On the island of Cercia, the gods are dead, killed by their followers and replaced with the study of magic. Magicians are forbidden to leave their homeland. Laws bind these men that prevent them from casting spells on the living—whether to harm or to heal.
Quentin, a young nobleman, challenges these laws out of love for his wife. His best friend, Asahel, defies authority at his side, unaware that the search for this lost magic will bring them both to the edge of reason, threatening their very souls. The Universal Mirror shows how far two men are willing to go for the sake of knowledge and what they will destroy to obtain it
Building Cercia: The World of The Universal Mirror
Grave robbing, healing plagues, and fighting mages—these are just some of the events that lie ahead for Quentin and Asahel, the protagonists of my new fantasy novel, The Universal Mirror. This is fantasy that doesn't rely on dragons or elves but is centered by magic and moral conflicts. Several readers and reviewers have commented on the richness of the setting as well as its medieval feel, wondering how the island of Cercia came to be and where I developed the details. Today, I'd like to talk a little bit about the inception of this novel and the real history that inspired it to shed some light on this subject.
The novel itself began when I was talking to one of my children about Leonardo da Vinci and how he was one of the first artists to use human anatomy in his work. I recalled that he had dissected corpses in order to learn how muscles worked and also recollected that this type of knowledge wasn't that typical at the time (and in fact, had been forbidden at one earlier point). The idea lingered and I put away, thinking nothing much of it.
Now, I am not an artist. I can't draw a straight line and the closest I've ever come to origami is making a thousand paper airplanes that never flew. But like many who can't draw, I have an intense admiration for those who can.
It struck me as I was looking at some art on the internet that art is really a form of magic. Which led me to further questions... why, in so many fantasy novels, were there so few prohibitions against magic by their governments? Wouldn't a government try to control magic? Wouldn't religion? Then I began to wonder what would happen if a government did try to control it, how they might do so, and why they would have the need to do so.
Then I developed a fascination with lampworking which is the art of blowing glass into beads. As I began to learn how to do this myself, I started reading about the history of glassblowing. It was then that I discovered the story of the glassblowers of Murano. Murano is a series of islands near Venice that became famous for glassworking when all the glassmakers in Venice were forced to move there in order to contain fires. (This was in 1291.) The glassmakers were unique on Murano—unlike other artisans, they were allowed to carry swords and held high status because of their art. However, there was a caveat. Because of the fear that the state would lose the secrets of making glass, the glassmakers were never allowed to leave.
If you've read The Universal Mirror, this sounds very familiar, I'm sure. It's one of the Heresies—or prohibitions that govern mages—in the novel.
Once I had all of these pieces together, I transformed them into elements of the book. The artists became magicians who were trying to work against the government because they disagreed with its prevention of scientific pursuit (in this case, healing). The culture of magic changed as well as I incorporated the history of the Murano glassblowers into my own world, tying magic with class and social status while preventing those who practiced it from leaving Cercia. These elements have also led to developments in the subsequent books I am writing in the series (and, I note, to researching all kinds of interesting stories and artifacts as one idea led to another).
In conclusion, I'd simply like to note that spending a little time thinking about and researching events that have happened before can greatly enhance even the most fantastic of worlds. Don't be afraid to mine moments from your own life—people are still people, no matter what time or place they may be from. Some ideas and emotions are, after all, universal.
Gwen Perkins is the author of The Universal Mirror, a fantasy novel released in 2012 by Hydra Publications. Read more about this book and her upcoming projects at theUniversalMirror.com.
Gwen Perkins is a museum curator with a MA in Military History from Norwich University. She has written for a number of magazines, exhibitions and nonfiction publications. Her interest in history fueled the creation of the world of The Universal Mirror, inspired in part by people and events of the medieval and Renaissance periods. She lives with her partner and three children in Tacoma, WA.
The Universal Mirror is the first novel of the Artifacts of Empire series. Gwen is presently at work on the second volume, entitled The Jealousy Glass.