From the moment I read the opening lines of Edge of Obsession, the first book in Megan Crane’s Edge series, I was hooked.
A hundred years ago, or so the stories went, the great Storms came over the course of a few tumultuous decades and kicked the world’s ass. Cities fell. Seas rose. People died.
A lot of people.
I’ve read all four books in the series including the soon to be released Edge of Power (Wulf’s story!) and relished them all. These books are deceptively addicting, the sort of stories you tear through and keep thinking about when you’re done. The world-building is satisfyingly rich and pulls no punches. I asked Megan if I could ask her some questions and she, thankfully, said yes.
Dabney: Hi Megan, thanks for talking with me.
I’ve so enjoyed your Edge series. I picked the first book in the series, Edge of Obsession, as my Best Book of 2017 and I’ve eagerly devoured all four books. What gave you the idea for futuristic Vikings in a world destroyed by climate change?
Megan: The idea actually came to me in a roundabout way. A few years back a few friends and I wanted to write a series of connected books about a New Orleans biker club. The proposal we put together featured writing that was a departure for me at the time. I started out writing chick lit, had shifted to writing Harlequin Presents, and had written a few small-town westerns, but certainly hadn’t written anything dark or erotic before. The proposal chapter that would eventually become Make You Burn, the first book in the Deacons of Bourbon Street MC series (with Rachael Johns, Jackie Ashenden, and Maisey Yates) got some attention from editors and one of them was Monique Patterson from St. Martin’s. She wanted to jump on the phone with me and talk about some ideas for more dark, erotic stuff, so we did. In that conversation, while we were talking about our love of alpha males and brainstorming together, she brought up dystopian Navy SEALs. That didn’t appeal to me, necessarily, but I was binge-watching the first couple of seasons of the show Vikings at the time. I’d watched an interview with the cast in which one of the actors said the Vikings were basically the Navy SEALs of the 8th century. It was like a light bulb! Dystopian Vikings! And somehow everything else flowed from that.
Dabney: Let’s start at the beginning? In the series, at some point in the past, a great deal of the upper part of North America (and one presumes the world) became uninhabitable due to storms that caused rising coastlines. How far back in time did that occur before the first book begins? (Can we use that cool map you have on your web page?)
Megan: (You can absolutely use the map! I’m attaching it. My comic book artist husband drew it for me.)
I’m deliberately vague about how far in the future it all is. But yes, weather gradually worsened all over the world, until it was nothing but storm after storm, each one a disaster. During this period, the seas rose and reshaped all the continents, wiping out populations. I imagine this took a while. I looked at a lot of sea level graphics that predicted what would happen in the polar ice caps melted entirely, etc, and studied a lot of floodplain maps to get a sense of what might remain after that kind of catastrophic disaster—or, I should say, catastrophic series of disasters. The books take place roughly 100 years “after the Storms,” which means that the significantly fewer people who remain hunker down during the terrible winters but get a break from them in the relatively more temperate summers. Of course, much of the infrastructure has been wiped out—or is hoarded by the rich in higher elevations. The books take place in what remains of North America, but there are rumors that other places still exist out there. Our heroes just have no way to know that for sure.
Dabney: In this post-apocalyptic world, there is the mainland where most live in the dark–literally–and are under the rule of a group of kings and bishops who hoard power (electrical and political) and enforce a set of sexual rules designed, they claim, to ensure procreation. Tell us about their theology.
Megan: Everything in these books started from the same premise. We live right now in a world that is deeply informed by a number of (mostly) metaphoric rituals we perform around sex. Some examples: White dresses to signal purity. The sanctity of marital sex. The prizing of virginity in the first place and claims it’s “a gift” a woman can “bestow” on a husband. Bedsheets of newlyweds inspected for a virgin’s blood, to prove her worth. The cultural hagiography of motherhood. (And that’s just off the top of my head and obviously in a very western context.) So I asked myself: what if a society’s preoccupation with sex wasn’t encoded in metaphor and ritual, but was right there, out in the open? What would that look like? And what if birth rates were low and fertility was iffy, but people really needed to make more people for the human race to survive? How would that work?
The church in the Edge books holds that technology brought about the end of the world, which everyone is now living through, as punishment. They built their temples in places where technology failed their ancestors, like power stations, and they believe that people must earn a place in the light. Meaning electric light, which the church has in its protected western valley, but most outside the high ground of the western highlands (the Rocky Mountains, basically) do not. Because there are so few people left, the church is also deeply concerned with the continuation of the human race. They’ve instituted a system called “compliance.” While the very rich have a different system that better suits their dynastic preferences and keeps their territory to themselves, most people on the mainland are compliant. This means that they find a spouse for the winter. Since winters are harsh, people tend to hunker down as best they can to make it through them, and this provides ample time to try to make a baby. The church insists that it’s the duty of all decent people to comply at least once a day. But because it is a sacred duty, no one is really supposed to enjoy it. It’s like brushing your teeth but, you know, Important Work For the Good of All. If they succeed and the woman is pregnant by the March equinox, the couple stays together for another year, through the baby’s birth. If not, they separate and find a new winter spouse by the September equinox, which is right around the time the winter rains start, making it impossible to move around what’s left of the world.
Winter spouse arrangements are different depending on the size of the settlements people live in, with larger places possibly having facilities for winter spouses to do their duty without having to live together and smaller places requiring they share quarters. And of course, some really enjoy doing their duty, because sex is sex. Some fall in love. Some deliberately take certain herbs to prevent pregnancy. Some are devout and very serious about the whole thing and some are significantly less so. People will be people, no matter if the world ended or not.
Dabney: And then there are the raiders. As you describe them, they are “groups of men who laughed in the face of what governments remained and chose to live free instead. These men took over the new, remote eastern islands that remained when the storms passed, in what was left of the mountains in the far northeast.” These men and women are brutal on the surface–they are marauders who love to fight and fuck–and are deeply loyal to one another. Where does that fierce connection to clan come from?
Megan: When the world ended and everything was in ruins, people clung to what they knew. Like strong men with strong walls who talked about lost civilizations and old governments, and promised to keep the dark and the wolves and the terror on the other side of the fire or the castle walls or the mountains. But the men who became raiders rejected that and struck out on their own, because a new frontier was more appealing to them than old rules and someone else’s version of piety. All they had was each other, and that formed deep bonds. The foundation of the raider clans is that bond. Brothers—men and women who fight for the good of all of them, not just for themselves. They live hard. They fight, they fuck, they love and they die. They don’t have a lot of rules about sex. All of their own rules are hard-won—literally. Raider kings do not ascend thrones, they take them. Meanwhile, the whole clan has a say. A king who can’t calm the masses won’t last long. There are also the warrior elite who are the clan’s army. They do the fighting and the defending. They raid the mainland in the summer and train all winter. But the clans are a unit. A whole. The raiders believe that these elite warriors have their place, but so do farmers and shopkeepers and the women called camp girls whose role is to provide easy and abundant sex to the elite warriors first and anyone else they please after. Everyone has a place. If someone is above you, it’s because he earned it. They think of themselves as culturally and morally superior to compliants, of course, and all the rich kings and bishops they find deeply hypocritical.
Dabney: The series has detailed world building. Each society–the raiders, the mainlanders, the Church and the seat of power, the Court of King Athenian–is complex and vividly portrayed. How do you keep track of all your worlds?
Megan: In a macro sense, it’s very strange, but I just see the world. I don’t really know where it all came from. I didn’t have worlds stashed away in old manuscripts under my bed or anything. They all seem so different and yet logical to me, and I just sort of extrapolate from one what if to the next.
For more micro concerns, like the name I called someone in one book and various characters (with their descriptions—which I forgot to do until book two and that was a mistake) and maps and things, I keep a very large binder. I just throw in everything that pertains to each book. Lists, notes, whatever. I’d never written a whole, planned series before I started this one, so I wanted to be careful. Still, I did things I regret. Like never naming the raider city. I thought it would be interesting if they never named it, because it is what it is to them… but actually it’s just caused a lot of clunky sentences. But I’m stuck with it!
Dabney: Over the course of the first four–will there be more?–books, there is a literal clash of cultures between the mainlanders’ leaders and the raiders. What is at the heart of that conflict?
Megan: I certainly hope there will be more!
I think part of it is straight up land acquisition and resources. The raiders have settlements in the eastern mainland and they’re perfectly happy to raid and plunder at will to get what they want. The various mainland kings are too, but they’re not as good at it. This is a dangerous world where might is not only right—it will save your life. So it makes sense that there would be a clash, I think, between the different varieties of “mighty.”
Dabney: In each book, there is a love story between a raider and (with the exception of book three) a mainlander. It’s clear that falling in love with a raider is a ticket to astonishingly great sex and heated water among other things. What do your mainlanders bring to the table?
Raiders have great sex and a nice place to live in a world with few of those. They love their clan, deeply. But individual love between two people is less of a thing in their rough, hard, brutal lives. In each case, the mainland women focus on the raider in question and it isn’t really about raiders as a group for them—or not for long. It’s about the specific raiders they encounter. They fall in love with those men and it’s transformative. These are men who are loved in a general sense for what they can do. Their mainland women love them for who they are.
This is where I get very fired up about alpha males and the way they’re often discussed in the romance world. To me, there’s nothing more transformative than love. Love, hope, redemption. I love telling stories where these things make broken people whole, save lonely people from the dark, change cynical hearts, and alter lives. And I find nothing as satisfying as a woman who could be you or me, regular in many ways even if she happens to live in extraordinary circumstances, who meets an immovable wall of a man who cannot be changed or contained or sometimes even reasoned with—and changes him forever, simply because she loves him.
Dabney: I just finished the fourth book, Edge of Power, and keep thinking about its relevance to our world. America, where I live, like much of Western Europe, is increasingly polarized between two very different visions of society. One of the things I loved in the book was the dawning realization by Wulf, the King of the raiders, that conquering isn’t the ultimate goal of a leader–it’s, at least in part, cooperation. Or is that wishful thinking on my part?
Megan: No, that’s not wishful thinking. Wulf is a very different sort of leader for his clan and his world. He’s a thinker, first of all, which distinguishes him from his predecessor—who was a violent bully—and most of the leaders in his world. Wulf is the first raider who’s dared to think a little bigger than simply holding the eastern islands that have traditionally been raider territory. He’s the first raider who’s dared to take the fight to the heart of the mainland. And he respects cooperation, certainly. He’s seen exactly what happens to men who elevate themselves over their subjects and he’s not a fan. And he has the opportunity to ask himself: does he want unlimited power? Or does he want to be a true, good leader? Because they’re not necessarily the same thing.
Dabney: The heroine of Edge of Power is her world’s most famous virgin. Her father, the King of the Mainlanders (right?), plans to give her first “mounting” to the man that offers him–King Athenian–the greatest advantage. In the beginning of the book, Kathlyn (the heroine), has decided she’ll divest herself of her maidenhead on her own terms and she chooses Wulf who has come to her father’s court as part of his (Wulf’s) plan to destroy the Court and the Church’s power. A virgin heroine, an uber-alpha male royal–how is their dynamic different than that of similar characters in contemporary and historical romance?
Megan: (King Athenian wouldn’t call himself the King of the Mainlanders, because there are other kings and territories. But he’s the most powerful king in the western highlands, and thus the whole mainland. By far.)
Their dynamic is different in that they’re fully realized characters, and like all the other fully realized characters out there in romances, though the trappings may be similar to other stories, they are different because they’re who they are—I hope! In fact, what I really hope is that readers are simply carried away and lost in the story.
But also, I was playing with that worldly alpha/virgin dynamic. Wulf is not only uber-alpha but used to hot and cold running sex all the time, so it made sense to put him with someone innocent and untouched. And then try to explore what innocence means in her world. (There’s another technical virgin in the series, but she’s neither untouched nor particularly innocent, so Kathlyn is different from her.) I thought a lot about Regencies and the marriage mart so beloved by the ton in those books and tried to come up with a dystopian variation in a place where sex is not a private act, but openly leveraged. So Edge of Power is in some ways an inside-out Regency.
These books are a lot of fun to write because they leave me room to do things like that, and also to really celebrate female strength in a lot of different scenarios. In the first book, I was playing with a captivity narrative. I wanted the hero to literally throw the heroine over his shoulder and carry her off, and then see what happened from there. How does a smart woman deal with a situation where her brain isn’t going to help her? In the second book, Edge of Temptation, I wanted to explore dominance and submission and that very specific power dynamic in a place that has no terminology for it and therefore, no codes of behavior and no safe words. How does a woman who really loves and needs that dynamic as a fundamental part of her sexuality and identity stand up for herself when her surrender can be misconstrued as passivity? Both of those heroines are pretty tough in their different ways. Then in Edge of Control, the third book, I wanted to write a woman who is as physically strong as her alpha hero. Someone called her “an alpha-hole heroine,” which I love. She’s all that and then some, angry and strong and bitter, and it’s not until she steps away from the trappings of her physical strength that she really connects with her inner fortitude. I’m a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and some of my favorite episodes are when extraordinary, superhero Buffy has to pretend to be normal. So it was fun to play with that here.
Readers will have to decide if these stories are successful—because or in spite of what I thought I was doing!
Dabney: One of romance’s classic tropes is that before the heroine the very experienced hero had sex or fucked but with her, it’s different. He’s making love. Is that true for your raider heroes?
Megan: Of course. Maybe not instantly, but they get there. (They have a lot of sex.)
Dabney: Your Edge heroines, even the two that are virgins, aren’t helpless. All are in big trouble when their stories begin. Would you say they save themselves?
The three mainland heroines all make deliberate choices that lead them to their raiders, and all are acts to fundamentally change their circumstances. Even my alpha heroine makes choices; in her case, to volunteer to go undercover as a compliant with the ex she knows perfectly well still gets to her. Everyone has choices. We might not like our choices, but we have them. And I really like setting up crazy choices for my heroines and watching as they work through them, because I love women and the many ways women show strength in male-dominated cultures. Sometimes that’s surrender. Sometimes it’s choosing to trust. Sometimes it’s an actual fist fight. Sometimes it’s submitting to something awful without losing yourself in the process. Sometimes (often, in my books) it’s falling in love.
Dabney: What comes next in this series? And, as you develop the series, will you feature heroes who aren’t raiders?
Megan: Right now I’m working on a few novellas that expand the world a bit—there’s a floating city on the map, after all, and we should probably see what’s happening in Europe—and give a couple we’ve already met a possibly unexpected happy ever after. And of course, we should probably talk about what happens in the world after the end of Edge of Power, shouldn’t we?
In the four books I’ve planned to have follow the first four, I stray a bit from our favorite raider clan. Not too far. But yes, there are principals that aren’t clan members.
Dabney: Emily too loves these books and has put in a plea for N’kosi’s, Indy’s, and Biyu’s stories.
Megan: I have stories planned for all three of them!
Dabney: Thanks so much for talking to me. We’re so excited about these books we’re giving the digital set away to one lucky reader. Make a comment below to be entered in a drawing for this giveaway!