[Editor's Note: Fiona McIntosh is the author of the internationally bestselling Quickening Trilogy (Myrren's Gift, Blood and Memory, and Bridge of Souls) and The Percheron Saga (Odalisque, Emissary, and Goddess, which just went on sale Tuesday! ). Click through the links above to read sample chapters from all six books. And if you promised me a review of The Percheron Saga, please do e-mail that in to EosBooks@HarperCollins.com]
The Percheron Saga was a big step for me because it took me out of my comfort zone of the fantasy playground I find most appealing, which is faux-medieval Europe, and into a far more exotic world. I really wanted it to echo somewhere instantly recognisable for readers, so we could get on with the story; I figure that readers are enormously intelligent and more than capable of building a world in their imagination providing the author gives them some strong prompts/clues.
Because I used the Ottoman Empire and Byzantine Constantinople as a model for Percheron, I found it very helpful to anchor myself into this landscape and once I’d made the effort to visit Turkey -- in particular, to spend a few days roaming Istanbul -- the world of Percheron came to me easily. I’ll never forget the day we arrived into the old part of the city and clambered up the cobbled stones to our hotel, which looked small and unimpressive at street level. We were staying on the top floor and by the time we arrived one suitcase or person at a time in the rickety old lift and stepped into the tiny, airless room, I thought our visit was going to be a bit of a bummer. How wrong I was. We threw open the shutters to afford some light and oxygen and were mesmerised by the sight outside. We had no idea we were so high up -- we were at eye level with the magnificent soaring minarets of the Blue Mosque, exquisite in the twilight. A huge moon was rising behind the Mosque, a soft drizzle turned everything slightly misty, and when the muezzin called the faithful to prayer, everything about the ‘feel’ of Percheron snapped into place and I felt instantly connected to the story.
What was far more difficult was juggling what essentially began as a tale of forbidden love amidst slavery, politics and war, into a much bigger tale that encompassed a war of faiths, spiritual salvation, and redemption. The story just kept growing and expanding as did my cast.
Odalisque is a very claustrophobic tale and deliberately so, to convey not only Ana’s sense of imprisonment, but also Herezah’s power still being confined to the Harem and even Boaz’s freedoms still being very limited beyond that which everyday people took for granted. This part of the story is mostly about the political machinations within that tiny community of the palace. The few moments of escape occur in the bazaar and in the temple and I found great joy in the scenes in which Lazar and Ana are walking through the grand bazaar, when Zafira is making Lazar quishtar and so on. I found myself lingering with them, not wanting to return to the palace. Gold Alley is shamelessly lifted from a scene I watched as I walked through the souks at Tunis.
Emissary feels like a breath of fresh air when the caravan of characters takes off for the desert and when they go hunting with the hawk, I know I felt like I was free as a bird when writing those scenes. I loved the scenes in the desert and to get the right feel I travelled to the Gulf, spending time in the desert on the outskirts of Dubai to understand how the sands looked and felt during the heat of the day and then the cool of the night. It was very beautiful, very peaceful.
And then Goddess balances both settings; we share almost equal time between the desert and the Stone Palace. For this book I visited the walled city of Rhodes in Greece and went back to the Gulf so that I could see a traditional Bedouin, to eat the same sort of food, and watch girls have patterns painted in henna as well as a traditional dance. The scene of Ganya’s dance for Lazar is almost precisely what I watched beneath the stars in the desert.
Going to these exotic locations has helped enormously in being able to make Percheron feel real for readers and I’ve been encouraged by many of you admitting you can smell the spice wafting up from the pages. That is so heartening. Thank you.