OUT NEXT! – Marina Lostetter & The Helm of Midnight

Welcome to another instance of OUT NEXT!, a blog feature highlighting the most exciting new releases.

OUT NEXT! is a blog feature bringing you some of the best stories in the bookish world. Every month, authors come to the Wyrm to talk about their latest books, intent on gracing us with some of the most exciting new releases in the community. Sit back, relax, and hear from the megaminds (yes, this is a reference to a fantastic movie) creating the stories we love to explore. Let this feature be the Guide to your (next) favorite author/read!

Today we have the pleasure of hearing from author Marina Lostetter, well-seasoned in sci-fi through her Noumenon series, and now (proud, I’m sure) author of a fantastic dark fantasy novel I loved reading.

Marina‘s debut epic fantasy discusses what makes us, or doesn’t, human. The Helm of Midnight deals in themes of morality, family, and justice. As the heist of a mask magically imbued with the soul of a serial killer rekindles a series of gruesome murders, past and present collide in a tragic tale of the darkness within.

Meet Marina Lostetter

Marina Lostetter author photo
Photo credit: Jeff Nelson

The open skies and dense forests of the Pacific Northwest are ideal for growing speculative fiction authors–or, at least, Marina would like to think so. Originally from Oregon, she now resides in Arkansas with her spouse, Alex. In her spare time she enjoys globetrotting, board games, and all things art-related. Her original short fiction has appeared in venues such as LightspeedUncanny, and Shimmer Magazine.  Her debut novel, NOUMENON, and its sequels, NOUMENON INFINITY and NOUMENON ULTRA, are available from Harper Voyager.  Her first fantasy novel, THE HELM OF MIDNIGHT, is forthcoming from Tor. In addition, she has written tie-in materials for Star Citizen and the Aliens franchise. She is represented by DongWon Song of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, and she tweets as @MarinaLostetter.

Visit his author’s website: https://lostetter.wordpress.com/

  • Hi, Marina, welcome aboard the Wyrm! It’s a pleasure to have you here discussing your latest release, The Helm of Midnight. For introduction’s sake, can you ask your main characters to introduce you and the book?

Thanks for having me!

Honestly I don’t think any of my main characters want to talk to me after what I put them through. They would make a terrible marketing and publicity team. I like to describe The Helm of Midnight as Hannibal meets Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn. But if they were to give it a shot:

Thibaut: The Helm of Midnight is a glorious tale of phantasms, devastation, adventure, and–

Krona: You’re not a main character. 

Charbon: It is a tale of woe. Fraught with manipulation and tragedies that should never have–

Krona: You, be quiet. You’ve been dead for ten years and none of us want to hear from the serial killer.

Melanie: No one has mentioned Marina yet.

Krona: Why would we talk about the person who created this mess in the first place?

Thibaut: Saints and swill, Mistress Regulator, you are grumpy today.

Krona: Did anyone else read the ending, or just me?

  • De-Lia and Krona’s relationship builds one of the central foundations of the story. They’re very different from one another but their bond starts and develops in incredible ways. Was The Helm a story of sisterhood and family from its genesis or did it evolve into it somehow?

That part came later. The novel has its roots in a short story I wrote a decade ago, which featured Melanie. When I expanded it to include Krona and De-Lia, their relationship went through several iterations before evolving into what we have today. I enjoy strong sibling relationships in fantasy–Krona and De-Lia had to lean heavily on each other from a very young age, and I wanted to highlight the push-and-pull rivalry and codependence that that kind of relationship can involve.

  • This story deals in many complex themes, some of them being trauma, regret, the past, and questions of morality. In The Helm, good and evil often co-exist. One of my favorite things is how it discusses that two extreme opposites can co-exist inside one person. How does the book explore these questions of self, time, and morality?

This is going to sound like an answer out of left field at first, but bear with me. The Good Place is a fantastic, lighthearted show that illustrates succinctly how people trying to be good in an inherently problematic system can still end up doing bad things, but that doesn’t make them bad people. I don’t think I realized I was trying to say the same thing with The Helm of Midnight until I watched the show. But, since I’m dealing with much harsher aspects of humanity in my novel, I prod deeper at the idea. At what point does one’s actions make them innately bad despite outside influences and the system they’re in? At what point does one’s actions make them innately bad despite their intentions?

So many ends do not justify their means, despite what we might tell ourselves in the moment. People can often delude themselves with their justifications. 

  • I loved that you deeply explored the psyche, even through your fantastic magic system. I loved reading about it because I personally find the magic system of a fantasy book to be something essential to capturing my attention. In The Helm, not only is the magic system fascinating, but the vastness of the lore surrounding it is spellbinding. What was the genesis of this system and world like?    

The magic system in The Helm of Midnight is firmly structured, but has a lot of plasticity. Since the magic is channeled via enchantments, I decided the materials enchanted items were made from would dictate the kind of magic they could hold and their function. Wood corresponds with the knowledge magic, time is related to sand and glass, emotion-based magic is in gemstones, and nature magic–which deals with evolution and transference–is in metals. There’s also a fifth kind of magic…but it’s secret.

The original short story the novel is based on only included the knowledge magic and the time magic. These were inspired by things in my immediate vicinity when I was brainstorming. My husband and I had just come home from our honeymoon in Costa Rica, where we’d bought some beautifully carved masks from the Boruca artisans, so I decided to include masks with literal personality in the story. At some point a trailer for In Time came on TV. If you’re not familiar with the movie, the basic premises involves time as literal money. I suppose I must have combined that with “if I could save time in a bottle” and, ta-da, Arkensyre’s time magic was born. (Although, now that I say this, my husband is shaking his head and telling me, “No, you saw the In Time trailer and said “Hey, they stole my idea!” So now I’m not sure which came first. No matter, onward!)

Cover for Marina's upcoming novel, Activation Degradation, releasing Sep 28th
Cover for Marina’s upcoming novel, Activation Degradation, releasing Sep 28th
  • At the end of the book, there’s a bio mentioning The Helm of Midnight as your first epic fantasy. I have to say, what a way to barge into the f****** door then! I was enraptured all the way through. How was the shift from your Noumenon sci-fi series to this dark, intriguing, epic fantasy?

Ha! Thank you!

There were times where I was working on Noumenon and The Helm of Midnight simultaneously. In a way, I got to use one as a break from the other and vice versa.

I love playing in different worlds, so getting to write both sci-fi and fantasy as a novelist has always been the goal for me. When I sit in one sub-genre or one world too long, I get antsy. I’m always looking for a new way to be creative, to play, so shifting from space opera into epic fantasy felt not just natural, but necessary.

Thematically speaking, the Noumenon trilogy and The Five Penalties trilogy are like night and day, in the sense that they balance each other. They’re connected, two sides of the same coin. One is all about the good parts of humanity with fewer bad parts clawing their way in, and the other is all about showing the bad parts in order to highlight the good parts fighting to assert themselves. 

  • Speaking of balance, there are three separate storylines threading together the main mystery of the book. As we go through the story there are these huge reveals but there’s still so much we don’t know about how all these discoveries connect. I thought it was astounding that the mystery stayed strong until the end. When dealing with mystery, how do you decide how much information to give away and which parts to hide to keep the reader hooked?

This is a fantastic question because it was, for me, one of the hardest aspects to execute. The plot hinges largely on understanding how the three points of view are connected–almost in a “six degrees of separation” kind of way. The characters themselves don’t even fully realize how they relate to one another until the end. In a way, it wasn’t so much about hiding things from the reader as unveiling things to the reader and the characters at the same time, so that they get to share the revelations. As long as I kept sticking strongly to each character’s POV, there were things they simply could not know, so therefore the reader could not know, which kept the mystery alive and the plot driving forward. 

  • From the mystery to the world, there’s something incredibly magic about The Helm of Midnight. It’s also very dark and gruesome, I felt, at just the right moments; binding a storyline of progress and hope with another of death and decay. How will that balance appeal to readers?

I hope it’ll appeal to them for similar reasons it appeals to me. I have a strong faith in humanity, and like to believe that most people are coming from a place of earnestness and sincerity. But I know this belief can make me naïve in certain situations, and susceptible to manipulation by bad actors–just like several of the characters. I believe that kind of faith, that trust, is important, even if it makes us vulnerable. It’s what lets us reach out to each other in dark times, and what urges us to fight for one another when things get tough. 

  • As a gamer myself, I couldn’t help notice your author bio mentions your love for board games. What are some of your favorites? Any recs for board games that appeal especially to the intersectionality of reading and gaming?

I do love them! I’m very partial to games like King of Tokyo, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride. I recently started playing Scythe with my husband, and last time I was with a big group we enjoyed Mysterium–which is a really creative co-op game.  

  • Before you take your leave, any current/upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

I have another book coming out this year. ACTIVATION DEGRADATION is releasing on September 28, 2021. It’s a thriller-esque sci fi novel set in Jovian space, featuring soft robots, queer space pirates, action-adventure, and unreliable narration. 

Thanks again for the interview! I really enjoyed it. 

  • Oh, I saw the announcement! Never added a book to my tbr so fast. Thanks for coming, Marina, and for the awesome interview 🙂

More about The Helm of Midnight

The Helm of Midnight cover

ℹ️ Released April 13, 2021 | Genre: Fantasy, horror, grimdark, dark fantasy | Series: The Five Penalties #1

A legendary serial killer stalks the streets of a fantastical city in The Helm of Midnight, the stunning first novel in a new trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter.

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power–the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city with a series of gruesome murders.

Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.


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