A.F.E. Smith is joining us today with her novel Darkhaven. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.
When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?
Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.
What’s A.F.E.’s favorite bit?
My favourite bit of Darkhaven has to be the city it’s set in.
Arkannen is probably the most orderly city you’ll come across. Not the inhabitants; they’re as complicated and messy as anyone else. But the city itself has an abundance of structure. It’s a walled city, or maybe a multi-walled city, since it consists of seven concentric rings that are each accessible by a single gate. In the very centre – the seventh ring – is Darkhaven itself, the tower where the country’s ruling shapeshifter family (the Nightshades) live; and each of the other rings has its own precise function, whether that’s trade or worship or weapons training.
At this point, it may be worth mentioning that the British town I live in, Milton Keynes, is famous for its roundabouts. And I mean famous. Mention Milton Keynes to anyone in the UK and nine times out of ten, the response will be Oh, you mean the one with all the roundabouts. Which is relevant only because when I told a writing friend where I live, she instantly said That explains Darkhaven’s map. Which hadn’t actually occurred to me, but … yeah. It’s entirely possible that living in a town full of roundabouts led me to create a perfectly round city.
Anyway, like Milton Keynes, Arkannen was created pretty much whole. It’s not one of these places that started as a hamlet, or a cluster of hamlets, and then grew organically until one day it turned around and realised it was London. No, according to in-world history, Arkannen was designed according to certain principles, then built according to design. After all, you wouldn’t get a perfectly round city (or a city made of roundabouts) without some serious design work taking place.
Of course, that all happened centuries ago. So although Arkannen started out as a fortified city that would be easy to defend during medieval-style warfare – complete with arrow slits, lookout posts and gates that are easy to barricade – things have changed a little since. Industrial revolution has hit, bringing all the upheaval that entails. The lower rings of the city, in particular, have become a place full of steam trams and factories, airships and machines; but still, alongside and beneath them, there are narrow cobbled streets and oxen pulling carts. Thus the old and the new coexist in sometimes uneasy harmony.
Higher up in the city, the impact of mechanization hasn’t been so great. I must admit I’m very fond of the fourth ring, the residential ring, which is – as it always has been – divided into sixteen Quarters, each of which traditionally houses a different segment of the population. Each Quarter is named after, and decorated with, a semi-precious stone in a different colour. And to help people find their way around, the streets are paved with stripes that consist of tessellating arrow-shaped tiles in those same colours – similar to what I imagine it would be like if you painted the map of the London Underground onto the streets of London. Simply follow the stripe in the colour you want and it will take you to the right Quarter.
Though it may look the same as ever, there are some steam-powered vehicles and household appliances in the fourth ring. But beyond that, the industrial revolution stops. Apart from the new gas lamps, the training grounds of the fifth ring and the temples of the sixth are much the same as they ever were. And Darkhaven itself – right at the centre – doesn’t appear to have changed since it was built. It looks like what it is: a show of power and a warning to the world.
Yet there is actually more to the city than what I’ve described so far, because Arkannen was built according to alchemical principles. It was designed to focus power into the tower at its heart in order to maintain the abilities of the Nightshade shapeshifters who live there. So the seven gates are positioned at different points around the compass, and together they create a shape that holds the seven alchemical elements in balance. None of the city’s inhabitants are aware of this, except perhaps a few of the alchemists currently working at the university, but there is a well-known legend that the fate of the Nightshades is intimately bound up with the fate of Darkhaven. If one falls, so too does the other.
This fact isn’t touched on to any great extent in Darkhaven, but it’s there in the background. And who knows … it may become relevant in later books.
A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.
What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.