Katharine and Elizabeth Corr revisit the Orpheus and Eurydice myth in their new Daughter of Darkness series.
The authors are sisters, originally from Essex, but now live in Surrey. When they both decided to write novels - on account of fictional people being much easier to deal with than real ones - it was obvious they should do it together. They can sometimes be found in one of their local coffee shops, arguing over which character to kill off next. Their previous work includes the enthralling A Throne of Swans duology and the spell binding trilogy. The Witch's Kiss.
Daughter of Darkness (House of Shadows, Book 1) (Hot Key Books)
In this stunning YA fantasy inspired by ancient Greek mythology, authors Katharine and Elizabeth Corr revisit the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in which Deina - a 'Soul Severer' bound to the House of Hades - has the chance to enter the world of the dead in a quest that could help buy her freedom. The dangers, however, are huge, and her fellow Soul Severers are just as keen on the final prize as Deina.
Authors Katharine and Elizabeth Corr tell us more about their new fantasy, and what's in store for the Soul Severers of Hades.
Download a Chapter from Daughter of Darkness
Q&A with Katharine and Elizabeth Corr
1. Can you tell us a little about your writing partnership, and how you make it work?
Liz: Daughter Of Darkness is the seventh book we've written together and the sixth to be published, so it feels very natural now! All our books are written from a single point of view (or at most, have an occasional secondary point of view) so we're both involved in every chapter, either writing, re-writing or editing.
Kate: As sisters, we grew up with a lot of the same influences, often reading the same books and watching the same films and TV shows, so there's a lot of overlap in our writing voices. Technology really helps too. All our work is in the cloud, which means either of us can access it and we don't need to be in the same physical space. Just as well, since one of us is very chatty and the other can only work in silence!
2. What is your new book, Daughter of Darkness, about?
Liz: Daughter Of Darkness is an original fantasy inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. It's set in a Greece where the heroes disappeared but the great bronze age cities never fell, and the gods never retreated. Our main character, Deina, is a Soul Severer of the Order of Hades, whose main function is to shepherd dying souls into the afterlife. She's also a thief, and she longs for a future away from the Order. When Orpheus arrives at the House of Hades in Deina's city and offers freedom and fortune to whoever retrieves his queen Eurydice from the dead, Deina jumps at the chance.
Kate: So, of course, do some of her rival Severers. A thief, a fighter, a scholar and a singer, the unlikely team venture into the Underworld. A journey into Hades' deadly realm is a dangerous undertaking, and Deina is expecting to face mythological beasts, capricious gods and a landscape (and teammates) that might well try to kill her. But sometimes the truth can be the deadliest threat, and what Deina discovers could destroy her future, her present and even her past.
3. What inspired you to return to the myth of Orpheus and Euridice for this story? How did you respond to the myth as teenagers?
Liz: We started off thinking generally about a group of people who could travel between the mortal world and the Underworld. Since we both studied ancient history and classical mythology and Kate studied ancient languages, turning to Greek myth was a natural second step. There are several myths about people journeying to the Underworld, of whom Orpheus is the most famous.
Kate: We both knew the story from reading myth retellings as children and from later study. As teenagers, we both thought of Orpheus as a typical doomed romantic hero: his love was strong enough to conquer death, but his impatience to see his beloved again ruined everything.
4. What were the gaps you wanted to fill in the original myth - and what did you want to question? How true do you stay to the mythology we know?
Kate: In most versions of the Orpheus myth there's very little that's from Eurydice's perspective - Orpheus is always front and centre - so that was a gap we definitely wanted to fill. Does Eurydice actually want to come back from the Underworld, and if not, why not?
Liz: The most well-known elements of the original myth are the use of music to calm or persuade, and the idea of love being brave enough to face down death. We wanted to include both these elements but in new and unexpected ways.
5. What inspired the idea of the Severers and the different 'houses' related to each god that you've structured the story around?
Liz: We started by thinking about the collapse of the bronze age kingdoms and what (in a fantasy world) could have prevented it. Our answer was that the kings struck a bargain with the gods: protection of their kingdoms in return for a tithe of children each year, marked out to serve the most important gods and their cities. These became our Theodesmioi.
Kate: For the four houses, we selected Zeus, Hades and Poseidon as the most powerful sons of Cronos, the previous king of the gods, and Hephaestus, whose skill is necessary to create the spell-cast torcs that the Severers and the other Theodesmioi wear. We also took some inspiration from the Roman Vestal Virgins, who had to live together in a house, serve for 30 years and were subject to severe punishment if they lost their virginity. Like the Vestals, female Severers are walled up alive if they get pregnant.
6. How did you go about creating this world? What were the biggest challenges?
Liz: We knew we wanted to incorporate aspects of ancient Greek history and mythology that people might be familiar with, for example, cities like Thebes and Mycenae and the rivers of the Underworld. However, we also knew we needed to build on those aspects to create a unique and fully rounded world, and a world that was at least somewhat relatable to modern readers.
Kate: We did a lot of research, reading translations of ancient texts (for example the Odyssey, the Aeneid and the Theogony) and secondary books on ancient history and mythology. I'm really fascinated by the bronze age and the disappearance of the kingdoms like Mycenae, so it was great to imagine a world that might have existed if those kingdoms hadn't fallen. Iolkos, where we first meet Deina, was a real bronze age city mentioned in the Iliad. However, in our version, it's part of an empire (the Theban Dominion) and has become something of a backwater. Orpheus's arrival is the last thing they expect!
7. Can you tell us a little about Deina, and her love / hate interest, Theron?
Kate: With Deina, we really wanted to write an underdog character who is more morally ambiguous than some of the other main characters we've created. Deina is an outsider by virtue of being a Severer and a woman, and she's been brought up (like all Severers) to be untrusting. She steals to save up money, but also because she wants something that is just hers; something that doesn't belong to the House, the city or the gods. The very first scene we wrote - though it's not the start of the book - showed Deina following the person she's planning to rob through the hot, dusty streets of Iolkos.
Liz: Theron is another complicated character. We expect most people will start out disliking him – Deina certainly does, and with good reason. However, he learns some truths in the Underworld, and reveals some things that might start to change her and our opinion.
8. Which of the supporting characters stand out for you?
Liz: That's a tough question! I loved writing Aster (like everyone in our family, he really enjoys his food) and Charon and Hades were a lot of fun too. It was interesting to try to put a different spin on well-known gods.
Kate: I have a soft spot for Drex, who is short-sighted like me and is possibly the least suited to the life he ends up with. Chryse was challenging because we felt like we were walking a fine line with the character, but I was pleased with how she turned out in the end.
9. Deina and a group of other Severers are chosen for a quest - what were the most challenging parts of writing the quest and developing the 'Underworld'?
Liz: Ancient ideas of the Underworld changed over time, and there's no 'guide' as such - just various descriptions of bits of the Underworld, with varying amounts of detail. That meant we had to make a lot up, as well as interpreting ancient images and stitching them together, to create a more complete version of the Underworld that feels as if it could be a real space.
Kate: As for the quest, it was a question of making sure the journey feels pacy and that there are plenty of unexpected twists. We also wanted to show the characters going on an internal journey as they undertake the physical journey, particularly in how they relate to each other. It's kind of an Underworld road trip from that perspective!
10. Other than a great fantasy adventure, what would you like your readers to take from Deina's journey?
Kate: These are troubled times, with lots of scary stuff going on. We'd love readers to be able to escape into another world, but also to take away the message that sometimes it's necessary to stand up to injustice, even though it's often easier just to turn away.
Liz: It's summed up in the book's dedication really: to everyone who has ever stood up to a tyrant.
11. There are some unanswered questions at the end of the book - so what's next for Deina and her friends? How many books are you planning in the House of Shadows series?
Kate: House Of Shadows is a duology. In Queen Of Gods, we'll see how Deina and the others face up to the threats hanging over them at the end of Daughter Of Darkness.
Liz: Expect more gods, more of the other Orders, more mythological creatures and more death!
12. What do you enjoy doing to relax when you're not at your desks?
Kate: I love listening to a podcast while walking in our local woods. In the last two years I've also rediscovered the joy of Lego.
Liz: I have younger children and another job as well as writing, but whenever I get the chance, I'll curl up on the sofa with something from my huge TBR pile or I'll blast some tunes and have a kitchen disco.