I am excited to welcome author Karina Sumner-Smith, who is celebrating the release of the first novel in her new Towers trilogy, Radiant.
Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.
When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.
Ties That Bind: Ghosts and Unfinished Business
Answer quick: what makes a person’s spirit remain in the living world after death?
If you’re a lifelong fantasy fan like me, dozens of answers spring to mind. A painful or untimely death. A desire for revenge. A need to see their killer brought to justice. A feeling of loss or sorrow; regret or things left undone.
None of these answers are wrong – and yet each tells its own kind of story. Dark stories, often; stories shadowed with pain and death.
I’ve always been drawn to ghost stories, in fiction and in life. I spent years addicted to those ghost hunting shows you can find on random cable channels, watching frightened people stumble around darkened homes in an attempt to capture something supernatural on their shaky, handheld cameras.
But far more delightful were the personal stories. A friend’s grandmother’s tale of a ghostly warning of a loved one’s illness. A relative’s tale of the shadow man who would stand over her bed at night, watching her sleep.
It wasn’t the fear that drew me – though, it’s true, I’m easy to scare and even easier to startle – but the mystery. If we assume ghosts are real (at least in story), who are they and why are they here? Are they really the people they once were, or merely fragments or twisted reflections of their living selves? What makes a ghost stay?
Fertile ground for stories, to be sure – and one of the reasons that I’ve been writing about ghosts in one form or another for nearly two decades. Yet when I first caught a glimpse of the ghost who would become so central to my novel Radiant, all I knew was that she was different. No blood or pain, no hiding in shadowed corners, no desire for revenge. Instead she simply floated serene, eyes closed and legs crossed beneath her, bound to a tired, middle-aged man by a length of near-invisible energy.
If it was the ghost’s behavior that caught my attention, it was that bond that held it. I wrote two quick sentences in an attempt to explain that link: Ghosts remained in the living world because of unfinished business, something they couldn’t leave behind. What few knew was that they were literally bound to that unfinished business.
Except it wasn’t. As the story continued, I could only wonder: what counted as something one “couldn’t leave behind”? There is so much that defines a life, in reality and in fiction, that it seemed to me a disservice to assume that only dark or painful memories might keep a spirit bound to this life.
Yet we all have goals and dreams and desires, or the ashes of them; we all have people that we love, or the memory of them. What might be strong enough to bind a spirit to the living world when so many others simply slip away to whatever might wait beyond?
I wish I could say that I sat down and planned things out logically and consciously, the way some authors plan everything in their books. Yet for me, writing is more of an act of discovery – reading between the words and seeing the patterns forming in the shadows. So I could only watch and try to understand the ghosts that my main character interacted with. A ghost who waits by her living partner’s side, so that they might leave this world together. A ghost trying desperately to fulfill the responsibilities she’d had in life. A ghost who desires only to be allowed to go home once more.
At last I understood that there would be no one answer. The definition of “something that couldn’t be left behind” would be different for every person, every ghost. Love. Responsibility. Regret. Duty. Anger.
Not just the painful moments but the strongest, in light and dark, joy and sorrow. Not just the milestones, but all the myriad small needs and hopes that bind us as they do in life: to each moment as it passes.
If I were to linger in this life, perhaps I would stay a while in this moment. The sun going down and the wind in the trees; the blue sky lit with clouds transformed to pink and gold. In the distance, the sound of waves. A last glimpse of color as everything fades slowly, slowly, into night.
Meet Karina Sumner-Smith!
Karina Sumner-Smith is a Canadian fantasy author. Her debut novel, Radiant, will be published by Talos/Skyhorse in September 2014, with the second and third books in the trilogy following in 2015. Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and ultra short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in two Best of the Year anthologies.
Though she still thinks of Toronto as her home, Karina now lives in a small, lakefront community in rural Ontario. Visit her online at karinasumnersmith.com.
Want to purchase Karina’s novels?