Very nice to be reviewed by well-known reviewer and blogger “The Momma Spot.” Some highlights from the review and our discussion are below. The link to her site and the full item are at: https://themommaspot.home.blog/2022/02/15/mark-of-the-bear-clan/
A fantastical beginning to a magical series. A perfect blend if fantasy and Finnish Mythology. This has been an introduction to Finnish Mythology and it’s extremely fascinating. We follow Väinämöinen, Ulla and Egan as they attempt to save the world. The world building is phenomenal, a completely immersible atmospheric experience like I’ve never seen before. Definitely a plot driven novel, however, the character development wasn’t lacking. A medium paced book that you can take your time with. The plot is unique and will keep you guessing. Overall, I thought it was a really good book.
Q&A With David
1. What was behind the inspiration to write Mark Of The Bear Clan? I had the opportunity to live in Finland for many years and became interested in Finnish folklore and myth. The beautiful Finnish language is not related to the Indo-European languages, but exists as part of a completely separate language group, and the Finns have their own distinct oral legends and traditions that aren’t part of Norse or Germanic folklore. The most famous and well known work of Finnish folklore is the Kalevala, a 19th Century compilation of oral stories about famous Finnish folk heroes from ancient times. It’s filled with heroes, villains, magic, spells, mythical creatures and races, and played a huge role in the awakening of Finnish national consciousness and eventual independence. Although hundreds of fantasy series are based on Norse myth and well known characters like Odin, Thor, Loki, etc., but outside of Finland, few know much (if anything) about the Kalevala. So that was my inspiration, I wanted to write an epic fantasy that was inspired by this amazing body of Finnish folklore, that reflects the harsh environment in the far north and Finns’ connection with nature so very well. I hope I capture in my series at least a little bit of the beautiful, melancholy spirit of Finnish nature and its attendant myths and legends. And I hope my work will spark interest in the English-speaking world in Finnish myths.
2. Who was your favorite character to create? And why? Well, it has to be Ulla, my main protagonist. The characters in The Mark of the Bear Clan are a combination of actual characters from Finnish legends and original characters that I created. Ulla is all mine, but at the same time, she’s perhaps the most ‘Finnish’ of any character in the entire series. The archetypical Finnish personality is rather stoic, quiet, somewhat pessimistic, and yet filled with a constant sense of wonderment at nature and also possessed of a certain quality called “Sisu” in Finnish, that roughly translates as a fierce determination in the face of any odds, an overwhelming will to succeed or perish in the attempt. That’s Ulla in a nutshell. She’s just a little girl in The Mark of the Bear Clan and still coming to terms with her own hopes, desires, and destiny, but as the series progresses, she matures into a young woman of stern purpose, proud bearing, and a fierce sense of duty in a seemingly hopeless cause. I admire those characteristics; to me, that’s the essence of the heroic spirit in legend and fantasy, and it doesn’t mean that the hero isn’t conflicted, afraid, or uncertain, but that despite human frailty, they overcome these challenges and don’t give up.
3. Väinämöinen is such a unique and powerful presence in the book. Who was your inspiration behind him and his magic? Väinämöinen is straight out of the Kalevala, he’s the main hero in the Finnish oral traditions, so I can’t take any credit for creating him. My spin on Väinämöinen was that I wanted to portray him as the archetypical Finnish shaman and singer, but also develop a character that was relatable to readers; I didn’t want him to be too distant or remote. I tried to instill a strong sense of humor in him, a certain pride that wasn’t arrogant, but did lead to him having a prickly temper, and above all, kindness. As far as his magic is concerned, all the magic in my world is based on the ancient Finns’ beliefs that shamans could work spells by singing songs about the origins of things and where they came from. If you knew where iron came from, you could master it and create a sword that would remain strong in the depths of winter and cut through any other. If you knew where fire came from, you could call on it and spark a flame with a word or a chanted rhyme, or conversely, put out a blaze that threatened to burn down your house. If you knew where disease came from (from a spirit in the underworld), you could master it with a song and heal someone by banishing it from their body or trapping it in a stone or hole. So the songs that Väinämöinen and the other wizards use as spells are taken directly from the conception of the early Finns and how they viewed the supernatural.
4. Who is your favorite author/genre/series? I’m obviously a huge Tolkien fan and LOTR has affected my life in many ways. My own fantasy style contains very heavy world building like Tolkien, but is more lyrical and probably more like Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Earthsea” trilogy, another classic fantasy. Her melancholy, somewhat philosophical style influenced me greatly. I like classic fantasy works in general, although I do read contemporary fantasy, too. I really like the Katherine Arden ‘Winter of the Witch” books. But I like a lot of stuff, from classic Russian and Victorian novels, to historical fiction, to sci fi and dystopian literature.
5. What’s your ideal writing space? I can write anywhere, probably out of necessity. I’m a diplomat and wrote the three-volume Far Northern Land Saga, of which The Mark of the Bear Clan is the first installment, over a period of many years. From Finland to Iraq during the height of the conflict there, to Yokohama and Tokyo Japan–I wrote the books, literally, all over the world and in many different environments. Subway trans in Japan, armoured vehicles in the Iraqi desert, a bench in the forest in the Finnish woods; I always had my note book handy. So I’m pretty adaptable in that sense and can lose myself in my work just about anywhere. But again, that may be a result of necessity vice any special ability.
6. What do you have in the works? The Mark of the Bear Clan is Book I of a trilogy. The second and third books–The Heir of Lemminkäinen and The Queen of Pohjola–will be out around the holidays and in early 2022, respectively. I think there’s a good chance that the world I created, the Far Northern Land, still holds some tales that I’ll discover in the future. But I write in other genres beside fantasy and am working on a book right now that’s part literary fiction/part dystopian fiction, about the possibility and consequences of immortality–de facto biological immortality–on human beings in the not so distant future.
7. What’s the biggest obstacle you face when writing? I think I touched on it earlier. My career as a Foreign Service Officer is pretty hectic sometimes, and like so many other writers, simply finding time to clear my mind and get in the zone, as it were, is a constant challenge. But perhaps I’ve adapted. A few pages here and there, written in unlikely places and circumstances, became a 1000-page saga. Not so bad an effort. : )
Huge thanks to David & DartFrog Books for my gifted copy. To grab one for yourself click the link below! Also be on the lookout for the next book in the series, The Heir of Lemminkäinen, coming soon!