Brought to you by OBS reviewer Verushka.
- Be sure to read our review for “The Tower’s Alchemist” here at OBS.
Alesha Escobar: My high school chemistry teacher used to regale me and my classmates with war stories from when he served in WW2. While watching chemicals heat up over the bunsen burner, he’d tell us about the day he somersaulted and avoided gunfire from a Nazi. How cool is that? Also, the war era included some of the most intriguing political figures, heroes and villains of history–and a dash of Hollywood glamour, and there you have an interesting environment for a fictional story. Through my research, I’ve found that spying played a huge role in the war, especially the Special Operations Executive (SOE) which Winston Churchill referred to as the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” The real-life women who spied against the Nazis were tough as nails.
Now, how do wizards and vampires fit in? My husband challenged me to write an urban fantasy set in the WW2 era and I took him up on it. I’ve heard it described as a mix of Hellboy and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files–except the protagonist is a female spy and an alchemist. The existence of wizards in my alternate world rests on the idea that some people across the world are born with different magical abilities or powers, and the Gray Tower is a well-established institution which helps fosters those abilities. And yes, the Tower has an agenda. It sees itself as guiding the world and protecting it from their enemies (who’ve allied with Hitler) the Black Wolves. The vampires of the story are called Cruenti warlocks. Cruenti either gain or increase magical abilities through making a pact with an evil spirit. In order to satisfy the pact, they must drink the blood of wizards, which also allows them to steal their victims’ powers. Normal people are largely left alone by Cruenti, but the “vampire myth” evolved around these warlocks and sometimes Cruenti play to it. It’s well known that HItler was obsessed with the occult, so the Tower’s Alchemist is also an interesting answer to the question of what it would be like if he had discovered “mystical powers” and allies with magic ready to do his bidding.
Verushka: I loved, LOVED the level of detail devoted to the places in Europe that Isabella finds herself in – can you tell your fans a little about how you approach research for these books?
Alesha Escobar: Thank you, Google Earth. Just kidding–not really. I’ve only been to Italy, and will jump at the chance to visit Paris and London, so it was tough in that respect when describing a place I haven’t personally visited. What helped were reference and historical books, watching documentaries, and talking with people who’ve been there. When writing my scenes, I really threw myself in there and imagined what I would see, hear or smell while walking the streets.
Verushka: World-building is another strength in your book – is this something that comes to you easily? What s the most difficult or rather unexpected thing about world-building that you found?
Alesha Escobar: Some aspects of world-building were easy, while others were tougher to tackle. I wanted to be able to merge the existence of magic, wizards, and an institution like the Gray Tower into this alternate WWII era in a “realistic” fashion, so it didn’t come off as over-the-top or jarring. There are rules and limitations in place, and some of the villains are just as smart as the heroes–and the good guys suffer losses.
Verushka: What or who was the inspiration for Isabella?
Alesha Escobar: The inspiration for Isabella is a blend of two women who were actual spies for the Special Operations Executive. One was an American who was fluent in French and was recruited to run some missions in occupied France, and the other was the amazing Nancy Wake from New Zealand. The Nazis called her “the White Mouse” because she was so damned efficient at her job and kept eluding them. She could throw on face powder and lipstick, and successfully walk her way through a security checkpoint–that’s how good she was.
Verushka: Isabella goes through the wringer, emotionally and physically in this title – at the end, what do you hope readers see in Isabella?
Alesha Escobar: I hope they see a protagonist they can relate to, and who they’re willing to keep rooting for. She has moments of weakness, and of pain, and doesn’t pretend to be invincible or immune from mistakes.
Verushka: What can fans look forward to for Isabella in the next two titles?
Alesha Escobar: The next book of the Trilogy, DARK RIFT, is coming out soon. Fans can look forward to having some of their burning questions answered from The Tower’s Alchemist, as well as seeing Isabella deal with the big reveal that occurred at the end of the book. Oh yes, and you will experience the inside of the Gray Tower, as well as a world of intrigue, romance, and danger. The third book is in draft right now, and will be a fitting conclusion to the trilogy.
Thank you to author Alesha Escobar for a great interview!