“This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeits of our own behavior, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars; as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion.” —Edmund the Bastard, King Lear
When I set about creating a secondary world for my fantasy novel, The Queens of Innis Lear, I knew I wanted to use the metaphors of the natural world traditionally found in Elizabethan literature and which Shakespeare used to explore the deterioration of the eponymous lead in King Lear, the play that inspired my novel.
Innis Lear is an island where nature is magical, practically sentient itself. The trees speak, the rootwaters of the island have a basic will to thrive, and the distant stars hold power over people and the progress of modern civilization. There are two main philosophies: the religion of star prophecy, where priests worship through studying the stars and interpret their signs as behavioral guides, and the practice of wormwork, where wizards commune with the roots and waters of the earth to derive power and influence progress. While the philosophies can, in a healthy kingdom, weave together into a layered, complicated system of magic and belief, Innis Lear is no longer a healthy kingdom, having fallen into decay by only upholding the side of fanatical belief in the stars.
Because the world of Innis Lear is not our own, their stars are not ours either, and yet astrology is deeply important to each character—so I had the freedom to use our familiarity with the basic principles of astronomy and the modern enthusiasm for various astrological systems, while creating my own star-lore. Nightly, star priests on the island of Lear draw precise charts of the sky, including stars, planets, and the moon, as well as the angle of the wind and how or if clouds brush or block out certain stars. If a cloud smears darkness across the tail of one constellation, in the prophecy those stars might be read half-obscured, or become a different constellation entirely, depending on the priest and their understanding of how wind and light can affect how stars communicate destiny.
Part of creating the system of star prophecy for Innis Lear was not only creating several charts filled with stars and their various meanings, but being certain I knew how the characters understood their own stars, and how those relationships interacted. I read a lot about the history of astronomy alongside the development of Western astrology and horoscopes, as well as drawing on what I know about archetypes and prophetic magic from reading Tarot over the past decade. I wrote out star charts for the birth of the main characters, so that their “destinies” would live in my imagination as I put their personalities and relationships on the page.
One thing I never did was map out my main characters’ Western zodiac signs, because I didn’t want to overwhelm the Innis Lear system with existing ideas. But now that the book is finished, it’s a delightful activity.
There are five main point of view characters: the sisters Elia, Regan, and Gaela; Ban the Fox, the bastard individualist; and Morimaros, king of Aremoria. Beyond that, Aefa Thornhill, Elia’s closest companion, and Kayo of Taria Queen, the princesses’ foreign-born, Lear-adopted uncle, are probably the two most influential secondary POV characters. So those are the characters whose Zodiac I’m exploring for fun!
Since Ban and Elia were born on the same day, I’m going to put them in the same sign: Ares, a fire sign, and the first and youngest of the Zodiac. This would allow them pull on the Ares traits of being impulsive and proud, with tempers, but also be devoted and caring. The different influences of their moon and planets and rising signs could account for how Elia sublimates her pride into a soft selfish desire to be left alone (her influencing planets are probably all in water signs), while Ban devotes himself absolutely to those who first devote themselves to him (Cancer rising, for sure).
Regan is definitely a Scorpio, probably with all her planets in Scorpio and her moon and rising, too. She embodies both the positive (magnetic, passionate, brave) and negative (possessive, jealous, manipulative) aspects of the sign. Sorry/not sorry, Regan.
And her older sister Gaela is most likely a Capricorn, because she is a master planner—though occasionally a myopic one—and her faith in herself is impeccable. What she wants is to rule, and she never second-guesses her ambitions. Her greatest strengths, however, are also her downfall.
Morimaros of Aremoria was born on the autumnal equinox, making him either a Virgo or Libra, right there on the cusp. But I feel strongly that he’s more a Virgo. His inner wish and his outer wish are the same: to be a strong, heroic leader to his people. He’s always looking at various choices he can make and weighing their best outcomes, as well as considering the consequences. At his best he loves everyone and works harder than anybody to make his people safe, at his worse he’s self-pitying and uptight.
Aefa is an Aquarius, but I’m biased because she’s great, and many of my favorite people are Aquariuses.
Kayo, the Oak Earl, would not want to be categorized like this, as he’s not from Innis Lear, nor Aremoria, and his people don’t believe in the power of stars to affect destiny. But when he must, he adapts to his circumstances without bending his integrity. He’s an adventurer and manages to love whenever he can, no matter how dire the circumstances. AKA, a Sagittarius.
And bonus! King Lear is a Pisces. Once he had the potential to be a thoughtful, wise ruler, but he fell to a flaw that many Pisces are subject to: he lost his head to the stars.
Tessa Gratton has wanted to be a wizard since she was seven. She’s lived on three continents and traveled across more, has a degree in feminism, and once translated her own Beowulf before settling down in Kansas to write and box and create the perfect whiskey cocktail. She’s the author of multiple YA and adult fantasy novels, plus more than a dozen short stories. Her novel The Queens of Innis Lear is available March 27th from Tor Books. Find her on Twitter @tessagratton.