The glacier gleams vivid blue in the bright sunlight. The boat has never been so close to the glacier before; the ocean surrounding it is usually littered with icebergs, and as such, off-limits. But today, with the weather unseasonably warm and the ocean waters clear of icebergs, the captain agrees to approach the glacier’s edge. He silences the engine as the boat nears the sheer ice face of the glacier, and I stare up at the eight thousand foot wall of hypnotic, shimmering blue. Just then, a deafening crack sounds in the air, and I realize that the glacier is calving an iceberg. Now. The captain rushes to start up the engine, but the iceberg breaks off too quickly from its glacial parent and crashes into the ocean waters around us. An eighteen-foot wave heads toward the boat, and I realize too late that the boat is too close...
No, this isn’t an excerpt from my next novel. Something like it really happened to me this summer off the coast of Alaska. We were fine after our boat rose and fell on the ocean swells. Just really wet and definitely shaken. But we could have easily been overtaken by that enormous, cresting wave; others have.
After I caught my breath on that boat deck, reassured that all was well, I felt relief of a different kind course through me. I’d been worried that—unlike my previous books where I’d spent extensive time not only scrupulously researching the historical backdrop of my stories but also traveling in the Chinese or Portuguese or Dutch or Irish or Italian landscapes in which they were set—the ice-bound world I’d created for Relic wouldn’t resemble the actual Arctic scenery. The brush-up with the glacier quelled my fears. The ice-scape I envisioned for the world of New North matched the real thing, and even inspired new scenes for the rest of the Books of Eva series.
But, of course, this wasn’t the only inspiration for Relic. So many books planted the seeds for the Books of Eva. While there have been several recent suspense novels that I’ve loved—like Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder—and so many classic adventure stories that I’ve adored, here I list only those books that directly sparked the genre-bending blend of fantasy, dystopia, historical fiction, mystery, and Arctic setting that is Relic.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing In this page-turning non-fiction account of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton—which details his survival in 1914 for over a year on the ice-locked seas of Antarctica—I got my first taste for a landscape of ice and snow, the terrifying toll it takes upon those who dare to traverse it, and the unshakeable courage of mankind.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood This highly acclaimed novel depicts a near-future society horrifying in its repressive governmental structure and subjugating treatment of women—all in the name of good. Not a traditional thriller, this dystopia took me on a roller coaster ride that seemed all too possible.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin This high fantasy series revolves around the efforts by families in a quasi-medieval land called Westeros to rule the Seven Kingdoms. The complex, relentless tale delivered me to an intriguing world that was at once modern and medieval, not unlike Relic.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg A gripping literary thriller set in the frigid winters of Denmark and Greenland, this book fueled my interest in Arctic lands and its inhabitants—as well as what it’s like to live as an outsider in one’s own land.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley This groundbreaking, spell-binding fantasy—a retelling of the Arthurian legend from the female point of view—kindled my fascination with the hidden truths lying in myth and legend, and the way in which trusted leaders manipulate them in the name of history. This notion has stayed with me since I read this book long ago, and that theme lies at the heart of Relic.