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Arabian Mystery: An Interview with Nathalie Mallet

nathalie.jpgNathalie Mallet, debut author of The Princes of the Golden Cage (my review), answered a few of my questions about her Arabian fantasy/mystery.

Grasping For The Wind: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Your novel was one of the best mystery/fantasy blends I have ever read.

Nathalie Mallet: Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

GFTW: You have written a blog post to explain the origin of The Princes of the Golden Cage, but could you give us a quick review of where this novel came from?

NM: The idea came from a documentary I saw some 12 years ago (which, funny enough, I remembered while soaking in my tub.) It was a series on the great palaces of the world. The episode in question recounted the story of a palace where princes were imprisoned until one was chosen as heir to the throne. Although the details of the episode were still a tad vague in my mind, I knew I had found something. It wasn’t one of those Archimedes’ “Eureka” moment, but it was darn close.

GFTW: Why did you choose to write this novel entirely from a first person perspective?

NM: I thought a first person perspective would best fit this story. As readers can only see what Amir sees, it makes for a tighter plot-therefore a better mystery.

GFTW: Was there any sort of historical precedent for this tale of a Sultan’s sons trapped in a gilded cage?

NM: Absolutely! The Kafes, which literally means “the cage” in Turkish, really existed. Those princely rooms/cells are located in the Topkapi palace in Istanbul and are visited by thousands of tourists every year. In the Ottoman Empire, the Sultans’ eldest sons weren’t automatically destined to the throne, instead the Prince who had managed to prove himself the most apt to govern in the eyes of his father was chosen as the next ruler. Needless to say, that made for constant warring among the Princes, which threatened the stability of the country. The Kafes was then instituted as a solution. Later, the Ottoman succession rule was changed and the Kafes was abolished.

GFTW: Was it a difficult thing to mesh the facts of history with the fantastic elements you wanted to include?

NM: To a certain point it was. Because I loved all those fascinating cultural details so much there was the temptation to add too many of them into the story and bore readers with it or to stick too close to the historical reality. After all this is a fantasy, and as such I needed to construct a new world and give it its own set of rules, but at the same time I wanted to retain that Arabian Nights flavour, because it evokes such a strong imagery in people’s minds. It was a question of finding the right balance.

GFTW: The Princes of the Golden Cage is a subtle blend of mystery and fantasy. When you began writing, was it your intent to write a mystery or a fantasy?

NM: I knew this story was going to be a mystery from the beginning. For a short period of time, I considered making it a straightforward historical mystery. Then I came to my senses and just wrote what I really love-and that’s fantasy.

GFTW: Prince Amir is a strange character. While he takes care of his sick brothers, he has a great amount of disdain for servants, even beyond his mistrust of them. Why did you give Amir this particular flaw?

NM: I purposely wanted my protagonists to be flawed because normal people are flawed and sometime we all behave irrationally-although we don’t like to admit it. Amir’s mistrust of servants was something that made sense to me, because paranoia was prevalent amongst the Kafes’ princes, and Amir had to be a product of his environment. Don’t forget that the Cage is all he knows. Also when considering that the division of classes still exists today; one has to assume that most princes of that period must have been imbued with a healthy sense superiority and self-importance. So yes, Prince Amir believes servants and commoners to be his inferiors, and that’s the sort of prejudice he will have to grow out of, or at least reevaluate, once he leaves the Cage and Telfar.

GFTW: Which great detective of literature (i.e. Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, etc.) do you think Prince Amir is most like?

NM: I adore Sherlock Holmes. He’s my favorite of all detectives. But I would be hard pressed to compare Amir with him or anyone else for that matter. Honestly, I can’t really find a good comparison with my prince, and that’s okay with me.

GFTW: The grammatical structure of your sentences has been pointed out by more than one person (including me), as flawed. What is your response to such criticism?

NM: I agree with most of it. As English is my second language, moreover it is a language I’ve been writing in for slightly less than four years, I know it is far from being perfect, and probably will never be. But it will improve. When I decided to begin writing and chose to do it in English instead of French, I knew that mastering the grammar was going to be my biggest obstacle. French would have been far easier. However, the American market for Science Fiction and Fantasy is so vibrant and open one can hardly blame me for taking that route. I certainly don’t regret it.

GFTW: What has been the best response to your novel that you have received?

NM: It has to be when Jason Williams at Night Shade Books said they loved The Princes and would like to see a sequel.

GFTW: What can you tell us about the sequel, The King’s Daughter?

NM: Well, it has a Russian-inspired setting and the magical elements and legends in the sequel are drawn from Northern folklore. The tone of the story is a bit different. Now free, Amir travels to the icy kingdom of Sorvinka. But after committing a series of faux pas, Amir sees only one way to redeem himself in the eyes of the King. He must solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Sorvinkian Princess, if he wants to win the King’s favor – and the hand of his beloved. It is in this book that Amir’s true nature and purpose is revealed – much to his chagrin.

GFTW: The King’s Daughter looks like it will be set in a different culture. Is it your plan to set each of you mystery/fantasy novels of this series in a different culture?

NM: Yes. It gives me an excuse to explore a different culture with each new book. Also I thought Amir should see the world he lives in.

GFTW: You were recently at the World Fantasy Convention. How was it? Did other authors have anything to say about your debut novel?

NM: It was great! I loved it. I met wonderful people, went to several readings and panels. I’m always interested to hear about other authors’ personal experiences and new projects they are working on. Also The Princes of the Golden Cage was well promoted by Night Shade. A good amount of people received the book, and many authors told me they were reading my book and enjoying it. Charles Coleman Finley, which I met for the first time at the convention, told me that he started reading it and couldn’t put it down until he was finished. He mentions it on his blog, The prodigal blog. It gives me goose bumps every time I think about it.

GFTW: Thanks again for taking the time to do this interview. I look forward to seeing more stories in this vein from your pen.

NM: The pleasure was all mine.