The Chronicles of Secret Riven by Ronlyn Domingue – Author Interview & Excerpt

Secret Riven

The Chronicle of Secret Riven

An uncanny child born to brilliant parents, befriended by a prince, mentored by a wise woman, pursued by a powerful man, Secret Riven has no idea what destiny will demand of her or the courage she must have to confront it in the breathtakingly epic, genre-spanning sequel to The Mapmaker’s War.

One thousand years after a great conflict known as The Mapmaker’s War, a daughter is born to an ambitious historian and a gifted translator. Secret Riven doesn’t speak until her seventh year but can mysteriously communicate with plants and animals. Unsettled by visions and dreams since childhood, she tries to hide her strangeness, especially from her mercurial father and cold mother. When her knowledge of an esoteric symbol brings unwelcome attention, gentle, watchful Secret finds acceptance from Prince Nikolas, her best friend, and Old Woman, who lives in the distant woods.

When Secret is twelve, her mother, Zavet, receives an arcane manuscript to translate from an anonymous owner. Zavet begins to suffer nightmares and withdraws into herself. Secret sickens with a fever and awakens able to speak an ancient language, discovering that her mother is fluent as well. Suddenly, Zavet dies. The manuscript is missing, but a cipher has been left for Secret to find. Soon, Secret will have a choice to make: confront a destiny tied to an ancient past or deny it, never to know its whole truth.

A spellbinding story, rich with vivid characters and set in a fascinating world, The Chronicle of Secret Riven explores the tension between love and hate, trust and betrayal, fate and free will.



RonlynAuthor Ronlyn Domingue

Ronlyn Domingue is the author of The Chronicle of Secret Riven and The Mapmaker’s War, the first two books of the Keeper of Tales Trilogy. Her critically-acclaimed debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in ten languages. Her writing has appeared in New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, New Delta Review, The Independent (UK), Border Crossing, and Shambhala Sun, as well as on mindful.org, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Weeklings.


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Interview with Ronlyn Domingue


What is on your “keeper shelf” of books?

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  • Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • Dancing in the Flames: The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness by Marion Woodman & Elinor Dickson
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien


In 140 Characters or less, Tweet about your book.

A strange girl struggles to accept her mysterious gifts and confront her destiny in THE MAPMAKER’S WAR’s epic sequel.


What’s the craziest writing idea you’ve had?
Um, this entire Keeper of Tales Trilogy… I’ve never attempted something so complex with so many fascinating, infuriating, and magical characters. The Mapmaker’s War is about one woman and the people in her life, The Chronicle of Secret Riven jumps 1,000 years after she’s dead and begins with a new set of characters, and Book 3 will bring them all together.


What one thing makes your trilogy different from most?

A reader doesn’t have to start with the first book. In fact, beginning with The Chronicle of Secret Riven and going back to The Mapmaker’s War would create a whole different experience than reading them “in order.”


How long do you generally let a story idea “marinate” in your brain before you start the book?
That’s a trick question. Ideas stay with me a long time before I finally get to work on them. It takes a while to see what will take root. In a way, my debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, “marinated” nine years before the book was finished. But officially, it “cooked” about two years, and it took two more to write. With The Chronicle of Secret Riven, it started as a fairy tale I wrote in college (this would be 1990 or so) about a girl who lived in a kingdom where women weren’t allowed to read. The novel is drastically different from that story, but I officially started working on that book—the trilogy as a whole, really—in October 2006. The Mapmaker’s War was complete in the fall of 2011, and The Chronicle of Secret Riven was finished in early October 2013.


Where do you write?
At home. The specific place changes depending on my mood or what tools I need. If I’m writing by hand (the trilogy has been written by hand, mostly in pencil), I’ll either sit on a bed or on the living room sofa. Sometimes, I’ll sit at my antique library table. When it’s time to type up the pages, I work at the big desk in my office, which has windows on three walls. Lots of nice light and views of the trees.


When you were little, what did you want to be when you “grew up”?

A veterinarian or a writer. Turns out, I was better in English than in science.


What drives you insane about the writing process?

The blocks. Some writers are able to write their way through them. I can’t, because they’re out of my control. Usually when this happens, there is either something the characters or the book hasn’t sorted out yet or I’m not ready to know what they/it will reveal. Even though this has happened with every single book I’ve written, it’s still very frustrating.


What’s your favorite word?


What is your favorite quote?

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” —Winston Churchill


What do you do in your free time?

Watch movies, read, work in my garden, but lately, my partner Todd and I have been renovating a 1940s duplex, which still has its original woodwork, kitchen cabinets, and glass door knobs.


Favorite quote from a movie?

I’ll pick from a comedy, Raising Arizona. “You’re young and you got your health. What you want with a job?”


City or Country?

Country, preferably wooded.


Introvert or Extrovert?

Introvert. Hard core.


Excerpt of The Chronicle of Secret Riven by Ronlyn Domingue



Chapter I

The Babe Born Evensong Riven


Moments after her birth, three birds swept into the room through an open window. The pigeon, the dove, and the sparrow circled the newborn three times, widdershins, lit upon the wooden sill, and settled their feathers. They turned to one another in conference, or so it seemed to the baby’s father, who saw their heads bob and heard them coo and chirp. He had respect for the uncanny and, believing the birds’ council to be that indeed, watched them come to their enigmatic conclusion.


The meeting adjourned. The sparrow fluttered toward the infant, snatched a wispy hair from her head, and guided the dove and the pigeon into the autumn twilight.


Her father would one day tell her this, and about how he walked to the window to decide what to name her. He hadn’t expected the dark tiny creature she turned out to be. She was third born but an only child. Two brothers, born blue, had preceded her. Her father looked to the sky at the crescent moon and the bright star rising at its side. She was named Evensong, for the time of her birth, but she would be called Eve, then become Secret soon enough.


She was an odd little thing with black hair, tawny skin, and eyes the colors of night and day. Except for the occasional cry or laugh, she would be mute until her seventh year, skilled with only one mother tongue until her fourteenth. From Secret’s first breaths, the girl was hushed with a silencing hiss, a sound of menace, not comfort, by her own mother.


The child became a watchful being.


Secret remembered the room where she spent the days of her first three years. The door to the room was always closed, and she was penned off by a guard of wooden slats with a soft pallet and toys on the floor. She occupied herself with colorful blocks, leather balls filled with sawdust, and dolls stuffed with wool. Secret took pleasure in the crawling things in her space. She wiped her hand through webs to watch the spiders build again. Beetles danced on their backs if knocked off their feet. Ants marched in lines to carry off crumbs she left for them. She was glad to have the insects to amuse her because they helped her feel less lonely.


Out of reach, in a corner of the same room where the windows faced east and south, sat her mother. There, Zavet bent over manuscripts and books, often muttering and burbling, caught in a rushing stream of words.


Madness? No.


Zavet was gifted with the languages of the entire known and ancient worlds. She did not, and could not, explain the mystery of her many tongues. Whatever language she heard or read, she grasped instantly, as if she remembered rather than learned it. She spoke all of them like a native without the accent of her own. The words burbled out of her as if from a deep, hidden spring. She dammed them with her work as a translator, but the flood could only be slowed to a trickle.


Now and again, this strangeness happened in front of other people. With Secret comfortable in a little wagon, Zavet went to market or for afternoon walks, and sometimes Zavet would mutter aloud softly. Some people seemed to try to ignore her, but Secret observed the suspicious glances from others. She saw them lean close, eyes narrow, fingers pointing. She rarely heard what they said, but she could sense their scrutiny. This is how she knew her mother was not quite right, and perhaps neither was she. Zavet and Secret did not look like their neighbors and, between her mother’s muttering and her silence, did not sound like them either. Still, the other women were polite toward Zavet, and she was polite but cool toward them, and they allowed their children to play within view as they filled their baskets and remarked about the weather.


As for Secret’s father, Bren was often gone while it was light but home when it was dark. Now and then, Bren went away for long periods of time but always came back. When he returned, he brought presents. Secret remembered a set of thick cards marked with colors, shapes, images, and symbols. Glad for the attention, she sat on his lap as he named them. She learned quickly and delighted him with the deft accuracy of her pointing finger when he asked her to identify the images for the words he spoke.


Her mother was always surrounded by books, but her father was the one who filled her with stories. Zavet taught her respect for the texts, which Secret was allowed to look at but not touch. What Bren gave her she was allowed to handle, with care. She turned the pages and, with his voice, he guided her into other worlds, slowly reading with his finger under the symbols that became words, and the words became images. Many of the books had illustrations, but they couldn’t compare to what emerged in her mind as she listened.


Although she was very young, Secret discovered she, too, could divine the symbols again and conjure what they told. What marvelous tales of wonder, adventure, and possibility! Her father found her concentration unusual and tested to see whether she understood what she read on her own. He gave her books he had never read to her. He asked her questions to answer yes or no, which she did with nods and shakes of her dark head. My mute little prodigy, he called her.


Secret knew her mother possessed this magic as well, but Zavet was parsimonious with its use in regards to her daughter. Some of the books her father brought he couldn’t read and promised that her mother would. She rarely did. With those, Secret sat in silence—such a good, obedient child was she —and studied the mysterious marks on the pages. She wondered what they meant, what tales they told.


One ordinary day, Zavet gave her coloring sticks and used paper with which to draw. The little girl sat on the floor and marked the page with all manner of symbols like ones she had seen. As she wrote the unintelligible words, Secret’s heart pounded. Her tiny hand gripped the coloring stick as her head flooded with images. There, within her, was a story she could not yet tell. One she must reveal herself. All at once, she felt its burden, its danger, and its redemption.


Secret cried out with wonder and dread, unable to understand what had opened in her but fully able to feel its power.


From the sunny corner, her mother hissed long and harsh. The noise startled the girl, and she spilled a half-empty cup of water with a jolt of her hand. Her mother hissed again, louder. The girl felt a tight knot at her navel loosen into a heavy force, which spread through her belly and chest. She held her breath, kept her glare to the ground, and pushed the hot feeling deep into her body, coiling it back to where it lived. Secret struck the page with thick black marks, but quietly, quietly.


“This spill is but an accident, yes, little scourge,” Zavet said under her breath as she wiped the floor clean.