Take a Tour of Edinburgh with the author of The Falconer
We’re kicking off the blog tour for the eagerly-anticipated debut YA Fantasy, The Falconer, by inviting author Elizabeth May to take us on a tour of her adopted city of Edinburgh, Scotland. This ancient, atmospheric city is the setting for the epic battle of young Lady Aileana against the evil faeries who threaten all she loves.
There are a lot of things to love about the city of Edinburgh. Its architecture, layout, and history make for a really fantastic fantasy setting, which was the primary reason I chose to set The Falconer here. I thought I would give a pictorial tour of some of the places that show up in The Falconer’s Edinburgh, their significance, and why I chose to include them in my novel.
NUMBER 6, CHARLOTTE SQUARE:
Number 6 Charlotte Square is Aileana Kameron’s house in The Falconer.
The Falconer takes place in 1844. At the time, Charlotte Square in New Town was considered one of the richest parts of the city. It was a residential neighborhood that housed some of the most influential men in Edinburgh. Aileana’s House is called Bute House, which is the largest house in the square. It was owned by several different people over the years, most notably by Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet, and later by the 4th Marquess of Bute (hence the name). Now it’s the official residence for the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond.
A full view of Number 6.
In The Falconer, Aileana describes Bute House as:
A tall, white building of neoclassical design, Number Six is the largest residence in the square. Nine windows grace its front façade—something my father is particularly proud of, despite how blasted expensive the window tax is in this country—with stone columns between the six upper ones. (The Falconer, p. 33)
Aileana’s father, the Marquess of Douglas, is one of the richest men in Scotland, so his taste is pretty discerning. He’d want nothing but the best!
A view of George Street from Charlotte Square.
New Town is laid out in a symmetrical grid design. Easy for travel, but there are no narrow closes to hide in, no underground passageways nor dark wynds to cloak us from view. That makes it exceedingly impractical for escape. The street is too long and straight to outrun them. (The Falconer, p.173)
Contemporary George Street is very similar to what it was like in 1844. It was a shopping street, where vendors for wealthy patrons set up their businesses. It was also the location of the Assembly Rooms, a building that was used for parties and extravagant balls, as well as performances, a purpose it still serves today.
A view of Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street.
The castle is visible from here, although thick clouds obscure the keep and the rocky ledge that forms its foundations. To me, the castle has always seemed carved from the very crag that looms over the Nor’ Loch.
Though the loch has been drained and turned into gardens, I’ve only ever heard it referred to by its former name. Now flowers, grass, and trees separate the Old Town from the New. In the dark, the green space looks vast, empty, so far below street level that the lights miss it entirely. (The Falconer, p.54)
This view of the castle was the first thing that struck me when I first came to Edinburgh. I was on the bus and I looked out the window, and caught a glimpse of a jagged crag with a stone building on top of it. I had to do a double take, because I had never seen architecture so beautiful. Aileana’s description in this scene is the way I saw Edinburgh Castle that first time.
In the second paragraph, Aileana discusses the Nor’ Loch, which is one of the lost lochs of Edinburgh. It used to be below the castle, where the Princes Street Gardens is now. From what I understand it was really, really disgusting. The stench was putrid because of the sewage and waste, and occasional dead bodies floated to the surface . . . just ugh. Bad. So in an attempt to reconstruct the image of Edinburgh as a (clean!) cultural centre, the loch was drained. The draining wouldn’t have been completed until well into the 1800s, so Aileana’s father would have been alive to see some of the loch in his childhood. Hence why they still refer to it as the Nor’ Loch in the book.
Obligatory photo of the front of Edinburgh Castle.
NORTH BRIDGE, OLD TOWN/NEW TOWN SEPARATION:
The older parts of the city of Edinburgh are divided in two very distinct halves: Old Town and New Town. The Old Town of Edinburgh is where the more ancient buildings are, from the Castle down the Royal Mile to Holyroodhouse. A lot of these are Reformation-era buildings, very close together tenements. The New Town, in contrast, is comprised of buildings constructed during the Scottish Enlightenment and onward, so they have a very neo-classical look to them that is reflective of that era.
The two halves of the city are divided by the Princes Street Gardens and the rail line, and they’re connected by the North Bridge (which existed in Aileana’s time), and the Waverley Bridge (which didn’t). The clock-tower building in the photo is the Balmoral Hotel (formerly the North British Hotel) – which also didn’t exist in Aileana’s time – but I loved the look of it so much that The Falconer includes an entirely made up clock-tower that generates electricity for New Town (electricity wasn’t there yet either, so I took a few liberties).
Another interesting factoid is about the Scott Monument, which is that great pointed relic in the photograph. It would have just been completed when the events of The Falconer took place, and at the time was a beautiful pristine ivory sandstone. Yes, ivory. Now the monument is quite dark, caused by the coal fires in Edinburgh. But if you visit the monument, you’ll see the statue of Sir Walter Scott inside in the colour of the original sandstone.
Faeries frequent Old Town more than any other place in Edinburgh. There are so many hidden and cramped closes between the buildings into which they can lure their victims. When the bodies are finally discovered, the authorities think nothing of it. Many people here die of illness. Faery killings are almost always attributed to a plague, spread easily through Old Town’s dirty, crowded quarters. (The Falconer, p.54)
I was greatly inspired by the architecture and layout of Old Town. The looming tenements are so packed together that they create dark alleyways (called wynds and closes here) between the buildings. Some of the passageways went beneath the buildings and formed underground streets (a lot of which have now been either built over or barricaded off).
The faery aspects of the book were particularly influenced by stories of plagues in Old Town. Edinburgh had several plagues that ravaged communities there, because the conditions people lived in allowed illness to thrive. In some cases, authorities sealed off the underground streets – with the plague victims trapped – until everyone inside died. Certain superstitious residents would claim the plague was caused by a curse, or by witchcraft. In The Falconer, I used plague stories as a front for faery killings. Authorities would have brushed aside a rash of sudden deaths in the community as a plague or an illness, and wouldn’t have suspected anything else because such an occurrence was commonplace.
Tightly packed tenements.
The dark closes between or under buildings get really dark and eerie after hours. Especially the ones that are really, really narrow, such as this close:
I spent a lot of time walking through the city at night and could imagine creatures using these shadowed passageways as the perfect killing ground. Edinburgh itself has some connections to faery lore, so I naturally mashed together the idea of monsters lurking in the darkness with the already existing faery folklore about the city.
Edinburgh is so full of these architectural aspects and historical events that inspire the imagination. It is such a unique city, The Falconer could not have been set anywhere else in the world.
See more! Take a walk through Edinburgh with Elizabeth May in the video below:
About The Falconer
Debutante by day. Murderess by night. Edinburgh only hope. Beautiful Aileana Kameron only looks the part of an aristocratic young lady. In fact, she’s spent the year since her mother died developing her ability to sense the presence of Sithichean, a faery race bent on slaughtering humans. She has a secret mission: to destroy the faery who murdered her mother. But when she learns she’s a Falconer, the last in a line of female warriors and the sole hope of preventing a powerful faery population from massacring all of humanity, her quest for revenge gets a whole lot more complicated. The first volume of a trilogy from an exciting new voice in young adult fantasy, this electrifying thriller blends romance and action with steampunk technology and Scottish lore in a deliciously addictive read.
Learn more about Elizabeth and The Falconer and enter for your chance to win a copy at each tour stop!
5/7/2014 Girls in the Stacks
5/8/2014 The Book Cellar
5/9/2014 Presenting Lenore
5/10/2014 Mundie Moms
5/11/2014 Literary Rambles
5/12/2014 Page Tuners
5/13/2014 Forever Young Adult
About Elizabeth May:
Elizabeth May hails from California and is currently a PhD student in social anthropology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The Falconer is her first novel.
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