way to kill a vampire is staking and beheading, weapons made of gold, or freaky, hand-wavy magic. On the subject of stakes, they don’t have to be made of wood. Anything that pierces the heart will do (Dracula went down to a pair of Bowie knives) but it immobilises rather than kills them – it’s a whole mystical energy flow thing.
The other thing to mention is that, to some extent, vampires feed on emotions as well as blood and are often associated with a particular drive, passion or feeling. And this tends to get passed down in bloodlines, which tends to make vampires of the same lineage behave in similar ways. So Julian’s bloodline is associated with passion and sexual desire, while Aeglica Thrice-Risen’s is associated with fear.
I admit that posh, all-female werewolves was a bit out of left field and making it specifically genetic has an iffy ring of pseudo-science. I wanted lycanthropy to be an inheritance rather than an infection, if only because virus-style werewolfism would spread really bloody quickly, but I very much wanted to avoid making them some kind of noble ethnic minority who were terribly terribly in tune with nature. So I went the other way and made them landed nobility, which wound up working better than I expected.
The reason I made it explicitly x-linked was that I needed to make the alpha werewolf a woman and, since their culture was quite traditional, that implied a matriarchal society but that left me with a physiological condition (turning into a wolf) being associated with gender-identity rather than with anything purely biological and I thought that was problematic. The character of Henry came out of working through these ideas. I wanted to make it clear that having a particular set of genes or body type does not necessarily make you a woman. Also he’s cool. The x-linked thing also gave rise to ‘partial’ shifters like Jumbo and non-shifting cousins like poor old AJH.
Werewolves as mystical guardians is a fairly common trope – probably the second most common after cursed monsters who eat people – but I thought it fit with the idea of werewolves as heredity nobility, and having a theoretical duty to protect their people. It also provided a way to glue the disparate bits of the setting together. One of the things I wanted to avoid was having vampires who didn’t fit into the same world as the werewolves who didn’t fit into the same world as the faeries. And (I hope) giving the werewolves a foot (a paw) in two worlds helps them to bridge the gap. Vampires versus werewolves makes sense, as does werewolves versus faeries, vampires versus faeries doesn’t so much but the werewolves tie it all together.
And, just for the record, werewolves can be killed by silver, beheading or – since they’re basically flesh and blood – beating them up really really really badly.
The initial reason for including faeries in the setting was because I wanted to give Kate some kind of supernatural heritage, as part of her YA urban fantasy heroine background, and faery blood seemed to fit. Unfortunately, that required me to write faeries into the setting which proved harder than I anticipated. There’s a very difficult balance to strike with faeries – go too far one way and they’re annoyingly twee and go too far the other way and they feel self-consciously edgy. I tried to make The Queen of the Wild Hunt recognisably a fairly traditional Faery Queen (Kate’s dad is sort of supposed to be Tam Lin) but also a bit scary and alien.
The idea is that Faerie basically consists a series of micro-universes that impinge on our own and each one is ruled by a single powerful Lord who embodies and defines that place. They’re kind of big, archetypal and eternal and I kind of imagine them running the gamut from Galadrial to Nyarlathotep. Sometimes they have kids with mortals and they sort of see those children as extensions of their own being. So basically the faery-blooded have access to a lot of power at the cost of a lot of self-hood.
Faery Lords are damn near indestructible, especially on their own turn, and can only be killed in very specific circumstances. Cold iron can do a lot of damage but unless you’ve got a seriously powerful magical weapon being wielded by someone who is themselves tuned into Faery, they will always come back. Maybe not this century, or the one after, but they will come back and they will be seriously pissed.
Mages & Magic
Technically speaking, mages aren’t a type of supernatural creature, because magic is something you learn not something you’re born with and, theoretically, any sentient being can learn magic. In practice, though, werewolves tend to look down on it, vampires have difficulty with some some bits of it because they’re not alive and faeries find the whole thing as alien as they do any other mortal endeavour.
On top of that, magic isn’t really one thing. There’s as much difference between an alchemist, a necromancer and a mystical city queen as there is between a vampire, a werewolf and a deckchair. That said, narratively speaking, the mages have a fairly clear function. Since I’d already got super privileged hereditary aristocrats for werewolves and nightclub owners, city high fliers and Oxford dons for vampires, there was a huge gap in the setting for what one might call ordinary people. Whereas vampires, werewolves and especially faeries are very much apart from the world, mages live in it full time. They’re basically the underdogs of the setting. They can be individually very dangerous but they don’t have any institutional power.
Magic in the setting is a very personal pursuit, like stamp collecting or raising children. I think a lot of time magic involves doing something most people wouldn’t do in pursuit of things most people wouldn’t want. I didn’t want to make magic too concrete because that leads to all kinds of problems like why didn’t they use spell x in situation y but there are a couple of fairly clear motifs.
Mages are very very careful with names. Pretty much every mage in the book uses a false name and it’s usually something specifically mythological or significant. There’s a scene in book one where Kate refers to Nimue having a calling name and I have a vague notion that, as well as having a use name for everyday purposes, and a true name that you never tell anybody ever, mages have a variety of other names for other uses. The other thing is that magic tends to be a bit of mash-up, so it usually involves putting quite archaic ideas or rituals into a more modern context. There’s a sense that this is something that people are continually rediscovering and reinventing. It’s not so much that Nimue’s Court is specifically modelled on King Arthur, it just naturally flows along those lines.
Just for the sake of completeness, mages can be killed by stabbing, shooting them or throwing them off high buildings just like anyone else.
Demons & Angels
This was another tricky one because I knew I wanted angels and demons but I didn’t want to blithely assume that the Christians were right all along. I’m very aware that there are a million ways to fuck this one up horribly. The problem is ignoring non-Christian religions is a massive problem but trying to crowbar non-Christian religions into a Christian framework is just as problematic. The way it all works in my head is that angels and demons exist, as does a place Heaven and a place called Hell, but that these are no more significant than any other supernatural realm, of which there are a great many. For a while I toyed with the idea of making Heaven and Hell specifically Faery realms but decided against it because it was too categorisey.
My rough idea at time of writing is that angels take orders from the Metraton and aren’t themselves certain whether God exists or not, this uncertainty being part of what led to the war in Heaven back in the day. Big fight, Lucifer loses and a third of the host gets cast out into a place of unbearable torment and suffering.
Because Ashriel is a major character in the first book, I’ve thought a lot more about how demons work than angels. Again, I found myself having to walk quite a difficult line here because obviously traditional Judeo-Christian morality is problematic in many ways but, at the same time, I didn’t want Hell to be the cool place where the alternative people hang out. The basic principle was to take the classic seven deadly sins idea and treat each one as a perfectly natural, ordinary thing which demons corrupt into something harmful. The nature of their exile is that they can’t experience joy or satisfaction without taking it from somebody else so a demon of lust will get you laid but you won’t enjoy it, a demon of avarice will get you what you want but will deny you the pleasure of having it.
There’s an extent to which I’m trying to have my cake and eat it here, in that I want demons to be pretty much unambiguously bad without making the same generalisations about actual people.