After a year of researching the history and folk tales of Croatian regions Istria and Kvarner, I finally drafted a plot for my first historical fantasy novel. (To be sincere, with all the things I decided to leave out from it, it was obvious from the start that it was going to grow into a trilogy.)
I was definitely drawn to the character of krsnik, a person from our local tales, born with special powers that he uses in order to protect his village – its people, domestic animals, and crops. Krsnik is often put on the first line of defense not only in the event of hails, draughts, cattle sickness or human injuries and ailments but also in cases of dealing with malevolent creatures, such as kudlaks (vampires), shtrigas and sthriguns (female and male witches), moras (nightmare demons), orkos (magical beasts) and other supernatural beings, the stories of which circulated vividly in our society deep into the 20th century.
Historical period that attracted my writing interest was early 17th century which was, in Croatia, marked by the open war between Habsburg Monarchy and Venetian Republic, both struggling to dominate strategic routes along Adriatic coast and the borderline territory. Covering this period, Croatian national history focuses mostly on the legendary uskoks, fierce domestic pirates who’ve become a symbol of the national pride. Digging deeper into the books of modern historians, behind the glory and the heroism, we find those years to be quite dark and remembered for the great number of death tolls caused by war, hunger and diseases. “Years of death and destitution”, as one historian put it.
This bleak world, caught in warfare and inhabited by the creatures from folklore superstitions, seemed like a perfect blend of history and fantasy. Since Austrian symbol at that time was the two-headed eagle and the Venetian crest was a winged lion, this insignia inspired the name of the trilogy: Between the Eagle and the Lion.
Six months after it was finished, the first novel – Krsnik – won The Best Unpublished Historical Novel Award in Croatia in 2019. and was published as a part of the award, getting high praises from the members of The Society of Croatian Writers.
Book #1 – KRSNIK
Krsto of Kastav is a local krsnik in a small village of Veprinac, while his wife, Maria Lazarina, is leading the chain of smugglers who help uskok pirates. She happens to be in the harbour of Lovran, when Venetian squad attacks the town from the sea. In a brutal fight, she is captured and taken hostage on the galley. After a long search for her, Krsto finds out that Maria has not found herself in the middle of Venetian attack by chance – she was invited there for a meeting in a letter whose sender signed himself simply as “Zara”.
Determined to bring her back home, Krsto decides to cross the mountain of Učka and go to Istria, a war-torn country seized in ongoing bloodshed.
Following Maria’s trail, he encounters different characters. Peasants come to him for healing, mystery solving and protection from the creatures of the night. On the other hand, local lords and captains want to win him over to their side to use his powers for spying and waging battles. Krsto endeavors to satisfy most of the pleads that come his way, still trying to remain uninvolved in the conflict. But his past, much less innocent than he would like it to be, is inevitably catching up with him. And Maria’s trail is getting ever colder…
Publisher: Naklada Bošković
Editor: Renata Dobrić
Proofreading: Mario Blagić
Cover art: Raenyras Art