“My own background is in colonial history, so I started thinking about what if the witches at Salem were real and had been around for the battles of Lexington and Concord,” Finlay said in an interview. “My agent had been asking me if I had any new book projects in the works, so I ran the concept by him and he was as enthusiastic about it as I was. It grew from there.”
The story starts with Proctor Brown, a young minuteman who also has a secret that he hides out of fear—he’s a witch. “But when he finds out that one of the British officers is using magic, he draws on his own talent to stop him,” Finlay said. “From there he’s pulled into a circle of American witches based on a farm outside Salem. Together they have to stop an group of dark sorcerers who want to crush the American rebellion as part of their plan to control the world.”
Between his graduate studies and work on two books about early America, Finlay already had a strong general familiarity with the period, but he also did some intensive reading looking for things that are, as Tim Powers says, “too cool not to use.”
“In May 1780, for example, the sky over New England turned black for a day,” Finlay said. “At noon it was as dark as midnight. It wasn’t an eclipse or any natural phenomenon that people at that time understood—they thought the world was ending! That becomes a key event in the third book. Throughout the series, magic explains a lot of unsolved mysteries of the Revolution, from who fired the shot heard round the world to events around the Battle of Yorktown. I also had to do research on the things that are too obvious to ignore—what kind of buildings people lived in, what kind of food they ate, which version of the Bible they were most likely to carry.”
As part of the worldbuilding process, Finlay spent a lot of time reading about witchcraft. “In the 17th and 18th centuries, both in America and Europe—the kinds of spells that were used, the kinds of sorcery that people were accused of, the rituals that were practiced,” Finlay said. “There was no single system of magical belief, no overarching structure to it, and that was problematic because these days we want our fantasy magic systems to have almost the same rigorous laws and logic as science. The magic that I use in the series is extrapolated from that research. Proctor and Deborah are aware of the Enlightenment, of the discovery and application of scientific laws, and so they try to understand the magic in their world in some of those same terms. But throughout the three books it is clearly a process of discovery for them because they encounter sorcery from many different sources and traditions.”
Finlay said that the series—called the Traitor to the Crown series—is the kind of stuff he likes to read, stories that are full of adventure and interesting facts—in this case, history—and difficult choices for the characters. “For another, when I’m writing about the same protagonist for three books, it’s hard not to quarry personal issues,” he said. “Proctor likes to work with his hands, he’s got an absent father whose approval he can never earn—those sorts of things won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me.”
The entire trilogy is being published over the course of three months. The Patriot Witch was just released, then the end of May will see publication of book two, A Spell for the Revolution, with book three, The Demon Redcoat, following in June.