Professor book reviews: "Nightshade" by Andrea Cremer

By Matea Wasend

A broken foot doesn’t sound like a stroke of luck, but for Macalester history professor Andrea Cremer, it was just the beginning of a storybook ending. Cremer was planning on spending her summer horseback riding in Prior Lake, a reward to herself for landing a job at Macalester the previous year. Her first ride was over before it could even begin.

“I was leading my horse out of the stable and it got spooked,” Cremer remembered. “It jumped and came directly down on my right foot.”

The prognosis: twelve weeks on crutches.

“I couldn’t do anything else,” Cremer said. “So I started to write.”

And so Caila Tor, a seventeen-year old werewolf, was born. Nightshade, which tells the story of Caila and her pack’s role in the war between two feuding sects of witchcraft, was picked up by Penguin in the summer of 2009 and will hit bookshelves in October.

Nightshade combines Cremer’s favorite elements of both fiction and history. Always an avid reader, she grew up on fantasy authors like Mary Zimmer-Bradley, Lloyd Alexander and Neil Gaiman, and was particularly drawn to coming-of-age stories like in Harry Potter and The Dark is Rising series. Her own teen werewolf struggles with growing up, trying to determine whether the world around her is really as it seems. Nightshade also incorporates one of Cremer’s favorite areas of historical focus-the clash between superstition and science that plagued both western Europe and early America.

“Nightshade is a new imagining of witchcraft,” Cremer said. “I rethought the Inquisition and the witch hunts as a war between two factions of witchcraft, one that is still going on. Caila and her friends are soldiers in that war.”

Caila is pictured on the cover of Nightshade as a purple-haired, hazel-eyed beauty, accompanied with the catch phrase: “She can control her pack, but not her heart.” Online reviewers who managed to get their hands on advanced copies described the book as “sexy”, “intriguing”-as one reader put it, full of “lots of insanely hot werewolves.”

Nightshade will eventually be followed by three more books to complete the series; the next book, Wolfsbane (“Betrayal, loss, pain, fear. How many trials can love endure and still survive?”), is tentatively scheduled for release in Fall 2011. Cremer also has another book in the works, a young adult “steampunk” novel set in an alternate 19th century America in which the Revolutionary War never occurred and the British Empire dominates the globe.

Although Cremer predicts an oncoming whirlwind of publicity and signings as her first book release approaches, she will still consider herself equal parts novelist and historian.

“I have both on my business card,” she said, laughing. “I hope to maintain this career as a writer and a historian for my whole life.”

websites: Visit Andrea Cremer online at http://www.andreacremer.com/books.html

Read Cremer’s blog, where she discusses writing, pop culture and the most recent episodes of Fox’s Glee: http://blurredhistory.blogspot.com/