Thursday, 9 January 2014

GUEST BLOG: Love in a Cold Climate - Alma Katsu

One thing The Immortal Trilogy doesn’t lack is a variety of settings. Because the books features flashbacks on the characters’ long lives, readers get to experience places and periods as diverse as Venice in 1262; the Hindu Kush in 1841; several months with Lord Byron in Pisa in 1822; and Fez in 1830.

For all those warmer locations, I think of the books as being associated more with wintery climes. The first book, The Taker, is set primarily in the protagonist’s hometown, the fictional town of St. Andrew in northernmost Maine that would sit about where Allagash stands today. It is winter there nearly half the year, with snow piling up to the windows. The book opens on a chilly night in the present day, with a disillusioned doctor contemplating the difficult lives of his farming neighbors minutes before he is meets Lanore, a woman who claims to have lived in the town at the time of its founding over 200 years earlier.

Readers ask why I decided to set the book in a relatively unknown area of Maine (or rather, known today for its rafting and fly-fishing and not for its past); why did I choose such a cold location for the story? The answer is two-fold. First, the characters had to start their lives in an isolated place, where they were essentially living in a remote kingdom that was self-sufficient, with laws unto itself. A place where one of the characters, Jonathan (the one with whom Lanore falls in love), could be a veritable princeling, ruler of all he surveys. So I whisked them away to a very cold, remote place indeed.

In the second place, I grew up in the north. Not the snowy isolation of northern Maine; no, I grew up some place even more remote and snowy and deadly: Alaska. People are always surprised to hear that I was born in Alaska, in the area of Fairbanks. The reason is pretty simple: my father was in the Army and was stationed there. It was a long time ago, and the impression I get is that life was even harder then than it is now.

This all happened a long time ago and I have few memories of living there. The stories I do remember, however, have to do with how dangerous it was. My parents came close to losing my three siblings and me on several occasions. Of course this may say more about my parents’ atrocious parenting skills than the inherent dangers of the snowy north. For instance, on a camping trip in Denali park, one of us became lost and it apparently got to a fairly dire point before the lost child was found (I no longer remember if I was the one who was lost, or one of my sisters, but you’ll see that it hardly matters because we each have our turn in the barrel, so to speak.)

On another occasion, they brought my two older sisters to the dogsled races (I was deemed too young and left at home) and for some reason, thought it would be fun to put the two of them in one of the sleds participating in the race. When the sleds crossed the finish line, they saw to their horror that one of my sisters was missing. They assumed that she fell out of the sled somewhere along the miles-long route. The sledders were about to organize a search party when they discovered the missing sister tucked in at the bottom of the sled, asleep.

Then there was the time they almost left my brother—who was then an infant—behind at a rest stop on the Yukon Highway. This was the same excursion where my father came face to face with a brown bear; my mother (who cannot drive) had visions of being left alone with four children in the wilderness after her husband had been mauled to death by a bear. What I have taken away from all these hilarious stories is that my parents have very poor judgment. I cannot figure out for the life of me why any of my siblings would leave their children in my parents’ care, but they have.

Perhaps this is why, in shadowy back of my mind, the wintery north equates to danger and loss of life in a spectacular way.

We return to St. Andrew, as well as travel to Venice in the Middle Ages and even the underworld in the final book of the trilogy, The Descent. For more information on the books and the author, please visit

(Stock Photo in the article purchased by Alma Katsu.)

1 comment:

Serena said...

sounds like there is another novel in there somewhere with all those childhood memories of Alaska.