Nicole Jarvis is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Lights of Prague. Here’s the publisher’s description:
For readers of VE Schwab and The Witcher, science and magic clash in atmospheric gaslight-era Prague.
In the quiet streets of Prague all manner of mysterious creatures lurk in the shadows. Unbeknownst to its citizens, their only hope against the tide of predators are the dauntless lamplighters – secret elite of monster hunters whose light staves off the darkness each night. Domek Myska leads a life teeming with fraught encounters with the worst kind of evil: pijavice, bloodthirsty and soulless vampiric creatures. Despite this, Domek finds solace in his moments spent in the company of his friend, the clever and beautiful Lady Ora Fischerová – a widow with secrets of her own.
When Domek finds himself stalked by the spirit of the White Lady – a ghost who haunts the baroque halls of Prague castle – he stumbles across the sentient essence of a will-o’-the-wisp captured in a mysterious container. Now, as its bearer, Domek wields its power, but the wisp, known for leading travellers to their deaths, will not be so easily controlled.
After discovering a conspiracy amongst the pijavice that could see them unleash terror on the daylight world, Domek finds himself in a race against those who aim to twist alchemical science for their own dangerous gain.
What’s Nicole’s favorite bit?
Writing historical fantasy allows me to combine two things I love—magic and research into obscure topics—so it’s no surprise that my favorite bit of writing The Lights of Prague was my most satisfying research dive.
Before I even started writing the first draft, I read several books about the setting to get an idea of the day-to-day life. I decided to set the novel in 1868, an interesting moment in the city’s history. The golden era of Prague, an ancient city which was once the capital of Bohemia, was past. The trappings of glory were still present throughout the city, but they had just been absorbed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Czech people were at only the start of a cultural shift to reclaim their language.
After I established the core details, I went into more detailed research dives—Wikipedia and JSTOR are both dear friends—to find the flavor. The writing process also brought up new questions at every turn, and I had to research piecemeal as I go. I sometimes got halfway through a sentence and then wondered: “Wait, would they be using a doorknob or a door handle in the 1860s?” (The answer: Handle. Doorknobs weren’t invented until 1878.)
As I neared the end of the book, I knew I wanted to set a scene in the Old Town Square. It’s the iconic heart of the city, and an appropriate stage for a big fight. The main statue that dominates it now was only built in 1915, though—so how could I find out what the square looked like in 1868?
Through Wikipedia, I stumbled on this painting from 1853.
My eye caught on the column in the center of the square (my circle), which one I knew no longer exists. With some internet sleuthing, I found out that it was a Marian column, and had been erected at the end of the Thirty Years War. (The modern history of the column is also very interesting!)
When I went to Prague to do more research on the ground, I was excited to spot the impression of the column on the cobblestones from the top of the Old Town Hall.
When I got closer, I found a small plaque set into the stone nearby, at the end of the diagonal line you see coming from the square. It is set in the spot where the column’s shadow would have fallen at noon.
The past is layered over Prague, and uncovering it was one of the most rewarding parts of the writing process.
After all of this, I ended up setting a key scene at the column:
[Redacted] were standing at the base of the Marian column in the square between Týn Church and the Old Town Hall. The column was near the center of the square, built to thank the Virgin Mary for the Czech victory in the Thirty Years’ War. During the day, its shadow could be used to check the time, but at night the soaring, intricately carved column was simply a guardian for the square. At the top, fifteen meters overhead, the Virgin Mary looked down on them, her face wreathed in shadow.
My readers may never even realize the research happening behind the scenes, but it’s still my favorite bit.
Nicole Jarvis has been writing stories as long as she can remember. After graduating with degrees in English and Italian from Emory University, Nicole moved to New York City and currently works in marketing at Bloomsbury Publishing. She lives in Manhattan with two cats named after children’s book characters and loves listening to musicals, learning strange histories and thinking about the inner lives of superheroes.