Today we are excited to share an interview with Stephanie Burgis, author of Masks and Shadows which releases April 12, 2016. If you missed it, be sure to check out our review. Also, don’t miss the GIVEAWAY at the bottom of this post!
I found your book Masks and Shadows to be a very enjoyable and fun read! Thank you for joining us today to answer a few questions.
Could you tell us a bit about Masks and Shadows in your own words?
Sure! Masks and Shadows is a romantic historical fantasy novel brimming with alchemy, opera, and forbidden romance. It’s set in the isolated palace of Eszterháza, where dangerous schemes are brewing behind the golden walls, and the drama on the stage of the court opera house may soon be supplanted by a much more deadly drama in the audience.
Music plays a wonderful role in your book. I noticed that you have worked for a British opera company and also studied music history. Do you have any fun or interesting stories or facts you can share with us that relate to either of those?
I first fell in love with opera when I was a teenager, and I’ve been circling around it ever since, first by playing the French horn in opera pits, then by studying opera history, and finally by working for an opera company (as their website editor). All in all, it combined into great preparation for writing a novel set around an opera house, because it gave me a lot of insight into how opera companies worked, both in the eighteenth century and now! Sadly, I can’t share any stories from my own work because that wouldn’t be fair…but I will say that the story in Masks & Shadows about the two opera singers who ran away together was taken directly from a real occurrence at Eszterháza in the late eighteenth century. (The real ending, for them, didn’t involve any alchemy, but it was in some ways even more brutal, as the male singer was whipped and banished from Esterházy lands and the woman was forcibly returned to her husband, which was a fairly horrible punishment for her. Singers under contract at Eszterháza were considered to be the property of the prince, in every way.)
Court politics and etiquette are also very important to this story and its characters. In what ways do you feel this was advantageous or disadvantageous for the characters in this story?
It’s a delicate and precarious balance for them to negotiate! Carlo is a castrato – a superstar performer who’s being given apparent adulation by his courtly audiences…but only if he follows the rules. Otherwise they’ll turn against him. Meanwhile, Charlotte is living as the guest of her sister’s powerful (and ruthless) lover – something she didn’t expect before she arrived and was confronted by the reality of the situation – so she’s not allowed to publicly question even the things she finds horrifying, for her sister’s sake even more than her own. So both of them are, on the one hand, living in incredibly decadent luxury, but they’re also having to play a game with incredibly complex and uncomfortable rules, which becomes more and more difficult for them throughout the book.
Your other novels have been aimed at a younger audience. Did you find many differences in your planning and writing when targeting one age group or another?
My MG novels tend to be more streamlined, much shorter, and they usually have just one first-person PoV character per book, whereas my adult novels are (physically!) bigger books, with multiple PoV characters written in third person, giving me a broader canvas and more angles onto every story. Both types of books are fun to write, though, and they all tend to contain my key themes. (Family is a big theme for me, no matter what genre I’m writing in!)
What authors do you feel influence or inspire you as an author?
So many! Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks made me into a fantasy author when I was a teen; Judith Tarr’s romantic historical fantasies showed me exactly which subgenre I wanted to work in. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion novels fired me up in my twenties, Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters re-inspired me in my thirties, and re-reading Jane Austen across my life has taught me so much about revealing character in dialogue.
I loved the interplay between Charlotte and Carlo. Can you tell us what you are currently working on and if we might see another book featuring Charlotte and/or Carlo?
Right now I’m working on the edits for Congress of Secrets, a romantic historical fantasy set at the Congress of Vienna, full of intrigue and suspense, political maneuvering and dark alchemy. It’s set 35 years after Masks and Shadows, with a completely different couple at the center of the story, but with a similar style of magic.
I have been thinking about another Carlo/Charlotte story! But I haven’t decided yet whether I want it to be another novel or a shorter novella.
And lastly, because we all love talking books, I’d like to ask a question I ask of pretty much anyone, author or not: What are you currently reading?
Right now, in the adult fantasy genre, I’m reading V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows (and I just finished Patricia McKillip’s Kingfisher, which was wonderful); in MG fantasy, I’m reading Jodi Lynn Anderson’s My Diary from the Edge of the World, a really fun and heartfelt roadtrip book across an alternate America full of sasquatches, witches, and more; and in YA science fiction, I’m reading Emily Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us. (Pirates and engineered sea monsters! So much fun!)
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions today!
Thank you, Lisa!
Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis
Published by Pyr on April 12th 2016
Our reviews of this author: Masks and Shadows, Congress of Secrets
The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy's carriage, ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus's mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband's death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace's golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress--a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet.