This week’s Author Takeover explores the power of an ancient, elemental kind of magic that forms the background to our understanding of magical worlds today. After all, there would be no Avada Kedavra without Abra Kedabra and no magic words at all without the Djinni of old. Alywn Hamilton, author of the brand new YA novel Rebel of the Sands, writes about her journey through Potter and how it helped to release the genie of fantasy novels to a new generation of readers.
Alwyn was born in Toronto and spent her early years bouncing between Europe and Canada until her parents settled in a small town in France, which might have compelled her to burst randomly into the opening song from Beauty and the Beast. On graduating from King’s College, Cambridge, she worked in a bookshop in France where she rediscovered YA fiction. She then moved to London, where she now lives and works as a full time author. Rebel of the Sands is her first novel.
You can find Alwyn on Twitter @AlwynFJH.
An Elemental Vulnerability
I found my way to Harry Potter in 1999. The first three books were out in the world, and I was 11 that year. In the summer of 2007, Deathly Hallows hit shelves. I was 18. Which means I was the same age as Harry when I first got on the train to Hogwarts, and I passed into adulthood as the series ended. I literally grew up side by side with the crew.
I like to think that those of us who grew up with Harry Potter didn’t outgrow magic as easily as the generations before us did. Plain and simple, Hogwarts meant reading fantasy stuck with a lot of people longer. And when I decided to make my Wild West World mixed with the Arabian Nights, I knew that meant I would get to include magic.
When I knew there would be magic in the book that became Rebel of the Sands, I had to decide the rules of it. If you look at magic in the Arabian Nights, it can seem all-powerful and arbitrary. A Djinni can just somehow predict that casting a net in a lake full of multi-coloured fish will grant the fisherman great wealth, the fish turn out to be humans transfigured into animals by the cheating wife of a prince in some far off isles who also turns people to stone and appears through walls sometimes, and there’s a decapitated head [that] can speak… all in the same story. Probably every tale in the Arabian Nights could be spun out into a full[-]length book with its own unique rules of magic, but to write Rebel of the Sands I had to pick and choose. You can’t have talking heads and magic wall portals and magic fish – that’s just greedy.
The most unique-to-the-world element of the Arabian Nights, to me, was the Djinn. They are very different than a lot of powerful folktale figures we are used to reading about in the [W]estern canon. They have their own kingdoms, they fall in love and have children, they grieve and rage and swear revenge if someone kills one of their children, and they are often easily tricked and trapped, in lamps or rings or chests with the name of [a] god on the seal. So when I was choosing my magic system, I decided that the magic would start with them, these immortal spirits of fire who live in the desert sands and appear in clouds of smoke and dust.
So the magic in Rebel of the Sands comes with the Djinni brand of desert heat and trickery. Their magic is elemental desert force, but it’s also shapeshifting and illusions. And the magic is bound up by the same restrictions as those you see placed on Djinn in the Arabian Nights. That brand of magic can be trapped and manipulated for human use.
Power and vulnerability cohabitate so well in the myth of the Djinn that it turned out to be the perfect place to launch the magic for Rebel of the Sands. Harry Potter wouldn’t be the world we love without the magic. But it wouldn’t be the story that we love if our characters could just magic their way out of any situation. And if I learned anything from growing up with Harry, it’s that magic should be raising the stakes and creating your problems, not solving them. And for me and this story, there was no better way to do it than by making the most powerful people the most vulnerable to little things, like a metal ring, or the right words, spoken by the right person.
And now a copy of Rebel of the Sands could be yours! Enter our giveaway below to be in with a chance of winning one of three copies for MuggleNet readers!