Exclusive Interview: “The Cage Of Dark Hours” Author Marina Lostetter


When writing a trilogy, it’s easy to forget that the middle book needs to add something to the story, not just the thing that connects the beginning of the end.

It’s something writer Marina Lostetter clearly thought about while writing her fantasy with a dash of horror novel The Cage Of Dark Hours (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), the middle piece of The Five Penalties trilogy…or the following email interview about it.

Marina Lostetter The Cage Of Dark Hours The Helm Of Midnight The Five Penalties

Photo Credit: Jeff Nelson


For people who didn’t read The Helm Of Midnight, or the interview we did about it, what is The Five Penalties trilogy about, and what kind of world is it set in?

The Five Penalties trilogy is full of murder, mayhem, and magic, and its themes center on bodily autonomy, hidden history, and the secrets and violence inherent in high authority. The trilogy is set in a valley ruled by five city-states and sealed off from the outside wastelands by a magical barrier erected by the gods. The main character, Krona Hirvath — a Regulator who investigates crimes involving enchantments — uncovers a vast network of magical subterfuge, which sets both her and the valley on a downward spiral toward truth but away from stability.

And then for people who have read The Helm Of Midnight, and thus can ignore me writing SPOILER ALERT, what is The Cage Of Dark Hours about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to Helm?

Krona’s entire world was turned upside down after the events of The Helm Of Midnight. Three years later, in The Cage Of Dark Hours, we find her dangerously obsessed with the Thalo and its puppets’ impossible magic. She’s burning the candle at both ends and breaking the gods’ commandments left and right, and through her own illegal activity she once again comes into contact with the Blue Woman (who first revealed herself at Melanie and Sebastian’s wedding). It’s the beginning of the end for Krona; she’s dug herself in too deep, and she’s about to lose the life she’s built for herself.

The reader should prepare to dive into an underworld of dark cults, violent enchantments, assassination, and monsters.

When in the process of writing The Helm Of Midnight did you come up with the idea for The Cage Of Dark Hours; what inspired this middle book’s plot?

I’ve been envisioning the entire trilogy since before my agent sold the rights to it, so the general events of book two have been set in my mind for some time now. Book one was largely about establishing the world, and book two is about breaking expectations. I set the dominos up, and now I’m knocking them over. Time to pull back the curtain and get a real look at the machinations controlling Arkensyre Valley.

And is there some significance to this book being called The Cage Of Dark Hours as opposed to The Hat Of Noon or The Beanie Of 11AM? Which is a jokey way of asking why the time aspect is more significant than the object about the time.

Time is extremely important in the trilogy, though it might not become fully obvious as to why until book three. The title times are also a bit metaphorical; midnight is the dead of night but technically the start of a new day. A dire hour that marks a change — like the events of book one. The dark hours are the small hours of the early morning; a dim, creeping sort of time that reveals how the new day might unravel.

The objects in the titles are equally important. The “helm” of book one can refer literally to a Regulator’s helm, yes, but a mask is also a helm, and an enchanted mask is the driver for the events of book one. You’ll find the cage is an incredibly important enchanted object in book two.

The Helm Of Midnight was a fantasy novel, but with, as you put it, “a dash of horror.” Can the same be said for The Cage Of Dark Hours?

Yes, book two continues the dash of horror trend. Both psychological and monster-related horror are present, but the book, at its core, is epic fantasy. I like a bit of a creep factor with my sense of wonder.

With The Cage Of Dark Hours being the middle book of three, did you look to anyone else’s middle books to see what to do, and what not to do?

Luckily this isn’t my first trilogy, so I’ve already been through the widening-of-a-universe process before, and I didn’t do a lot of new study in that arena this time around. I stuck to a few guiding principles, though: one, though it’s part of a larger narrative, book two should still be a complete story. This is my philosophy for writing in general; even if not everything gets answered in an individual book, there should be a distinct story with a beginning, middle, and end that feels satisfying for the reader. Which leads into principle two; despite being a complete story in and of itself, it’s still in a sense an act two, so the middle book of a trilogy really has to set up the big-bang that is book three. And, principle three, the book should show more world. As I said, it’s a widening of the universe and the narrative. Book one was very much centered on Lutador city, and in book two we see more of the Valley and meet new characters.

I actually really like writing book twos, I’ve discovered. I love knowing my characters well and feeling really integrated in the world. It’s the place to play with layers in both world building and narrative.

Did anything else influence The Cage Of Dark Hours? Like, any movies, TV shows, or games…?

I did extra research on cults for Cage, and the documentary The Vow had direct influence on several scenes. Audiences who’ve seen it will recognize my narrative employment of the dubious “emotion stretching” technique.

Now, as we’ve been discussing, The Cage Of Dark Hours is the second book in The Five Penalties trilogy. Do you know yet what the third and final book will be called, and when it will be out?

We should be able to release that info soon, but at the moment all I can tell you is that it’s slated to come out next year, and I currently refer to it as Tod. So, given the titling convention for the trilogy as you noted (object + time), everyone is free to guess what T.O.D might stand for.

So, is there anything else people should know about The Cage Of Dark Hours?

I have it on good authority (my husband) that it’s the best book I’ve written to date. I hope readers agree.

Marina Lostetter The Cage Of Dark Hours The Helm Of Midnight The Five Penalties

Finally, if someone enjoys The Cage Of Dark Hours — and, presumably, The Helm Of Midnight — what fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for what I assume will be called The Tapestry Of Doritos to come out?

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller. It won’t be a wonder that Sara and I share an agent, because fans of The Helm Of Midnight are bound to love The Bone Orchard, and vice versa; these books are kindred spirits. The Bone Orchard is full of eerie magical science, political intrigue, unique characters, and dark dalliances.



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