Written by Leanna Renee Hieber
When crafting my magical system for The Eterna Files series, I wanted to present something unique and deeply personal in terms of how magic is wielded. My books are very character-driven, and characters cross from one series to the next, though each series is distinct and stands alone. One of the aspects that sets my Eterna series apart is the practical magical system I’ve created for the trilogy.
In the Eterna series, I champion the idea of localized magic as a defensive weapon. My characters create protective Wards that mix an area’s soil, air, and water, in addition to other identifying and power-invoking items, in a glass tube. The tube can then be set aflame or its contents pressed into a sachet or poultice. These Wards are placed strategically in a building or on a person to keep the Summoned—demons wielded by the antagonists—from getting too close. The variable ingredients depend on the location being defended and the person creating or carrying the Ward.
For example, in New York City, my protagonists combine shards of bone from a potter’s field and pieces of a dollar picked up on the floor of the stock exchange with the air, water, and soil. This acknowledges the extremes of poverty and wealth that have overarched the city since the Dutch colonists drove the Lenape tribe off Manhattan Island. The Wards—and my characters—do not shy away from horrors done on the land, but consider the creation of Wards as a representation of their desire to do better going forward. This is part of the personal journey of my heroine, Clara, as she struggles to ground a magic that must be based on land that was taken by force.
In another instance, a Salem, MA Ward, crafted by my characters in the first Eterna book, involves mixing water and air of the harbor that is vital to the town with also soil from haunted areas still scarred by the witch trials. To this is added a piece of a Hawthorne novel or other literary legacy, thus calling forth elements of both pride and shame, critical to the area’s identity and lasting power. The local Ward is then personalized by whoever wields it.
In Eterna and Omega, when my characters create a local Ward and then infuse their own meaning, energy, or prayers, or include bits of their own sacred talismans or beloved keepsakes in the Wards, the protective effects become exponentially stronger. I wanted the “magic” of the Eterna world to be tactile and accessible; something any layman could use, not rarified, not elite, but drawn from heart and hearth.
Adding to the theme of accessibility, my characters come from a range of racial, class, gender, faith, and sexual identities. They are united by location, living in New York, or in the case of my British team, in London. The Wards are a broad-based template focused on the idea of a place having its own energy and inherent worth. The Wards are personalized in many ways throughout the series.
While the power of place is furthered by the power of person, without those additional elements the Wards would still work because of the power inherent in the locations to begin with. Considering I write with Gothic flair, a critical aspect of that genre is bringing setting and locale to life as character in and of itself, so localized magic goes hand in hand with the visceral, palpable atmosphere I hope to create.
The power and practical magic that my characters wield is deeply emotional, often hard to wrestle with, and defies the world they once knew. Many of my characters shy away from using the word magic at all but consider their work an extension of their spiritual practice. They grapple with the same divine mysteries, the same great questions of life, death, and purpose that haunt all of us, no matter where we come from. That’s a universality I hope to maintain through every one of my stories.