Monday, September 26, 2011

Lisa Hendrix and the Immortal Brotherhood Series

Name your pleasure in romance reading.

Paranormal?  Historical?  Strong, smart heroines?  HAWT, shapeshifting heroes?  Incredibly erotic love scenes?

Would you believe you don't have to sacrifice any of the above?  I know, I know, it sounds like chocolate that doesn't get you fat, but in this case, it's not a lie.

Confession: I picked up the first book in the series to pander.  I was planning to meet with Lisa and some other writers on their home turf, and I thought it would look impressive if I'd read their stuff, beforehand.  So I bought Immortal Warrior, braced myself for purple prose and corny, overblown dialogue, and turned the page. I girded my mental loins to say something nice about the heroine's velvet dress, or to praise the cover art. (Besides, the guy on the cover reminded me of my nephew and/or Fabio, so that was an easy go-to point.  Seriously.  See photo, below right.)

He might be family, but DAMN!
See the Fabio resemblance?
(Even more so when he wore his hair long.)
Instead of having to mumble something polite and insincere... I fell in love.  With Ivar Graycloak (aka Ivo de Vassy) and his lady, Alaida of Alnwick, with Brand and Merewyn, with the whole concept of the Immortal Brotherhood.

A crew of nine Vikings has invades England in search of a particular treasure.  While being Viking treasure-hunters, they piss off the wrong person, an Anglo-Saxon witch called Cwen (pronounced Quinn) by killing her son.  She turns them not into toads, but animals - in the shape and form of each man's particular fylgja.  (What I've gathered from reading these books, and the link, is that a fylgja, which comes from Norse mythology, is something like a Native American totem animal spirit, something like a guardian angel.)

Only our former Vikings are not animals all the time, because what kind of punishment would that be?  They are men half the time, animals half the time, transforming at sunrise and sunset.  Some are men by day and critters by night, for others it's the opposite.  Some retain more human cognizance and control over their actions, when in animal form, and others are wholly subsumed by the beast.  Only to discover when they reassume human form they have done terrible things to innocent victims (or even their own Viking crewmates).

Oh, and if you didn't guess from the title (Immortal Brotherhood) they're immortal - which means they can be harried, wounded, and painfully hurt, without having the surcease of death.  There is a way to break the spell, and assume human form and mortality again, but it's far from easy, and requires the active cooperation of a soul-mate (who may or may not have paranormal powers of her own).

Lisa was kind enough to steal some time away from her current writing schedule to discuss the series with me.

Warrior takes place during the time of William Rufus, after the Norman Conquest (1096); Outlaw during the birth of the Robin Hood/Maid Marian legends, about 1290; Champion during the period 1407-1411, when the first Lancastrian king, Henry of Bolingbroke, ruled England.  Defender, due out in summer of 2012, is set in late Elizabethan England.  The books to follow will bring the reader and the heroes through to modern day, always linked to legends and stories of the time in which they are set.

One of the things I loved about these books is Lisa gets the history right.  I love visiting the Renaissance Faire, but when I spot "Ye Olde ATM" or use a privy I am vividly reminded this is only make-believe.  (Not that I would prefer an historically accurate trench to an Andy Gump.)  This is a pet peeve of mine in historical fiction, silly anachronisms that knock me painfully out of the story.

With these books, I felt fully absorbed in the clothing, buildings, attitudes, and artifacts of the time.  Lisa mentioned being similarly jolted herself, reading a description in a book of the heroine in a velvet dress, over two hundred years before velvet was invented.  (Yes, she does do research down to that level, that she can actually tell us when velvet became a popular fabric.)

F'rinstance - in Immortal Outlaw, there is a scene where Marian has to read a parchment that has been rolled up in a tin container for several years.  She blows on it, so that the moisture in her breath will soften it enough that she can unroll it.  (Of course parchment would become stiff, even brittle over time - you already knew that, right?)  In another scene, Marian bathes in a stream, while wearing her chainse (a long-sleeved, billowy undergarment worn by both men and women), washing herself (and engaging in other naughtiness) without removing it.  Because a noblewoman of that era would never totally strip down and bathe in a stream.

If you look very, very closely at the covers of these books, you will see within the silhouette of the animal shadow, an image of a castle or manor that is absolutely authentic for the period in which that novel takes place.  (Because Lisa pointed 'em in the right direction.  She's even offered a map of where the action takes place.)

This impressive attention to historical detail makes the reading experience so much more enjoyable for me.  Although her extensive research does create the problem of making the writing process considerably slower for Lisa than for someone who writes, say, genre contemporary romance.  (I want to read all the Immortal Brotherhood books, and I want them now!  Stomping foot!)

One compromise Lisa makes - although period slang and vocabulary, including Norse terms like jarl and fylgja are sprinkled into each novel, the language she uses is contemporary English.  Which is a good thing, because it means a contemporary reader, like me, doesn't need a translator.  Note from Lisa: I use contemporary English, but work hard NOT to include words that came into the language significantly after the period of each book.  I kind of had to let it slide up into Middle English or so - definitely not past 1500, but I limited Warrior more than the others.  I get all sorts of new words for Defender!

Each hero, though he shares a Viking background and is similarly cursed, is different from the others in personality and appearance.  His fylgja suits him.  Brand (bear) is a strong, powerful leader; Ari (raven) is a storyteller and magickally gifted; Rorik (dog) and Kjell (stag) are scamps; Steinarr (lion) and Ivar (eagle) are more traditional loner heroes.  Jafri (wolf) and Torvald (stallion) are loyal friends.

Gunnar (bull), of Immortal Champion, is Lisa's favorite character (so far).  Although he is not the smartest hero, nor the boldest, he is kind and strong and possesses a special, almost innocent sweetness.

Her favorite moment in her novels is when Eleanor finds Gunnar in Eden Dene, in the cave.  Where these two lovers who've been separated by fate and circumstance are able to join together, at last.  Anyone who's ever lost a love, then found him or her again, should be able to relate.

So, Lisa is currently fleshing out Immortal Defender, Torvald's story.  (She confided her delight to me that the sword he's using on this cover is perfect for the era in which this story is set, even if he'd probably use a more formal scabbard.)

For those as geeky-obsessive as me when it comes to the historical details, when you read these books, you'll get an even better glimpse of Lisa's deep research in the notes which follow.

She does have ideas for other book series, but wants to take care of her Immortal heroes, first, a plan with which I wholeheartedly concur.  And she's got so many favorite childhood memories I couldn't get her to disclose just one.

If you've read her other interviews, you'll know that Brand came to her, in a dream, demanding that his story - and those of his crew - be told.  Who could refuse a tall, sexy, powerful Viking?

One more point about why I love these books.  Despite the richness of historical detail, and the wonder of the paranormal elements, at their heart, they're romances.  A (cursed) man and a very special woman fall in love, and despite some formidable obstacles, they find ways to be together.  (Some very exciting, erotic ways, I might add.)

Now - your turn.  What did you love (or what intrigues you) about these books?  What was your favorite line or scene?  Which hero (or heroine) would you most like to meet in the flesh?  Or, what question(s) should I have asked Lisa that I was too starstruck to think of?

Leave a comment, below, and you may just win a set if Immortal Brotherhood Romance Trading cards (you want these, they're HAWT!) and an autographed copy of Immortal Champion.