Heartsglass and Runes: Rin Chupeco talks THE BONE WITCH


There are few things I love more than a fantasy book with beautiful worldbuilding, which meant that The Bone Witch was a must-read for me. Rin Chupeco’s newest fantasy novel is out now, and I had the pleasure of interrogating – er, interviewing her about all of the incredible aspects of her world.

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, but forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles… and make a powerful choice.

The Bone Witch is available now.

The Bone Witch hit shelves earlier this month! Can you tell us about our leading lady Tea and what a bone witch is?
A bone witch is basically someone who can resurrect the dead and can dabble in Dark magic. Most magic within the series deals with both elemental and passive runes, but Dark runes are something of a taboo, mostly because they’re associated with the Faceless, a group of rogues who wants chaos and wants to resurrect the dead god they worship. Dark asha are necessary, but they’re constantly being watched because of the corruption the runes bring them – if they don’t survive to old age, they take in too much power than is safe, and go insane.

Tea comes into her apprenticeship being fully aware of all these things, and part of the reason why she constantly rebels against the elders and tests her limits is because she believes there’s another option to the fate they seem content to decide for her. That determination is a driving force behind her need to become stronger, and it changes her from the optimistic, compassionate girl she used to be into the cold, fatalistic woman readers first meet in the opening chapter.

In The Bone Witch, there’s different types of magic; Tea works heavily with elemental magic and necromancy. Can you tell us a bit about the magic system and how you developed it? What kind of magic would you like to have?
The magic system is completely rune-dependent. These runes are considered the language of the old gods, and only a small handful of them are known today. Spellbinders write them in the air for invocation, and each rune has a certain effect – one might create fire, and another might draw out water, or cause earthquakes. Whether one can channel runes is dependent on the type of heartsglass they possess. Silver heartsglass can use most of them, while purple can only use lesser, more passive runes.

Combining these runes can also produce completely different effects – you can mix earth runes and water runes to create mud, for example. Alter the degree of each rune weave by making earth stronger than water, and you could quicksand instead. Sizes play a role, too. Drawing the runes to be as tall as you are will make the magic more powerful, but smaller runes will be easier to craft especially when you’re fighting in battle and need to be quick.

Necromancy is more straightforward, though limited. Dark asha can only use Dark runes, but they’re pretty powerful. One rune can raise the dead, and another can bind them to you as familiars. With enough strength, you can resurrect a small army, but necromancy has a lot of limits. Draw too much, and it becomes a corrupting influence, making you want to draw more and more of it until it consumes you. Dark runes can also summon daeva, undead monsters that self-resurrect and go on a rampage every few cycles. Dark asha can control them to an extent, and can therefore put them down easier. Other asha have been known to defeat daeva using only elemental runes, but a lot of casualties tend to occur by the time they do.

People literally wear their hearts around their necks. Why? And what made you decide to build that sort of vulnerable world?
I’ve always wondered if the world would become a little less complicated if people could see other people’s emotions and act accordingly. If someone makes an offputting remark and sees another person hurt by them, would that influence his future interactions with the latter? Would he consider his words better next time?

I’ve since come to the conclusion that it would make little difference. Most people tend to misinterpret what they see in others, even when it seemed obvious. Sometimes people deliberately misunderstand, so they can feel better about their own actions. In The Bone Witch, heartsglass serve three main purpose: to find and recruit silver-hearted Deathseekers and asha, to make illnesses and conditions easier to diagnose and treat, and as a subtle form of social hierarchy. People are proud to have silver and purple heartsglass in the family, and it has been good at keeping most forms of bigotry at bay. If you have the same red heartsglass as most everyone else, it’s very difficult to feel superior. It’s a very physical symbol of love as well – people trade heartsglass at their weddings, to show the level of trust they have with each other.

Of course, there are drawbacks. Spells can be used to compromise your heartsglass, and people well versed in runes can use compulsion on you. People CAN’T unwillingly give away their heartsglass, but all one needs to take advantage of an opponent is an unfaithful spouse, and that can prove devastating. Heartforgers exist mainly for this – they can restore heartsglass and even forge new ones by extracting oftentimes rare memories from people. Heartsglass plays an important part in the next book, and will highlight the importance of heartforgers in the kingdoms.

But understanding emotions even when you have a guide around your neck is still fairly difficult – Tea, for example, becomes very good at treating sicknesses because she learns to read heartsglass effectively, but still has trouble reading and accurately interpreting emotion even when it comes to people she’s close to, especially when those emotions are because of her. This also proves difficult when it comes to understanding her brother Fox who, being technically dead, no longer has a heartsglass to speak of.

You flip between two different versions of Tea in your writing: present-day Tea and past Tea. How did you keep the timelines straight while drafting? Is it something that came naturally to you?
I usually write the past timeline first, and then write the present timeline when I’ve at least finished the corresponding chapter. I already know how I want the story to end for both timelines, so it’s simply a matter of linking up the present chapter with its past counterpart. I try to make both very similar in theme and conflict, so that it’s easier to associate one with the other when reading.

So. Undead gigantic demon beasts are awesome and terrifying. Would you want one in real life or would it be more a distraction than an asset?
I would say that I would like a pet gigantic demon beast, preferably unicorn or manatee-shaped, only if I’m able to control any destructive behaviors they may have. If that requirement’s met, then I’m fairly sure any assets will soon outweigh any disadvantages. I’m a Chaotic Good sort of girl.

What else do you want readers to know about The Bone Witch?
The Bone Witch is, at its heart, about the close bond between siblings, where both are given a rare chance to do something very extraordinary with their lives (and in Fox’s case, unlife). The Bone Witch is also about understanding that who you used to be in the past can be very different from who you are now in the present, and that this is a normal thing to have happen to anyone. It doesn’t make you any better or worse – it just makes you, you.

What YA books would you recommend to those who enjoyed The Bone Witch and your other work?
YA Fantasy is amazing right now. Definitely check out A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, and if different timelines are your thing, Heidi Heilig’s sequel to The Girl from Everywhere, The Ship Beyond Time, is out now!

For all things horror, Dawn Kurtagich is your girl, and And the Trees Crept In is your book.

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Nicole Brinkley

Nicole is the editor of YA Interrobang. She has short hair and loves dragons. The rest changes without notice. Follow her on Twitter at @nebrinkley or Tumblr at nebrinkley. Like her work? Leave her a tip.

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