Alison DeLuca is the well-known author of the Steampunk series, ‘The Crown Phoenix’. This series has captured my imagination since I first read ‘The Night Watchman Express’, and she has just published the third book in the series, ‘Lamplighter’s Special’. My review of the series is posted on my book review blog, Best In Fantasy.
Alison is a master of character development. I love each and every one of her characters, feeling as if they were my dearest friends (or in some cases enemies). The premise of the series is extremely creative, involving all the finest elements of the Steampunk genre – magic, machines and the eternal battle with dark-forces. She manages to do this magnificently and neatly avoids devolving into formulaic kitsch as some rather popular pulp-novels have done.
Because I love her characters and their depth so much, I asked her to discuss the most unlikely and intriguing pair, Riki and Neil. Two people less like to make a romantic connection never lived, and yet their story has been one of my favorite threads in the saga.
A Sharp Left Turn
In my first book, Crown Phoenix: Night Watchman Express, the action changes in the middle of the book. I leave Miriam and Simon on the Night Watchman train, kidnapped and heading to a sinister, unknown destination.
Simon’s friend, Neil, heads off to the mythical island of Lampala. When I wrote the book, I based the geography on the country of Madeira. Beyond that, I wanted to completely avoid any trace of colonialism in my plot. The Lampalans had to be well-off with a thriving industry and their own government.
Neil reaches the island, thanks to the mechanics of the Crown Phoenix, a quantum typewriter. He is rescued by Riki, a girl who is very thin, energetic, and quite a pain in the behind.
Her parents are well-to-do, but they cannot control Riki. She is just one of those kids who was born yelling her head off, and she hasn’t stopped since. She gets bored easily, which probably means she is very intelligent. Furthermore, she is extremely loyal. Once Riki is your friend, she will stick by you through anything.
She can hardly believe, however, that Neil doesn’t immediately fall for her:
“Well, don’t worry. When you and I get married, you’ll be rich.”
Neil shot to his feet and dropped his sandwich onto the beach below, where it was picked up by a triumphant gull. “When we what?” he repeated in a strangled voice.
“When you marry me.” Riki smiled at him and swallowed the last of her sweet roll.
He huffed, catching his breath, and finally managed to say, “Oh, no, I’m not marrying you. No-ho. Mhp-hm.”
She looked up at him in astonishment. “You mean, you don’t want to marry me? Why not?”
“Because,” he responded, “you are, without a doubt, the rudest, most ill-mannered girl I have ever met in my entire life.”
She considered this. Her eyes turned into slits. “Well,” she finally retorted, “I’ve been nice to you today.
“Maybe. However, I’m not going to marry someone whose best claim to decent behavior is that they’ve ‘been nice today’. If I ever get married at all, that is.”
Both Riki and Neil run into Kyoge, one of the King’s Guards. I based Kyoge on a painting called, “The Moorish Chief.” He is tall and strong – a superbly athletic man. His physical prowess is matched by his shrewd wits. He, like Riki, is also very loyal. When he realizes that the true ruler of Lampala is alive and hidden on the island, he risks everything to help.
When I took that Sharp Left Turn, I knew it was a risk. Instead of following the plot and main character of the first section, I followed a new train of thought and a different set of people. Why did I do it? Not to torture my readers, but instead to increase the excitement of what followed. In that, I borrowed a page from one of my favorite children’s authors, Joan Aiken. She would reach the most exciting part of a scene and go to another set of characters. It kept me reading, agog, well past my bedtime, when I was ten years old.
I’m no Joan Aiken, but I do hope that readers enjoy my side trip to Lampala. I love the island, and I adored writing the story that happened there.
Alison DeLuca grew up on an organic farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Her parents were British, so in the summers she went to stay with her grandparents near Dublin.
There was no stereo or TV there, so Alison, her sister, and her cousins spent the summer inventing stories and plays for each other. “This gave me the ability to entertain myself with my own imagination in any situation,” she says. “We used to be taken to tea with great-aunts, and we were expected to sit on an uncomfortable couch and not move or say a word. It was possible to endure it because I was watching my own little stories play out in my mind.”
After graduating from West Chester University, Alison became a teacher of English and Spanish, teaching students from kindergarten up to college level. She loved teaching, and it was with reluctance that she left the classroom to be a fulltime mom when her daughter was born.
While she was teaching and raising her daughter, Alison took every free minute she had to write. The Crown Phoenix Series was the result.
She is currently working on the final book in the series, as well as several other projects.