“At last, tell the truth,” Aoife tells herself near the beginning of Baton Rouge writer Ronlyn Domingue’s The Mapmaker’s War, the first book in her Keeper of Tales trilogy. As her kingdom’s mapmaker, Aoife encounters a neighboring utopian society. The plot follows her exile from her home kingdom and life with the society that adopts her. It is an origin story, in many ways.
In the follow-up, The Chronicle of Secret Riven, the events of the first book are already ancient, mythic history rewritten by generations of rulers and scholars.
And now the trilogy is complete, with the publication of The Plague Diaries in August. This book continues the narrative of Secret Riven and brings back many influential characters from Secret’s childhood, including the charismatic and ambitious Fewmany, who has hired Secret to catalog his private library of arcane manuscripts and has another mysterious mission for her.
The current publication order positions the story chronologically, with a 1,000-year gap between the first and second books, but Domingue says that the trilogy can be read in any order.
“Once I realized the story was a trilogy, I made an effort to give a new reader enough to read each book without the others,” she says. “Mapmaker’s stands completely alone, and Plague almost stands alone, Chronicle serving as the bridge between them.”
It’s hard to summarize these books, or even to assign them to a genre. The trilogy is challenging, both in structure and content, containing elements of old storytelling (fairy tale, allegory and mythic epic) and social and political commentary the likes of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and other speculative fiction. It’s not bedtime reading, but it requires attention from the reader and rewards investment.
“I knew it was going to be an allegory of our time and place, but I didn’t know how relevant it was going to be,” Domingue says when asked about the eerie parallels to our current societal and environmental disruptions. The books, she says, are “relying on our collective knowledge of themes and tropes so that the story is free to tell itself and the reader is free to pick up the subtext, because you know it already.”
The society in which Secret dwells in the first book is not a dystopian one, but a hybrid of feudalism and capitalism that refuses to be pinned down as either our past or future. In the book’s world, there is a monarchy but also a heavily influential corporation that is in some ways more powerful.
In talking with Domingue, we touch on how few stories imagine ideal ways of structuring society.
“We have a desire for utopia but a preoccupation with dystopia,” Domingue responds. “Dystopian stories help us process our rage, confusion and pain, but we’re left without a solution. I think Plague ends in a lot of light.”
Domingue will appear at this year’s Louisiana Book Festival Oct. 28. Her panel is called “Voices and Visions: The Mystery of the Creative Process,” where she will discuss the unusual writing process she’s had with her novels.
This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of 225 Magazine.