I’ve been very lax with regards to my promised series outlining my inspiration for each of the key characters in the Cavalier, but today, all by myself in Oxford getting prepared for the wedding on Saturday, I’ve written a little something on Fea in an attempt to keep myself calm.
Name: Fea (if she ever had a surname or title, it’s lost to the midsts of time. As a peasant woman in a BC world, she may well not have done)
Age: Born around 150 BC, turned in her late twenties
Place of birth: Ireland
Maker: “The Maker”
Offspring: Her only offspring are the Rick and Alife, the “Visigoth Goth Twins,” although all of the Roundheads owe their loyalty to her rather than directly to their makers. Spoiler for Screaming Spires (highlight to see) – she also turned Sam, Harriet’s father.
Current Role: Head of the Roundheads. Unlike the Cavaliers, she doesn’t try to live a normal life and fit into society. She’s quite content as your classic vampire queen.
Special powers and talents: Has all of the usual mental and physical powers to a very high degree. She also seems to have some talent for seduction and bending people to her will that goes beyond the normal vampire abiilities. Perhaps her most notable talent is an ability to read minds, and in particular, to tell whether or not someone is telling the truth. It’s flawless on humans and pretty powerful on most vampires. Finally, like Augustine, she’s protected by the Maker’s spells, and can only be killed be a combination of the Piso Treasures and a blood sacrifice.
Fea grew out of two basic concepts.
Firstly, that while it’s fun to have someone like Augustine who is seemingly more powerful than anyone and almost undefeatable, it’s more fun if they have one, single nemesis who is more or less a match for them. Every Sherlock needs a Moriarty, basically.
Secondly, there’s something endlessly fascinating about glamorous female villains, whether it’s Morgana le Fey in the Arthurian legends, or Cruella de Ville in 101 Dalmatians. This is something that Celtic mythology tends to be very good at, and from her name to her appearance, Fea was very much rooted in this sort of tradition. I suspect that when someone has lived for over 2000 years and made their home in various parts of the world over the centuries, their original nationality becomes slightly academic, but she is definitely meant to be Irish in origin.
Looks-wise, my starting point was this painting, but even before I saw this, I imagined her with flowing red hair and bright green eyes. That’s just how glamorous villainesses are meant to look, don’t-cha-know.
I agonised over her name for ages – probably more than for any other character, and I think the naming process actually says a lot about my thoughts on the character, In all the early drafts, she was referred to as Lilith, who is a character that there are various stories about across a few different cultures. In some western traditions, she was Adam’s first wife, and like most first wives, got a bit of a raw deal. In some semi-related myths, she is considered as the mother of vampires. Unfortunately, I’d already used Lilith for the name of Harriet’s college. I was tempted by Morgana, but it seemed a bit too obvious. My second choice would have been Morrigan, who is basically a Celtic goddess of war and chaos, but firstly, she is usually portrayed as a trinity (sometimes the mother/maiden/crone idea, sometimes just three ass-kicking warrior women), which while it would have been awesome if I could have pulled it off, would have confused things and required some major plot alterations.
I therefore did a bit of research into the various entities that have at one point or another been regarded as constituent parts of the Morrigan, and also into borderline evil celtic goddesses and spirits more generally. One of my favourites was Annan (if only because I love the fact there are two round hills in Ireland referred to as the Paps of Anu) but when I came across Fea (who was incredibly obscure, and who I’ve struggled to find references too again since) I just had this sense (however often my spellchecker tried to stick an R on the end) that I’d found the right name.
A major part of Fea is therefore this concept of a goddess of chaos. She enjoys conflict because it amuses her, and whether it’s international wars or struggles between her subordinates, she often manufactures it.
The other main facet of the character is that she fundamentally likes to be adored, even worshipped. And as she’s charming, beautiful, and powerful, most people who meet her fall a little in love with her, despite her cruelty. The problem is that she finds it so difficult to comprehend the idea that anyone could fail to adore her, that she is at risk of letting her guard down too easily. Part of her obsession with Augustine is the classic issue of “the one who got away.” She finds it almost incomprehensible that he could have chosen his human wife over her, and wants revenge for that slight almost as much as for the later murder of her daughter.
It’s also crucial to remember that Fea isn’t just a pretty face. A key aspect of the character is that in both strength and mental power, she is Augustine’s equal, thanks to being a similar age, also being made by the Maker, and the fact that they both have his extra powers and protective spells inside them – in Augustine’s case, by killing and draining him, in Fea’s, by carrying his child.
Much like Augustine, I conceived Fea more as the embodiment of a trope than as a fully-fleshed out character. She’s only hinted at in Book One, and in both her brief appearance in the prologue of Book Two and in other characters’ references to her, she is fairly two-dimensional – beautiful, evil and obsessed with power and revenge.
Over the course of Ivory Terrors, while I’d never go so far as to suggest she becomes actively sympathetic (I mean, keeping human prisoners in your dungeons just isn’t cool and neither was killing Augustine’s first wife) I like to think she becomes both more fleshed out and a little more ambiguous, both in her modern day scenes:
One nervous look at Fea’s face told her she didn’t have to. Her strangely sympathetic expression suggested that she understood Harriet’s feelings all too well.
“There’s no one quite so unthinking as a person in love,” Fea mused.
And in particular, in her interactions with Augustine in the distant past.
A beautiful baby girl lay in a cot. She couldn’t have been more than a year old, but already, the bright green eyes and the shock of red hair marked her as her mother’s child.
“My little Cassia. Isn’t she beautiful? I’ve had to bluff and lie and mesmerise to gain and hold any position, but she’ll grow up to be a fine lady. She’ll marry the most powerful man in the Empire, and she’ll govern him from the bedroom.”
If Fea’s words sounded cynical, the way she stroked her daughter’s hair demonstrated her genuine love.
The second Fea saw him, she threw her arms around him.
“I knew you’d come back. I’m just sorry that it took so long and that you’ve suffered so much in between. I wanted to find you, to beg you to live with us, but the Maker told me to wait. He said you needed to recover and seek us out in your own time.”
And of course, you have to have a little sympathy for her over the murder of her child – not to mention a little touch of doubt over whether Augustine can have done that and still be classed as the (relatively) good character in their pairing.
He tried not to think about it. The blow had been sudden enough that she couldn’t have felt any fear or known that he had betrayed her. He’d seen no pain in her eyes, but the agony on her parents’ faces had overwhelmed him. Killing the Maker had been simple; he’d been in such shock.
The look of hatred and horror on Fea’s face had almost destroyed him. It would have been the work of seconds to slip the blade into her while she lay curled up sobbing on the floor. For centuries afterwards, he couldn’t decide whether he’d spared Fea out of mercy or to extend her suffering.
One final thought. Unlike Augustine who was a great general, and unlike most of the Cavaliers, who were aristocrats in the early years and great minds in the later ones, Fea was basically an ordinary peasant woman who learnt a little magic and got in over her head when she summoned the Maker. In this, as well as in the more obvious matter of her gender, she has more in common with both Adelaide and Harriet than either do with most of the other vampires.
I can’t help but suspect that given enough time and the right conditions, certainly Adelaide and possibly even Harriet could morph into someone like Fea. And that’s going to be the key theme of my next book, the Separation of Powers – at what point does a ruthless and ambitious but fundamentally decent women cross the line towards villainess?