Please welcome my guest, the lovely Tali Spencer! I loved Tali’s writing even before I got to know her. Since then, I’ve not only read every book she’s written in the MM genre (and one MF book I loved even though I’m not a big MF fan), I’ve also gotten to know her professionally and personally.
I was fortunate enough to beta read Thick as Thieves, and it’s one of my favorites. You can read my review here. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves well-written fantasy with real world-building and a sweet, sexy love story. You can purchase Thick as Thieves in ebook and paperback at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, AllRomanceEbooks, and lots of other booksellers.
So, without further ado, I give you the lovely Tali Spencer, and I’ll let her talk about how she built the amazing world in this wonderful book! -Shira
I knew early in writing Thick as Thieves that sex would be tied to magic in some way. Everything about the book was born because I wanted to have fun with those two things, from giving the story a hulking barbarian and pretty male thief as main characters to the idea that one of them was now magical because he’d had too good a time with a unicorn horn. It was all good fun. But I’m old-school when it comes to fantasy—and for me magic must be part of a whole world.
One of the fun things about creating worlds is creating the rules. Oh gosh, I love rules! When it comes to fantasy, rules drive character. Rules create conflict. Rules determine plot points and serve as guideposts.
So I created Vorgell the barbarian, Madd the pretty young witch, and the decadent city of Gurgh. I did that first, along with what I thought was an interesting situation. But once I had the characters in place and the situation well in hand, I knew I had to create some rules.
Without rules, magic is too easy. It would be like physics without rules: all of us would be floating above the ground to pick apples instead of climbing trees.
In Vorgell and Madd’s world, magic is a byproduct of life and even dark magic requires using the moment of death (for which life is a prerequisite) to summon creatures from the netherworld. Because it was useful to me that not everyone have access to magic, I made that ability dependent on having either a natural inclination—such as Madd, who is witchkin—or an acquired skill, which is what wizards do. Wizards in this world are necromancers.
And so it goes. To generate gender conflict, I made male witches differ from female witches in the nature of their magic. Male witches don’t produce much magic of their own and must obtain it by eating living things. This can get pretty disgusting and men who practice magic are frowned up. Madd being outcast from his own people makes even more sense as the reader becomes familiar with the magic system and the consequences of it, especially why witches dread the wizards and their necromancy… a perversion that requires live witches.
But where’s the sex, you might ask? Well, it’s there and plenty of it. Because of his adventure with a unicorn horn, Vorgell is now a walking repository of magic. He’s so overflowing with life magic, every part of his body is extra magical. This includes his semen. And Madd, clever witch that he is, knows exactly how to get some of that.
With the rules firmly in place, Vorgell and Madd’s odd partnership is positioned squarely at the heart of the magic system as they plunge into battle with witches and wizards alike, changing the world around them even as they simply try to save their own skins.
Blurb: After Vorgell the barbarian fucks himself with a unicorn horn, he ends up in a cell with Maddog, a pretty young thief. It’s lust at first sight for Vorgell—but honestly, he can’t help it. Unicorn horn is a potent aphrodisiac, and now he can’t stop thinking about sex. Luckily, Madd is one male witch who knows how to put Vorgell’s new magical body to good use when he tricks Vorgell into a kiss that helps them escape.
Vorgell may desire sex in general—and Madd in particular—but Madd has no intention of being screwed by a man twice his size. He has problems of his own, including an enchanted collar that causes him to desire his most hated enemy. He wants that collar off as soon as possible, but that requires stealing a basilisk egg from the castle they just escaped.
Drawn together by lust and magic, the two men join forces and soon find themselves up to their necks in witches, wizards, and trouble. Vorgell and Madd might just be perfect for each other, but first they have to survive long enough to find out.
“Do you know why witch Circles despise males who use magic?” Tagard addressed Vorgell, his deep eyes sparkling like those of a friendly tavern keeper.
“No, Tagard! For love of the moon—”
Vorgell cocked a look at Madd. Why was Madd protesting? “But I want to hear this,” he said.
Tagard apparently took that as reason enough to continue. “They look down on us because male witches don’t use magic the way witch women do. Magic comes from life, you see, and women are fashioned to create life, so they create magic also. That gift is why wizards hunt them. Collect them. Why they can use our women to breed fiends. But witch men… don’t create magic. Before we can use it, we must consume it.”
“Aw hells.” Madd looked ready to throw Tagard into the river. He shot Vorgell a look that said he wanted to leave before worse could be revealed.
“What do witch men consume for this magic?” Vorgell asked. He had a pretty good idea already… but if there was worse, he wanted to hear it. How bad could it be?
“Oh, anything that’s alive will suffice. Fresh and still living, of course, not cooked. Cooking destroys life, hence destroying the magic. Fruits picked off the tree or vine, and greens straight from the earth are good. But higher forms of life yield greater returns. Again, the meat must be alive… not cooked.” Tagard looked almost gleeful. “Worms will do. Fresh eggs or fish. Insects in season. I prefer big juicy slugs—or a jigger of hot blood—myself.”
Vorgell looked at Madd with fresh understanding of their situation. Telling Tagard about his magic-laced semen would be unwise.
“Are you happy now?” By the look of him, Madd was ready to give Tagard all the blood—or river slugs—he could handle. “Why the hell did you have to go and tell him that?”
“Because it’s something your friend needs to know if he’s to be among us. The land he comes from doesn’t have witches, not like us. He’s short of information. Here in Gurgh, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s what. Eating living things wanders close to necromancy, to wizards, the very thing witches hate most.” Tagard shrugged. “I didn’t strike out on my own because I like to eat nasty things. I eat them because I find magic to be useful. Witch Circles prefer their men magic-less. Domesticated. I’m not content to be that. And neither are you.” He clapped Madd on the shoulder and cocked Vorgell a grin. “I like this kid.”
Vorgell smiled. “So do I.”
“We witch men survive just fine—thrive, even—on the same food that sustains other men. We’re not that different. If you don’t like his eating habits, make it so he doesn’t need or want to use magic.”
“Are you saying he shouldn’t?” Vorgell waited on the answer. Madd simply stewed. Vorgell could tell he was irritated because they were talking about him as if he weren’t there, listening to every word.
“I’m saying magic is costly. Ambitious men, greedy men… combine them with magic and the results aren’t good. I’m much more afraid of twisted magic users than I am of twisted men. When magic twists you, it’s easy to lose your way. There’s a temptation to want more, use more. More death means more power. Where do you think the first wizards got their ideas?”