The author speculates on her intended audience:
"I started writing for a general, young adult through adult
audience already fond of this genre. Like Tolkien, I wanted
to try my hand at a really long quest series that would hold the
reader's attention. If anything, my objectives were to tell
an engaging story that featured strong, well-defined characters
(including female characters) who talked like real people and had the
sorts of back stories, dreams, and frustrations that real people have.
Humor comes into play because real people do and say silly or funny
things and because sometimes the best way to describe an action, a
feeling, or a facial expression, is to employ the sort of simile or
metaphor I've found so enjoyable in the writing of Doug Adams and Terry
As the story evolved, though, it took on two added dimensions that I
felt compelled to go with. One was a sense of
optimism. I believe mankind has a future in a world at peace
with itself and so deliberately began avoiding the post-apocalyptic
view a lot of writers are embracing. There are dark moments
as there are in any good adventure story, and the characters have
moments of self-doubt, but overall I wanted the stories to leave the
reader feeling hopeful rather than suicidal.
The second element was a sense of the spiritual. The series
was not meant as Comparative Religion 101 or to further any religious
viewpoint beyond a sense of hope for the future, but as I delved into
the backgrounds of each character, a pattern emerged that I
liked. So, within the text of the books is a very gentle
introduction to the sorts of thoughts from which our brothers and
sisters across the globe draw inspiration.
Has the book met the target audience for which I was hoping?
Actually, it's exceeded it. Later elementary-aged kids are
enjoying it, as are 81-year-old grandmothers who don't
normally like fantasy. And all those in between.
(If you're a parent wondering if your child should read it, it scores
at the 6th to 7th grade level in terms of difficulty; there is a bit of
combat and a romantic element, but I think it would barely merit a PG
rating if it were a movie or a T rating if it were a game.)"
Mistra as Deneth first encounters her
dancing in a woodland glade: "I
thought you were a woodsylph!"
Chalice of Life is the first installment of a larger series
called Adventurers of the Carotian Union (see
the "Series Overview" page for more on the other books in the series).
The entire story takes place in the aftermath of an
interplanetary war in which one world, Thalas, sought dominion over its
neighbors Caros and Ereb. Caros and Ereb (and virtue) triumphed, but
rather than enslaving their vanquished foe, they sought to unite all
three worlds into a system-wide confederation—the Carotian Union—that
will benefit everyone involved.
properly New Age and charitable and virtuous. So, why do we need a
death of its despotic king and his heir in the war twenty years
earlier, Thalas has had no leader behind which it can unite
unilaterally. Eliander, a true king out of legend, is the one chance
the world has to achieve unity, but strange magic imprisoned him
millennia ago in a world that exists outside the normal flow of
Ooh, properly Arthurian!
Some backstory, please?
whose culture currently dominates the three worlds of the Carotian
Union are refugees from a fourth planet, Thalybdenos, which destroyed
itself millennia ago. Their progenitors were sorcerers of great power
as well as warriors and magical healers of distinction.
founded colonies on the other three worlds — Caros, Ereb, and Thalas.
Caros and Ereb became peaceful worlds whose inhabitants retained the
gifts of their forebears. On Thalas, however, the paranormal abilities
that the Carotians and Erebites accepted as a birthright dwindled.
Rather than bemoaning this loss, the Thalacians touted it as the
rooting out of a fundamental weakness in the race. They strived instead
for mastery of the physical arts of war and became fierce aggressors,
eventually declaring unprovoked war on their sister worlds in a bid for
domination of the system.
Thalacians. Glad they lost those powers: that could have been scary if
they're as powerful as you say.
Yeah, that's what they get for generations of
rebellion and violating this covenant they're supposed to have with
their gods that designates the rightful monarch as the gods' regent.
But, you know,
there are a lot of fantasy worlds out there where people use magic or
embrace the warrior-mage thing. What makes the Carotian Union
Ereb are essentially idealized theocracies, and the wielding of these
powers—indeed, the very social order of the two worlds—is bound tightly
to their concepts of mysticism. They practice a strict ethic (called
simply "The Ethic") that stresses the use of these powers for
the common weal and in balance with the other gifts bestowed by their
gods. Since they view the intellect as one of these gifts, their
technology is fairly sophisticated. Craftspeople take pride in creating
their wares from scratch, since these abilities, too, are a gift from
How does magic
work in practice?
The human refugees from Thalybdenos have two
distinct areas of paranormal practice, the Disciplines (mental
disciplines like psionics) and the Art or Art Inborn (what we
mundanes would think of as "magic"). The Art involves
"shaping the Ether" and is done entirely with one's force of will: no
gestures, wands, books, spell components, pages of different colors,
etc. The trick is that a practitioner must be able to visualize in
great detail (sometimes down to the molecular level) what it is he or
she wants to do: this requires both the skill to envision the result
and the ability to understand to a refined degree how the universe
works. (The sciences are a very big curriculum item in
the Union's school system.)
So if I were a
Carotian and I could envision decimating a planet, I could do it using
the Art Inborn?
Well . . . Not exactly. The Ethic,
remember? Carotians and Erebites have it drilled into their
heads practically from the womb that they
never direct the Art or the Disciplines against a member of a
race that cannot retaliate in kind; where a race could
retaliate in kind, Carotians should never be the aggressors. Exceptions
exist—the Ethic is a principle rather than a strict code of law—but
they are aimed at allowing a Carotian to defend his or her life under
extreme pressure and the threat of imminent death.
Boy, they can't be the
aggressors and they have all these other talents they have to put to
use. When do they ever get to trot out the flashy stuff?
Good point. At home, the Art tends to be
just that—an art, used for artistic expression or recreation. On the
other hand, folk of the Union who venture out into the cosmos,
especially if they go as modern knights-errant, will find lots of
places where the flashy stuff is what will keep them and their
companions alive! But the development of other talents thing has a
practical application in all this: in the universe in which the Union
exists, there are some place where magic enabled by a goodly pantheon
of deities or a goodly construct is either opposed or simply
doesn't function. That's where ancillary talents, brains, combat arts
(Carotians favor blades and other melee weapons but realize there are
places one needs to use energy weapons to, so to speak, fight fire with
fire), and the trotting out of modalities like chanting come into play.
As one of the questors observes, "If ever you see a Carotian gesturing
frantically, chanting, or flinging around things like bat's toenails,
you know you're in real trouble!"
You mentioned a goodly
construct? Is there a source for the Art Inborn?
asked. While the ability to wield the powers is
inborn, the force that drives them derives from substance of the worlds
themselves. Constructs called Orbs, great masses of
metal-like substance, form an essential part of the matrix of all of
the worlds of the Union. The Orbs feed on the
energies of those who draw this power from them.
get the feeling you're about to tell me that Bad Things happen to
people who violate the Ethic
Yup. Two Bad
Things, in fact. Bad Thing #1 is that any member of the Union,
monarch or commoner, who violates the Ethic seriously or flagrantly
enough, can be called to account and suffer Abrogation—the forcible
interruption of his or her access to the Art. (The process can be
reversed if the person abrogated makes a sincere effort to repent and
mends his ways.)
Bad Thing #2 concerns
the Orbs themselves. Righteousness (or drawing on
them with benevolent intent) is as food and drink to them; malevolence
on the part of the person drawing the power acts like
poison. Unrighteousness waxed so great on Thalybdenos that its
Orb eventually fragmented, destroying the planet. As
the story opens, Thalas is but a step away from this fate.
Well, doesn't that serve
them right, too?
Remember, we're being all
benevolent and virtuous in the treatment of our vanquished foe.
Oh, right. Sorry!
Besides, with the odd
configuration of the system, if Thalas goes kablooie, it will take
Caros and Ereb with it.
I get the impression there's
a story here...
Thought you'd never ask.
Here you go:
In the first
few chapters of The Chalice of Life, we meet the
seven extraordinary souls the Carotian gods have chosen to find and
free Eliander. Elements of the quest's background, nature and
importance are revealed through these episodes. The questors also learn
that seven separate magical portals lie between them and the
ensorcelled prince; seven strange adventures await them.
(***Warning: some spoilers
reading? Then you probably agree that half the attraction of
a good story, even one with elements of mystery or puzzles, is in the
execution! Like me, you probably enjoyed playing and
replaying games like the old Zork and Enchanter
series. Please read on...
pass the first portal to discover the magical gate that will lead them
to their second task blocked by a huge, old, very inert dragon. Magic
allows the dragon to reveal his story. His folk are dying for want of
special gemstones that can only be gathered from a mine that lies
beneath an adjacent ruin; all that has sustained him has been the
magical force emanated by the portal. Concluding that helping the
dragons must be their first task, they set out to find the mine.
They are not
the only people scouring the ruin. A team of archaeologists is there;
so is a band of smugglers. One of the archaeologists, Sally, falls in
with the questors. She has made a study of the Hamani, the folk who
once dwelt here. According to her, the gems from the mine on which the
Hamani's wealth was founded reputedly had magical properties, and there
are legends of a sacred chalice whose use in conjunction with the gems
effected miraculous cures. The Hamani themselves vanished virtually
overnight at the height of their power; Sally hopes to be the first to
mischance opens the ground and chutes the lot of them into a deserted
subterranean city. As the questors explore, they see that the place is
honeycombed with time traps: entering certain areas or manipulating
certain objects causes the questors to go back in time to different
points in the rise of the Hamani Empire. Buried in the past are not
only the chalice but objects integral to finding the gems and working
its healing magic. They learn that the Hamani came to misuse the
vessel, withholding its healing gifts from the needy for political gain
and finally perverting those gifts to create poisons rather than
remedies. Appalled, its priestly makers removed it from the circles of
the world, scattering the elements fundamental to its use in space and
A final time
trap leads the party to the mine itself. The real secret of the
mine—which the questors only discover through trial, error, and some
interplay with the smugglers—is this: Each cave in the mine filters
through a different "humour" from the bodies in the Hamani graveyard
above. It is from these humours that the gems are formed. The "proper
humour" with which each gem must be mixed is a fresh sample of the
fluid from which it arose. The caves themselves have an influence
favorable to healing and inimical to violence. The latter property
allows the adventurers to defeat the smugglers when the violence they
try to direct at the questors turns dramatically back on them.
return to camp, the questors put the chalice and the
gems to work and succeed in healing the ill dragon; he then flies them
to his land so they can cure his folk as well. Where he needed but a
single potion easily made, certain of his people need all five. Four of
the "humours" are easily obtained; acquiring the fifth exhausts one of
the questors almost to the point of death. Their only hope seems to lie
in returning her quickly to the second magical gate. The now-healed
dragons work together to transport the entire party back to the portal.
(This does, in fact, revive their ill comrade.) The dragons assume the
guardianship of the chalice but charge Sally never to let the legend of
the vessel die; it will remain available to any who come seeking it
with a righteous heart and a pure motive.