Launch: Cryssa Bazos’s Rebel’s Knot

INTERVIEW BY M.N. STROH

Award-winning historical fiction author, Cryssa Bazos, is no stranger to the world of the seventeenth century. She shares her enthusiasm for the time period through her standalone series, Quest for the Three Kingdoms. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot was the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award for Historical Fiction, and a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards for Historical Romance. Her second novel, Severed Knot, was a B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree and a finalist for the 2019 Chaucer Award. Rebel’s Knot is the third instalment in Quest for the Three Kingdoms.

Using the classic ‘elevator pitch’ how would you describe your book’s premise in two sentences?

After surviving an ambush of English marauders, Áine Callaghan meets Irish soldier Niall O’Coneill—who vows to get revenge for the family he lost in the same attack. But when unexpected feelings bloom, can he protect Áine from her past and the web of treachery that threatens to destroy them?

I understand this is the third novel in a stand-alone series. Can you tell us a bit about that and how Rebel’s Knot fits in the series, yet stands apart?

Each novel explores an aspect of the English Civil War, which is also known as the War of the Three Kingdoms because the conflict expanded beyond England to Scotland and Ireland. Rebel’s Knot is linked to the second in the series, Severed Knot, by a common dramatic event. In Rebel’s Knot, Irish soldier Niall O’Coneill is travelling back to his hidden camp and, upon finding troubling signs of English activity, takes a detour to check on his sister, Mairead, who is staying with their uncle. When he arrives, he finds devastation: the English have murdered his kinsmen and have spirited the women away, including his sister. This sets him on the road to vengeance, determined to kill the men who destroyed his family.

In visiting your website, I see you have a particular interest in 17th century England. What lured you to write about Ireland in this story?

I was obsessed with stories about Ireland well before I ever started writing. England’s conquest of Ireland was a particularly heartbreaking chapter of the War of the Three Kingdoms, brought on not only to cut off support for the exiled Charles Stuart (later Charles II), but also for a host of other reasons, religious and financial. I was fascinated by how the Irish brigades used their knowledge of the land to fight the English, using strike-and-run guerilla tactics, until their resources ran out and they were forced to surrender. The desperation of their situation intrigued me, and I wanted to explore it further.

Did you find a particular character you identified with or built a close connection to during the writing process?

My main character Áine grew over each draft, and she has earned a special place in my heart. Áine is a survivor—she previously had a hard life and survived abuse by those who should have protected her. At the beginning of the novel, Áine’s haven is completely destroyed, and she has to start again, only now she’s in the middle of a war. Áine copes through stories, which help her make sense of her world, and storytelling becomes a refuge for her. This, of course, is the magic of stories. They allow us to retreat into another, safer world and help us understand tragedy and loss.

Was there a scene or historical event in your story that presented a unique challenge to write?

Years before the story opens, Áine escaped an abusive situation and started a new life far from Cork. During Rebel’s Knot, her past returns to haunt her, and eventually she must confront her abuser. This was one of the first scenes I knew I had to write, but it was one of the last scenes I did. I believe I shied away from it because it was so emotionally charged. In the early attempts to get the scene down, I kept shifting focus away from Áine to another character, and I think it was my way of shielding her. But she didn’t need shielding. She had come to that place to defeat her personal dragon, and all I needed to do was step out of her way.

In your research, did you come across any interesting facts or tidbits that you knew had to be included in your story?

Given how fierce religious lines were drawn, it surprised me to learn that there were Irish Catholics who crossed enemy lines to become English informants. They would have done so as a matter of survival and an attempt to preserve their interests. I also found a reference to a cousin of Edmund O’Dwyer (the commander of the Irish forces in Tipperary and Waterford) being an English spy. After further digging, he appears to have been an English informant during the Irish Rebellion years earlier. But this incident started me thinking about the men who turned against their own people, a betrayal more acute as many of the soldiers in the brigades would have been bound by ties of kinship.

What inspired you to write historical fiction?

History has always fired my imagination, and historical fiction has been my favorite genre since I first read Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. History helps to make sense of current events and provide context; fiction adds flesh and blood to those who struggled in the past and allows us to walk in their shoes.

Is there a particular take-away that you hope readers draw from Rebel’s Knot?

I hope readers will be both entertained by the romantic adventure and informed about a period in Ireland’s history that is underrepresented in historical fiction. My (not-so) secret hope is that readers will gain an appreciation for the seventeenth-century and the dramatic events of the Stuart Age that shaped our modern era.

What is the last great book you read?

The Sins of the Father by Annie Whitehead.

 

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