Fantasy author Cherie Priest says that her new novel, Fathom, has its roots in a vivid dream she had while vacationing near an abandoned old house.
"[The house was] boarded up and surrounded by trees, with the property's edge just barely out of high tide's reach," Priest said. "It was lovely and desolate, and we did a bit of asking around, eventually learning that no one had ever lived there. We never did get the rest of the story. ... [The dream] had something to do with a girl who was turned to stone and left behind that house—in a courtyard beside a fountain covered in bright Mexican tiles. In my dream she was watching and waiting for something; she was both a victim and a demigoddess. ... It was very strange, and it haunted me for years."
In the novel, a murder draws two young women into an epic conflict between an ancient water demon, who wishes to destroy the world, and the outcast earth elemental who wants to save it.
"Meanwhile, there are legendary pirates, a magical bell tower atop an iron mountain, ghosts, a restlessly slumbering god and a girl who is turned to stone," Priest said.
Fathom is the most wrenching story Priest has ever told, with the largest scope and the highest stakes, she said. "I didn't spin this one from scratch, that's for sure—I swiped elements of Judeo-Christian myths and I noodled around with some Middle Eastern legends, too, picking and choosing the things that I thought might work for the story," Priest said. "But I also added a few points of my own. I had to, because this is less about the Great Old Monsters than the things that came after them—the creatures small enough to survive between the cracks and hide there and thrive out of sight. ... In some ways this is a story about the changing of a supernatural guard, as a web of ancient balances and alliances begin to tip and change in favor of modern powers."
Up next for Priest is Those Who Went Remain There Still, which she describes as a "hillbilly monster story."