This time, it’s personal!
Tomorrow, Dark Destiny, my third YA novel as M. J. Putney, will be released by St. Martin’s Griffin. Twice I’ve sent my YA heroine, Lady Victoria Mansfield, and her friends from Regency England to World War II so they could use their magical abilities to aid their country, which is fighting for its life against Hitler’s forces.
I’ve always been intrigued by the similarities between the Napoleonic wars and WWII. In each case, Britain stood alone against an overwhelming continental conqueror, protected by the English Channel and the nation’s stubborn refusal to surrender.
The Regency technically began in 1811, when the Prince Regent assumed power on behalf of his father, mad King George III, but I set the Dark Mirror series a few years earlier, in 1803 - 1804. I chose that period precisely so I could do a Napoleonic invasion story.
The French were seriously interested in a British invasion in the late 1790s, and they made some small scale attempts. Those plans were put aside while Napoleon concentrated on Egypt and Austria
But after the end of the Peace of Amiens in May, 1803, Napoleon set his sights on Britain again. The Army of the Ocean Coasts (also called the Army of England), was over 200,000 strong. Troops were stationed and trained along the coast of the English Channel, with headquarters at Boulogne. A vast flotilla of barges was constructed to carry troops across the Narrow Sea.
There are two quotes I love that sum up the French and British attitudes, and which became the epigraph for Dark Destiny:
“Let us be masters of the Channel for six hours and we are masters of the world.”
Napoleon Bonaparte while contemplating an invasion of Britain
“I do not say, my Lords, that the French will not come. I say only they will not come by sea.”
Admiral Lord John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent, when he was Admiral of the Channel Fleet during the Napoleonic Wars
History records that the French barges worked badly, along with other problems and in 1805 the emperor decided against invading Britain and he turned his attention to the east. But in an alternate history where magic exists—well, anything can happen!
A hugely useful piece of research toward this book came from a blog by Wench Nicola Cornick, who wrote a wonderful post called The Last Invasion of Britain. I’d never heard of this successful invasion of Wales. It was tied in with French attempts to destabilize Ireland since the Irish were always willing to be stirred up against the English.
I didn’t use the actual 1797 invasion of Fishguard because it was too early for Dark Destiny, but the incident provided inspiration and details for my fictional invasion of Carmarthen, on the Welsh coast. (A town I’ve visited several times.)
But even if Merlin’s Irregulars, my students from Lackland Abbey, can help foil an invasion of Wales, what about the larger threaet? Not only are there a couple of hundred thousand French soldiers slavering to cross the Channel, but in this time period, magic is acknowledged.
For the first time, Tory and her friends will have to go against experienced French mages. They send a cry for help to their friends in 1940 because maybe, just maybe, a girl they rescued from occupied France in Dark Passage might be able to help.
Rebecca Weiss has only just discovered that magic exists and that she has power. Now she’s being called on to pay her debt to Merlin’s Irregulars, who saved her and her family. Can she do it? She’ll certainly try, even at the risk of her life. And her friend Nick Rainford will be right at her side to help her. Handsome Nick, who would like to be more than a friend despite the unbreachable religious divide between them…
Here’s a brief excerpt from Dark Destiny:
“I will not have a black market operation run from my house,” Mrs. Rainford said firmly. She handed another plate of cake to Rebecca Weiss, who was staying with the Rainfords to study magic. “But some sugar now and then would be nice.”
“We can arrange that,” Allarde said as he clasped Tory’s hand under the table. She could feel his amusement.
She bit her lip, thinking how much she would miss this freedom to be together when they returned to Lackland Abbey. Male and female students were strictly separated in the abbey. Only in the Labyrinth, the maze of tunnels below the abbey buildings, could they work together as they secretly studied magic. And only there could she and Allarde have the privacy they craved.
“What is a black market?” Tory asked as she cut more slices.
“Illegally selling rationed goods, and Nick would dive right in if I let him.” Mrs. Rainford said with a laugh.
She laid her hand on Tory’s, but before she could continue, magic blazed from Mrs. Rainford through Tory to Allarde, kindling another blaze of magic from him. Allarde’s hand clamped hard on Tory’s and he exclaimed, “No!”
“Justin?” Tory said dizzily, shaking as she channeled power and shock between Allarde and her hostess. “What…what just happened?”
His gaze was unfocused. “I…I saw Napoleon invade England. Barges landing, soldiers pouring off. French soldiers marching past Westminster Abbey.”
The Irregulars gasped with horror. The threat of invasion had been hanging over their heads for months as Napoleon Bonaparte assembled an army just across the English Channel from Lackland Abbey. Jack asked, “What makes you say that?”
Tory felt Allarde’s effort to collect himself. “Mrs. Rainford and I both have foreteller talent, and Tory’s ability to enhance magic seems to have triggered a vision of the future when the three of us were touching.” He glanced at their hostess. “Did you see images of invasion?”
“I…I saw Napoleon in Westminster Abbey,” Mrs. Rainford said unevenly. “But that was fear, not foretelling! We know from history that Napoleon never invaded.”
Allarde shook his head. He was still gripping Tory’s hand with bruising force. “I don’t know about your history books. What I saw was an event that may well happen if we don’t act. We need to return home immediately. If and when the invasion takes place, Lackland will be a major landing site.” He swallowed again. “I saw French barges landing in Lackland harbor and soldiers pouring off. The village was burning.”
Jack Rainford rose from his chair. “My family!”
“The French are not going to invade!” Mrs. Rainford repeated. “I’ll get a history book and show you.” She left the room, her steps quick.
Tory took a swallow of tea for her dry throat. Mrs. Rainford was a schoolteacher and well educated, but Allarde’s magic was powerful. “Foretelling is what might happen, not necessarily what will happen, isn’t it?”
Allarde eased his grip, though he still held her hand. “This felt very, very likely.”
Mrs. Rainford returned with a textbook. As she thumbed through the pages, she said, “There’s a chapter about how close Napoleon came to invading, but he didn’t.” She found the chapter she was looking for and caught her breath, her face turning white.
Tory peered at the book and saw that the letters on the page were twisting and flickering like live things. The words couldn’t be read.
Mrs. Rainford said in a choked voice, “I remember what this chapter said, but…it doesn’t say that anymore.”
Of course there's more, as the characters grow, make choices, and learn to accept the consequences. And maybe to face unexpected destiny.
Here in Maryland, we were been hit by the ferocious storm system that crashed through the eastern states on Friday. Luckily, I have power, but no broadband, so this is going to require some juggling to post for Monday morning!
Assuming the blog goes up on time, Happy Canada Day to our Canadian readers! And stop by on Friday for a delicious interview with Karen Harper as she tells us about her new book, Mistress of Mourning.
I’ll wrap up by saying I’ll give a copy of one of my M. J. Putney YAs to someone who comments between now and midnight Tuesday. And if you were also hit by the storms—I hope you have your power back on!