Hello everybody. Today’s post is a spoiler free review of Emily Bain Murthy’s YA Historical Fantasy Splinters of Scarlet, followed by an interview with the author.
For Marit Olsen, magic is all about strategy: it flows freely through her blood, but every use leaves behind a deadly, ice-like build-up within her veins called the Firn. Marit knows how dangerous it is to let too much Firn build up—after all, it killed her sister—and she has vowed never to use her thread magic. But when Eve, a fellow orphan whom Marit views like a little sister, is adopted by the wealthy Helene Vestergaard, Marit will do anything to stay by Eve’s side. She decides to risk the Firn and uses magic to secure a job as a seamstress in the Vestergaard household. But Marit has a second, hidden agenda: her father died while working in the Vestergaards’ jewel mines—and it might not have been an accident. The closer Marit gets to the truth about the Vestergaard family, the more she realizes she and everyone she’s come to love are in danger. When she finds herself in the middle of a treacherous deception that goes all the way up to the king of Denmark, magic may be the only thing that can save her—if it doesn’t kill her first.
My review of Splinters of Scarlet
I really loved the characters in this book. Marit was a very interesting main character. I loved her magical ability, which I thought was really unique and very well-crafted. She is also very smart and brave, and when it comes to looking out for the ones she cares about, she never hesitates to do what needs to be done. I also liked the other characters that we meet throughout the book, such as Eve, Liljan, Brock and Jakob, among many others. I loved the sisterly bond between Marit and Eve. I also enjoyed the romance that slowly develops between Marit and Jakob. I thought it was done very well, and at a pace that didn’t take away from the main plot and which suited the tone of the book very well.
World building and magic
I enjoyed the historical setting of the book. The story takes place in an fictional version of 19th century Denmark, and the author did an awesome job bringing this historical period to life in the book. There are several references to significant events in Danish history, such as the cholera outbreak, the political conflict between Prussia and Denmark and the wedding of Princess Dagmar, future Empress Consort of Russia, to a Russian Tsar. I also found the magic in this world to be super unique and interesting. Magic users in this world possess magically enhanced expertise in various crafts, such as Marit’s thread magic which allows her to be a gifted seamstress. The descriptions of the different characters’ magical talents were absolutely enchanting and lovely to read.
I really liked the writing style in this book. The prose is very descriptive, and a lot of detail is given about various aspects of the world, including the clothes and food featured in the book. With our main character Marit being a seamstress, we get very detailed descriptions of the different garments she works on throughout the book, which I really enjoyed. These were very beautifully described and it was really easy to imagine all these beautiful garments. The book also features a lot of delicious Danish treats such as kanelstænger and kransekage, which I also enjoyed.
Fairy tales and ballet
As someone who absolutely loves both ballet and fairy tales, I really enjoyed seeing both of these things incorporated in this book. Eve is passionate about ballet, and after being adopted by Helene Vestergaard, who herself used to be a ballerina, she begins to take dance lessons with the hopes of also becoming a ballerina one day. Fairy tales also feature a lot in the story, especially Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. The story of the Snow Queen in particular is mentioned several times, with many events in the book mirroring some of the things that happen in the fairy tale. Andersen himself also appears in the book as a recurring character, which I thought was really cool.
My final thoughts
With its beautifully descriptions, interesting characters, fairy tale references and ballet elements, this book offers an enchanting journey full of intrigue and magic that will definitely please fans of the genre. I highly recommend it and will definitely be keeping an eye out for the author’s other works.
Interview with Emily Bain Murphy
QaS: Splinters of Scarlet is set in an alternate 19th century Denmark. Several historical events are mentioned throughout the book, such as Denmark’s conflict with Prussia, the Schleswig Wars, and the marriage of Princess Dagmar to Tsar Alexander of Russia, among others. What inspired you to choose this period of Danish history for the setting of your book?
EBM: I started off working with the idea of “Downton Abbey” meets “Frozen,” and I had some specific things in mind that I wanted to include in the book: a manor home with an upstairs/downstairs dynamic; a ballet company; somewhere that snowed during the winter. I began doing a lot of research about countries and historical times that could work with the idea that was in my head, and when I found a story about Denmark’s King Christian IX being called “The Father-In-Law of Europe,” it unlocked a new, critical idea about the plot for me. The rest of the book ended up taking off from there!
QaS: In this world, people who possess magic have uncanny talent and expertise in various crafts, including botany, needlework, glass-making and many others. Out of all the various types of magic featured in the book, which one was your favorite to create?
EBM: I love Brock’s botany magic. I half-wish I could live in a greenhouse, and I loved the idea of being able to create a lush, magical place where trees could burst with fruit and wisps of wisteria could suddenly grow right in front of you.
QaS: Danish folklore and fairy tales feature quite prominently in the book, especially Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. For instance, a lot of parallels can be drawn between this story and Andersen’s fairy tale, The Snow Queen. Like Gerda in The Snow Queen, Marit, our main character, must journey away from home and face various perils to protect someone she loves. Likewise, the Firn, an ice-like deposit that frosts the blood of magic users in the book, echoes the shard of ice that changes Gerda’s friend Kai in The Snow Queen. What drew you to this story in particular as an inspiration for these elements of the book?
EBM: I enjoy classical texts and playing with them in new settings—it’s like books talking to one another across the spans of centuries. I did this with William Shakespeare in my debut novel, The Disappearances, and I knew I wanted to include Hans Christian Andersen in this story because he was alive during that time in Denmark, and I couldn’t resist. I began to read a lot of his stories once I had settled on that time and place in Denmark, and knowing that the Firn would play a big role in the story, when I visited The Snow Queen, it felt like such a perfect fit. I had actually not read The Snow Queen before and was amazed at how many elements fell in with and magnified themes I wanted to explore in Splinters of Scarlet.
QaS: The book is also filled with wonderful descriptions of all sorts of delicious Danish pastries and treats such as kanelstænger, kransekage and risalamande, among others. Have you had a chance to try these different Danish treats? Which one is your favorite or one that you would most want to try?
EBM: This is my favorite question 😉 I actually haven’t had the pleasure of trying a lot of the treats I described, so I had to research the recipes, study pictures of them, and imagine them in my mind. I love writing about food. Maybe someday soon I will be brave and try to make looping layers of kransekage myself in my kitchen!
QaS: Ballet is another prominent element of the story. One of the main characters, Eve, dreams of becoming a ballerina, much like her adopted mother, Helene Vestergaard. The book also offers a look at ballet techniques, as well as a glimpse at the history and evolution of ballet in Denmark. What was your research process like with regards to the different elements of ballet that feature in the book? Was there any ballet in particular that you were drawn to or that inspired you?
EBM: I felt very drawn to the music of Swan Lake for this story. There is such a beautiful, ethereal, and yet eerie tone to it, which feels very fitting. When I was in the midst of writing and researching Splinters of Scarlet, we were spending a year living in San Francisco, and I took my daughter to see The Nutcracker. I loved the snow falling during the ballet’s “Snow Scene.” I felt the magical sensation of chills on my skin—something I have since learned is called ‘frisson’—and that was something I really wanted to replicate in the story itself.
QaS: The book also mentions the concept of hygge. Hygge is a Danish word that refers to feelings of coziness and contentment and can consist of different things for different people. For instance, in the book, we learn that for Marit, hygge is something that she associates with “…a heady mix of clove and citrus peel and smoke wisping from candlewicks, warm coals burning cobalt and orange”. What does hygge mean to you?
EBM: To me, it’s when Marit’s sister Ingrid describes hygge as feeling a sense of warmth within even when the rest of the world is cold. Hygge to me is being with people I love, with soft, plush blankets and hot chocolate with whipped cream; a really good book and a fire crackling in the fireplace. And perhaps some of those Danish treats we were mentioning above 😉
QaS: Marit, who loves Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, eventually gets to meet him in the book. As someone who also loves his stories, I would have loved to be in Marit’s shoes! So for our final question, if you could meet a writer from the past, which writer would you want to meet?
EBM: I think I would most love to meet Jane Austen or C.S. Lewis. They have both influenced me greatly with their books, and I wish I could say thank you!
About the author
Emily Bain Murphy was born in Indiana and raised in Hong Kong and Japan. She graduated from Tufts University and has also called Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California home. Murphy is the author of The Disappearances, which was a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, an ALAN Pick, and shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Book Prize. Splinters of Scarlet, Murphy’s second YA historical fantasy, publishes July 21, 2020. Murphy is represented by Peter Knapp at Park & Fine Literary and Media. She currently lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two children.
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