by Emily A. Duncan
Kalyazin and Tranavia are dangerous places to live. I wanted that danger to be ever present,
something that could be felt no matter where the characters were. Even if they were lucky enough to
avoid the warfront, there are still the monsters that lurk at the edges of the world to contend with and
death can come from any direction. The Vultures are one of my favorite parts of the book, and it wasn’t
until long after I had written the book that I realized I had taken elements from vampire lore that was
prevalent in Polish folklore and ran with it.
The Vultures are a Tranavian cult made up entirely of powerful blood mages. Chosen young, Vulture
recruits are taken to a place colloquially known as the Salt Mines to be trained. And by trained I do mean
have their memories wiped and to be twisted into monsters. (We don’t see the Salt Mines in Wicked
Saints, but we do journey to those depths in the second book in the trilogy.) The Vultures are far stronger
than average blood mages, but incredibly chaotic and impossible to control. I wanted a monster that was
built around blood—but wasn’t a vampire—something different, something more. Claws and fangs and
iron and power. A terrifying resilience and a will to survive. In Tranavia, the Vultures are revered to the
point that the fashions take after them, their leader has enough power to rival the king and it makes
Tranavian politics a fragile and complicated state of being. They are something more than human and in
Tranavia that is something to aspire to beyond all else.
But when you’re creating a monster you have to consider what it is that makes them terrifying,
what it is that makes them beautiful. The uncanny horror, the feeling that something is just slightly wrong
in a way that is impossible to place and instead just hovers at the edges of awareness was something I
wanted to capture with the Vultures. They can look perfectly human, perfectly average, they can hide
away all the monstrous parts about them and pretend to be nothing more than normal blood mages. But
they can’t hide everything; they can’t hide that innate sense of wrong that sparks when people see them.
They can’t hide the fact that their blood is different now, in a world where blood can be your whole world
or the reason you’re someone’s worst enemy.