by Margaret Rogerson
In my video, I spoke a little bit about how difficult it was for me to come up with a new idea for a second standalone novel after finishing my debut, and how my childhood love of magical libraries ended up inspiring Sorcery of Thorns. Coming up with the worldbuilding behind Austermeer’s Great Libraries ended up being one of the most fun parts of the book. I started with a basic premise: I wanted the libraries to be magical, and I wanted the librarians to wield swords. I also wanted the worldbuilding to act as a homage to my favorite libraries in novels like Harry Potter and Lirael, while at the same time expressing new and original ideas.
A big part of how I worldbuild is by asking myself “what if” questions that build from the initial premise. I also try to put myself in the perspective of a reader, not an author, and imagine the kinds of things I would hope to see in the book based on its description. The first thing I knew was that the libraries needed to be dangerous to explain why the librarians carry swords. What if the books themselves were dangerous? But the image of a librarian fighting a book with a sword seemed way too ridiculous, and wouldn’t facilitate good action scenes. So what if the books could turn into monsters instead? That would solve my problem. Now I needed to come up with what kind of monsters these were. What if they retained physical traits from their original book forms, like leather skin, and bled ink instead of blood? And what if some of the monsters were larger and deadlier than others—could the libraries have a classification system and different methods of containing each category of grimoire? Soon I had come up with Maleficts, and was well on my way to structuring the Great Library system.
Other ideas came from real-life sources. For example, I created the larger-than-average booklice after reading about a 17th century library in Portugal where bats live behind the shelves as a form of pest control. It got me thinking, “what kind of weird pests would live in a magical library, and how hard would they be to deal with?” And the idea of the grimoires contracting magical ailments like Brittle-Spine came from a story I read a long time ago, about a mold outbreak in a library’s special collections unit that destroyed a bunch of rare manuscripts.
Not everything turned out how I wanted it to on the first try. A lot of my ideas from the first draft ended up changing or getting cut entirely, like an early concept that the librarians used their own kind of magic called libramancy. The libraries were also initially a lot more steampunk in feel, with archivists who were magically animated automatons. (Some of the steampunk influences did survive with the clockwork security measures at Harrows, and in small details like the Royal Library’s pneumatic tubes.) Ultimately, while those ideas were cool, a clearer divide between the sorcerers and completely nonmagical, anti-magic wardens worked better for the plot’s central conflict.