All books are special to an author, but some are more special. A Distant Magic, whose official street date was yesterday, is definitely in the more special category.
As the third (and possibly last) in my Guardian series, ADM features magical families who are sworn to use their abilities to help humankind. Each book has been built around a larger historical issue. A Kiss of Fate was set against the backdrop of the Scottish Rising of ’45. Stolen Magic dealt with some of the implications of the Industrial Revolution.
Or, more accurately, about abolition. I had a heroine for this third book. Jean Macrae, a petite but forceful redheaded Scot, had appeared in the first two books. She’d lost her sweetheart in the Rising, and eventually been packed off to spend social seasons in London in the hopes she’d find herself a husband. Not a powerful mage like most of her relatives, she was content to be the practical one in the family. She also has a conviction that she wouldn’t marry a fellow Guardian.
So I had a character to build on, but what about a story? The genesis of A Distant Magic was reading a review in the local paper about a new book called Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild. The book is about the 18th century British abolition movement, and the review was so fascinating that I promptly bought a copy. Hochschild is a terrific writer, and his tale of abolition had the compulsive fascination of a novel. (The book was a finalist for the non-fiction National Book Award. ( http://tinyurl.com/22heup )
Bury the Chains introduced me to some people I’d heard of, like the amazing reformer William Wilberforce, M. P., and others who were new to me. Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament, a man who believed in working within the establishment. He doggedly introduced bills to end the slave trade that were defeated again and again before success was achieved in 1807. (His first act was introduced in 1789.)
Abolition is one of the great stories of history. From time immemorial, the powerful had made slaves of the weak. Or more accurately, the well-weaponed enslaved the less technologically advanced. It was the way of the world, a natural law of society. There were surely some people who felt it was wrong, but no one believed the situation could be changed.
I’m not totally sure of why this changed, but I’m guessing that it was because of the Enlightenment and a developing belief in the rights of man. At any rate, by the mid 18th Century, some people were beginning to believe that slavery was just plain wrong and should be eliminated. The first step was to end the slave trade—the capture and transport of indigenous people to be sold as slaves.
The belief was that ending a ready supply of cheap, expendable labor would bring about the end of chattel slavery because slaves would have to be treated better and would eventually be freed. This turned out to be less than the truth, but certainly ending the trade—and raising the consciousness of free people to the wickedness of the institution—was the place to start.
A piece of history that I learned in Bury the Chains was that during the Revolution, the British army offered freedom to any slaves who escaped their colonial owners and worked for the British cause. That was a shocker—who were the good guys here? Some American “patriots” were slave owners who joined the rebellion to hold on to their slaves.
As word of the British offer got out, thousands of slaves tried to escape to the British. Some tried multiple times before succeeding. So much for one of the myths of the time, that the Africans welcomed being taken from their benighted continent and given the blessings of Christianity!
The treaty that ended the American Revolution had clauses specifically requiring the British to return “American property”—and that included slaves. As soon as the war ended (even before the treaty), Southern plantation owners were sending slave catchers to New York City, where many of the escaped slaves had ended up.
To their credit, many British officers felt they had a moral obligation to the people who risked their lives to escape slavery and help the British army. (And probably it was also a way of thumbing their noses at the upstart colonials while occupying the moral high ground. <G>)
The result was a major evacuation. Many of the escapes were sent to Nova Scotia, but others ended up in Britain, West Africa, and even Australia. (A fact I used in A Distant Magic.) For more information on this, check out Epic Journeys of Freedom by Cassandra Pybus. ( http://tinyurl.com/2c4dvs ) Some of the slaves who escaped to the British belonged to founding fathers George Washington and Patrick Henry. (I haven’t the time to verify this, but I once read that the only founding father who didn’t own slaves and was flat out against slavery was John Adams. One of those Massachusetts liberals. <g>)
Still, more and more people were starting to be disturbed by slavery on both sides of the Atlantic. Quakers were leaders in the movement to end slavery, but they were generally considered fringe cultists. Good businessmen, but they talked funny and, horrors! refused to take off hats for the king or any other man. Only God deserved such a mark of respect. So Quakers were not positioned to lead the abolition movement.
But young Thomas Clarkson was. A brilliant young Anglican clergyman, his belief that slavery was wrong stemmed from a Latin essay he wrote at Cambridge on the subject. And once he learned the reality about slavery, he could not pretend it didn’t exist.
Clarkson’s life mission became fighting this great evil, and he spent years riding over England, gathering evidence of the vileness and cruelty of slavery to refute the conventional wisdom. He also preached to local churches on the evils of slavery, and helped found local chapters of abolitionists.
In 1787, Clarkson and eleven other men met in a London print shop and vowed to end the slave trade Nine of the men, including the print shop owner, were Quakers, and three were Anglicans. The Anglicans were essential to lend credibility to the movement, while the Quakers supported it with their time and money. (And when Quakers supported a moral crusade, they didn’t hold back.)
Hochschild uses the analogy that it was like 12 men today vowing to end use of the internal combustion engine: Unthinkable. Slavery was so bound up in the international economy, especially the sugar trade, that it was impossible to imagine change. Yet in the space of a lifetime, these men spearheaded a mass movement that ended the slave trade, and eventually slavery itself. (It was banned earlier in Britain and her colonies than in the U. S.)
Hochschild ends Bury the Chains with an anecdote I love. When Clarkson died at the age of 86 after a long and eventful life, “the mourners included many Quakers, and the men among them made an almost unprecedented departure from long-sacred custom.”
They removed their hats.”
Thomas Clarkson, the passionate radical, and William Wilberforce, the loved and honored establishment reformer, were equally essential to the movement. The plot if A Distant Magic came when I read how Clarkson was almost drowned by angry slave ship sailors in Liverpool when he was on his first organizing tour. I wondered what would have happened if Clarkson had died that day. The cause of abolition might have been put off for years, perhaps a generation.
This is when I had the idea of building my story around my two characters being recruited to protect the fragile, fledgling abolitionist movement. Jean, with her passionate Scottish love of freedom, was a natural. The hero I created to join her in this crusade has an even stronger reason to fight slavery, for he spent years as a slave after being captured by Barbary pirates.
Nikolai Gregorio was born in Malta of mixed and not entirely certainly parentage. Raised by his African grandmother, then orphaned, he was discovered by two traveling British Guardians, one of whom was Jean’s father. He is under their protection when he falls into the hands of slavers, and swears eternal vengeance on all Macraes. Which is why he kidnaps Jean when he meets her by chance (or perhaps not by chance) in Marseilles.
Here’s how Kathe Robin of Romantic Times described the book (a Top Pick):
“Putney’s latest Guardian novel can be read on many levels. It’s a smart, strong, emotionally intense romance filled with historical details and a powerful message. Weaving together threads of pure captive/captor romance, paranormal and time travel, Putney brilliantly merges three genres into one masterful novel.”
I didn’t really think of it as a captive/captor romance, but hey, I go where the story takes me! (An excerpt: http://maryjoputney.com/ADistantMagicexcerpt.pdf )
The third major character is Adia, a West African priestess and former slave who travels through time to recruit a man and woman to protect the abolition movement. She is not only a way of showing how slavery worked then, but she is also the crucial character whose magic launches Jean and Nikolai into a wild ride into the unknown. And Adia risks everything she loves to make this happen so that others won’t have to suffer as she did.
This is a book I feel particularly passionate about. Not because it’s controversial—who in our time would defend chattel slavery? But because the story is so powerful and encompasses so many brave men and women. It’s a fitting end to my Guardian trilogy.
What great historical stories inspire you? Do you have thoughts on the long and painful road to freedom? I’ll be giving away a copy of A Distant Magic to one lucky commenter on this post between now and Friday. So speak up!
Mary Jo, ending with Margaret Meade’s famous quote:
“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”