Spiral Hunt uncovers the secret of this hidden magic order

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Fantasy author Margaret Ronald said that her debut novel, Spiral Hunt, is a "secret history" fantasy, which raises the question of why it's secret.

"If there is such a thing as magic, if people can twist the laws of physics to their will, then why aren't the magicians in charge?" Ronald said in an interview. "One way to handle that is to say that they are in charge and just very good at covering it up. I wanted to go the other way, though, to figure out how magic could be present and still not helpful in any practical sense."

So Ronald created the "undercurrent," the seedy and dangerous underworld of magic in Boston. "I tried to give the impression of magic being something that bred paranoia and instability, with as many separate varieties as there were magicians, and that the magicians themselves were paranoid obsessives, incapable of acting in concert," she said.

With magic confined to an underground movement, Ronald started wondering about what could make those "paranoid obsessive" magicians band together. She reasoned that if magicians only cared about power, then the only thing that could bind them to a common cause was a common power. From that came the idea of the Fiana, a society drawing on a source of illegitimate power.

The plot of the novel follows Evie Scelan, a woman who can track anything by scent, who has always tried to keep a distance between her personal life and the magical undercurrent that runs through Boston. A phone call from a former lover calls her isolation into question, and when his body turns up with a strangely altered face and covered in spirals and runic ink, Evie has no choice but to go straight into the undercurrent.

"With the help of Brendan, a man who claims to be a friend of her old flame, Evie finds that ... the Fiana may be to blame," Ronald said. "But the deeper she goes, the murkier the alliances become, until even the motives of her closest friends come into question."