For most book lovers, there’s no fantasy more alluring than that of the magical library. From “Beauty and the Beast” to Harry Potter, the massive roomful of books holding secret knowledge has an indelible place in our collective imagination. Margaret Rogerson is no exception: Her second novel, Sorcery of Thorns, concerns a murder committed in one such library and the intrepid librarian who sets out to solve it.
Abandoned on the steps of the Great Library as a baby, Elisabeth Scrivener grew up surrounded by books of sorcery but believing the knowledge they held was evil. When her mentor is murdered and she’s the main suspect, Elisabeth is forced out of the library and into a world with very different beliefs about magic, knowledge, and polite behavior for young ladies.
Rogerson’s library is a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, it’s egalitarian and meritocratic, with people of all types rising to positions of power; on the other hand, many of those powerful people are clinging to outdated ideas about the world. As Elisabeth actually meets sorcerers and the demons who allow them to use magic, she finds that much of what she’s been told about them is at least profoundly skewed if not entirely untrue. That journey mirrors Rogerson’s own upbringing in a conservative Christian community. “As a teenager, I was discovering a lot of things about the world that were very contrary to what I had always been told as absolute truth,” she says.
Unfortunately, not all of Elisabeth’s realizations are pleasant ones—she also encounters sexism for the first time. Polite society is shocked by her physical strength, her forthrightness, and even her height. For the first time, her gender is used to undermine her. In the 19th century, Rogerson explains, “It was actually quite easy to get women committed and declared insane for absolutely ridiculous reasons like, ‘Oh they read too many novels so their brain has become inflamed.’ ” Elisabeth is perfectly comfortable fighting off demons but is at a loss for how to counteract these more insidious threats.
She does, however, find two allies: sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn and his demon servant Silas. The relationships among these three characters—naïve but determined librarian, prickly but powerful sorcerer, and otherworldly demon—form the emotional center of the novel. “The message of [the book] is that nonromantic love can be just as powerful if not more powerful than romantic love,” Rogerson says. The platonic bonds Nathaniel and Elisabeth have with Silas are just as important as the romantic bond between the two humans.
That message is an important one to Rogerson, who identifies as asexual and aromantic. “There’s a part of me that has always felt like I’m a different species from the world that I live in,” she says. Living in a society oriented around forming romantic partnerships can be alienating for someone who has no interest in those types of relationships, and it’s given Rogerson an interest in beings who live by very different rules than humans — the demons in Sorcery of Thorns and the Fae in An Enchantment of Ravens (2017).
Nonetheless, romance is a central aspect of Rogerson’s novels, and Elisabeth and Nathaniel make an endearing pair. “For me, writing about romance is almost like writing about magic in a way,” Rogerson says. “It’s something that I personally do not experience but is fun to imagine.”
Alex Heimbach is a writer and editor in California.