Welcome, dear readers!
Here’s the scoop on these Book Discovery posts: they are not book reviews. Instead, the “Book Discovery” articles are meant to make us better writers by learning from the pros of published books, particularly new-and-cool books you may never have heard of. I won’t be discussing any “cons” that the novels may have, mostly because writing books is hard and why be negative when you can learn from an author’s successes? If you want my opinion on the book because you’re interested in reading it, you’re welcome to private message me through my author Facebook page. Or you can just try the book for yourself. 😉
Today’s book is one of my favorites from 2018: Fawkes by Nadine Brandes!
(If you want to learn to make the wire mask pictured above, check out my October Crafting an Escape post!)
I discovered and read Fawkes back in October. At the time, I bought an ebook copy, but last weekend I had some rare free time to visit a brick-and-mortar bookstore near me. Thanks to some Christmas money, I got to roam the aisles guilt-free and bought the store’s only remaining hard copy of Fawkes! I was so excited, and the book is SO PRETTY. I loved Fawkes so much the first time, I knew I’d want to own a hard copy for rereading.
Without further ado, let’s dive into some of the best elements in Fawkes.
The magic system in Fawkes quickly became one of my all-time favorites. It’s a color-based magic that involves masquerade-type masks. And if that wasn’t cool enough, it integrates a wonderful allegory to Christianity that feels so natural and meaningful (see more on allegory in the next section).
Initially, the magic hooked me as a reader because it was COOL. As I read the first chapter, I realized, “Ooohhh, this story involves really cool masks!” (And I have a weak spot for masquerade masks.) Then I read a little more and realized, “Ooohhh, this magic also involves power over colors!” And the more I read, the cooler the magic seemed, because it also had something besides awesomeness…
The magic had DEPTH. It’s clear that Brandes worked hard not only to plan her magic system, but to explore its implications and possibilities. The magic isn’t just “there” in the story to be cool; it has significant effects on the culture, on the main character’s life, and on relationships.
I think there’s a lot for writers to learn from the magic system in Fawkes, but my big takeaway is: Take your time developing your magic system. Make it cool, because you want your readers to go “Ooohhh” like I did. But also make it deep. Make it matter to the story, to the characters.
So many magic systems in literature are treated like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, something that comes in handy in tight situations but doesn’t affect them much otherwise. But magic is so much more interesting (like everything else you include in your book) if it drives the plot forward and impacts the characters. So take your time. Twine your magic system into your story and characters like strands of White Light woven into an Igniter’s blood…(oops, I seem to have dropped a Fawkes reference there ;)).
Besides being an intriguing magic system, the magic in Fawkes also included a wonderful allegory to Christianity. I don’t see Christian allegory done much in fiction these days; more often, Christian speculative fiction will incorporate the Gospel in a somewhat unique way, such as referring to God by a different name and/or making the fictional Christian culture (the culture, not the Gospel message itself, mind you) different from our world. And there’s nothing wrong with this; in fact, this is the method I’m using in my novel-in-progress.
But Fawkes was released in the secular market, even though Brandes herself is a Christian and her first books, the Out of Time trilogy, were Christian fiction. And it’s been a long time since I read a novel that didn’t mention God, yet revealed His truth so beautifully through allegory. I loved this about Fawkes.
I don’t want to spoil the allegory for you, because it unfolds so well during the story. And that unfolding is where its power lies. As writers, if we’re going to incorporate effective allegory into our stories—of Christianity or anything else—we can’t give readers all the clues at once. We can’t ever tell them outright in the book, “Hey, this element of our story represents this element of real life.” Effective allegory has to reveal that connection to the reader over time, without making a direct explanation. (In his Narnia books, C.S. Lewis never told you that Aslan is an allegory for Jesus, did he? Yet we all know it.)
If you’re working on an allegory in your own writing, I definitely recommend reading Fawkes and seeing how Brandes did hers, because it’s wonderful. When I began the book, I had no idea how the pieces fit together—I wasn’t even aware there was an allegory—and by the end, everything had clicked into place.
I cannot even imagine how much research work Nadine Brandes put into Fawkes. I do know that she took a research trip to England to get her descriptions right. It definitely shows in her writing. From distinct smells to specific street names, she didn’t shy away from incorporating the details, and those details bring the setting to life.
As Nadine said of her research process (see link in previous paragraph), “When someone asks how much I researched, I want to be able to look them in the eye and say I. Did. It. All. I went as far as I possibly could. And that I respected the story.” This was especially important for Fawkes because the novel is based in real historical events, despite its fantasy twist.
As writers, we must respect our stories if we want our readers to enjoy them. I cringe whenever I watch a film and see obvious inaccuracies like a character holding a sword by its blade (hello, that sword is supposed to be SHARP!) or read a book where descriptions clearly came from research books alone and not from actual experience or even from interviews. (Side note, research books are a wonderful thing, but they usually need some supplementation to give you enough understanding of a topic to write about it.)
I tend to be lazy when it comes to research. I just want to write my story! Except, then I realize how blocked I am while writing a scene, because I don’t understand what I’m describing. We may not all have the money or time to take research trips. But we can do what we can. We can read LOTS of books, not just one. We can watch YouTube videos or explore with Google Maps. We can find knowledgeable people to interview, either in person or online. We can find beta-readers who know about the topic we’re describing. We can respect our stories.
There is even more to admire about Fawkes, but I suggest you read it yourself. 😉 Hope you enjoyed this post, fellow bookworms!