Serengard has been under Orion rule for centuries--centuries of insufferable adherence to laws and traditions that its people no longer believe in. Raised by her scholarly grandfather in the fiery southern city of Neroi, Trzl is dedicated to turning the monarchy into a free society where knowledge is king and no one has to be subject to the whims of an Orion.
As the rebellion escalates, her choices have an eerie impact on the revolution at large, elevating her to a position of influence she has only dreamed of attaining. But there are downsides to her new power that entangle her in a dangerous web of emotions, appearances and alliances. Even as she plays to the attractions of Hodran, a rich nobleman who wants to aid her cause, she is drawn to Mikel, a loyalist farmer who hates the rebellion but just might be winning her heart.
By the time Trzl realizes she is in too deep, she has an infant son and a dark mess of betrayal and lies. She runs to the furthest corner of the kingdom in hopes that she will be left alone with her child, but she has created too many demons. A figure she once trusted will take her captive in the chilling Cliffs of Marek, throw her back into the political upheaval she helped create, and leave her at the mercy of a man she never wanted for an enemy.
Sounds good, yes? And even better, Rachel's giving away a bunch of goodies right here on YA Guy: a print copy of the book, along with some great swag! But before we get to that, let's hear from Rachel about herself, her novel, and her plans for the Serengard series!
YA Guy: Welcome to the blog, Rachel! Why not start by telling us about yourself: how you became a writer, your path to publication, your favorite fantasy book and movie, all that good stuff!
Rachel O’Laughlin: I always wrote. It was kind of the same as breathing to me--if I didn’t have a manuscript going, I wasn’t really living. As a kid, I wrote stories about my Lego people… I know, I know. Weird! Although I did journal from age 11 to 19, my stories from that era mean way more to me. Two of those manuscripts were over 100k. After I got married, I took a hiatus from stories for almost two years, but I came back to it like I come back to chocolate. I just can’t stop myself from writing.
I decided to self-publish the Serengard Series because I want to let it evolve slowly, rather than tailor the story to a specific audience or market curve. It’s definitely different from a lot of epic fantasy, and self-publishing is complicated and takes a lot of footwork, but I feel that it’s perfect for these books.
I’m going to be cliché here, but my favorite fantasy movie is definitely The Lord of the Rings. There’s just so much depth and beauty in that series. My favorite fantasy book has to be (not really for young readers) A Game of Thrones. I actually don’t love the rest of the series as much as I love the first book. It has a light and a hope in it that I’m not sure the final books will come back to, but Martin’s writing is incredible, and so are his characters.
YAG: I’m a huge LOTR fan myself (but I haven’t read Game of Thrones yet). Now tell us about your book, COLDNESS OF MAREK. What’s your favorite thing about it? (Other than the fact that it’s published, of course!)
RO: My favorite thing? I love the characters’ flaws. I like that the people in it do horrible things and that sometimes there is redemption for it, and sometimes there isn’t. It depends on who they are and if they’re willing to fix what they broke, willing to give back what they took, or forgive someone else for a wrong. I also love the sword fights and rough-and-tumble nature of the setting and times, the fierceness that pervades this kind of fantasy. It’s almost always allegorical, even without me trying to make it so.
YAG: How did you develop Serengard, the land in which COLDNESS OF MAREK takes place? Did you do any research into feudal societies, peasant rebellions, and so on?
RO: I did some research into peasant rebellions, especially focusing on those that turned into full-fledged revolutions. I wanted to recreate that aura, that excitement that the rebellion was going to truly turn the place inside out. I also wanted to touch on the uncertainty of today’s political tangles and the elusiveness of justice. It’s hard to say anyone has ever created the perfect government--there are usually things that slip through the cracks somewhere--and Serengard is as simple a version as I could make of something that is very complex. But as far as the land, I based it mostly on the Ukraine/eastern Europe area, dialed it back to the 12th-14th centuries, and added my own people and my own cultures. Serengard sees itself as a sort of hub, but the other people in this world--the Drei, the Elloyans, and the Aldadi--have equal importance to the elemental balance of the land. That’s one of the things that the main character, Trzl, isn’t willing to see, and that her love interest, Mikel, is.
YAG: One of the interesting things about COLDNESS OF MAREK is that it does without some of the most common elements of epic fantasies: wizards, monsters, semi-human races. This gives the book a more realistic, historical feel than many books in its genre. What made you decide to go in this direction?
RO: My favorite genre is historical fiction, and I almost wanted to write this as an alternative history at one point. But certain fantasy elements started to creep into my mind before I started drafting. First, the idea of cliffs that went on forever. Then the rich cultural background of each of the characters. I desperately wanted to be able to create their history from scratch. And finally, for me, the spiritual elements of the land, which become almost paranormal at times…and I did add a wizard, though he hasn’t been unveiled yet (shh!).
My favorite book EVER is actually not fantasy, although it has a fantasy feel. If you’ve read the Sci-Fi Timeline by Michael Crichton, it’s kind of a perfect example of my desire to merge the historical feels into my fantasy. I desperately needed it to have that in order to go as deep as I wanted with the emotions of the characters.
YAG: Speaking of the characters, I loved the strength and determination of Trzl. (My favorite line is when she says to one of the rebel leaders: “I am as much the rebellion as you are.”) Is there some of you in Trzl?
RO: There may be a little bit of the attitude, hehe, and I’ll admit, I was a great manipulator when I was a teenager. I actually based her personality on someone else I know in order to keep her from becoming me, because I wanted her to be her own person. She even becomes a bit of an antagonist at times (in the sequel), and she couldn’t do that if I always felt her actions were justified. I don’t think I would make the same decisions as her, and I don’t throw myself into a cause the way she does, but I can be a ferocious mama. I think I relate to that harshly protective part of her more than anything.
YAG: What can you tell us about the next book in the Serengard series (without giving away too much cool stuff)?
RO: Okay, this is a little tricky, but here goes. :)
The next book is called Knights of Rilch, and it delves into each of the characters involved in the war, their part in it, and how the conflict affected them. It features a kick-butt warrior heroine and her little brother, along with characters already introduced in Coldness of Marek, especially Colstadt, Tev, and Pier. Almost all of the voices are flipped: minor characters in Coldness of Marek are main characters in Knights of Rilch, and vice versa. The third book in the series will be a shuffled deck as well. Same characters, different voices.
Seriously, I am so freaking excited about the second book. Like, crazy, bouncy excited!
YAG: Thanks for visiting the blog, Rachel! I’m sure readers will want to check out COLDNESS OF MAREK and its sequels!
RO: Thank you so very much for having me on your blog, Josh! This was loads of fun.
To find Coldness of Marek:
Obsessed with all things history, Rachel O’Laughlin grew up writing adventure stories and only recently fell in love with fantasy as a genre. She lives in New England with her husband and children, grows roses and tweets often. She adores lattes, The Fray, long drives in the country, and any dark story with a good twist. Coldness of Marek is her first novel.
And now, as promised, the giveaway!