‘The Spirit of Fire’: Six Questions for Susanne Dunlap [INTERVIEW]

Susanne Dunlap

Susanne Dunlap is the prolific author of the Orphans of Tolosa trilogy.
(Photo by Sigrid Estrada)

Looking back at all those history classes I took during college, I recall being fascinated by the time period surrounding the Crusades. It was a bleak era filled with much bloodshed, and yet the stories of the Templar knights always seemed mysterious and adventurous despite it all. Now Susanne Dunlap brings those same qualities to her own work with her engrossing Orphans of Tolosa trilogy, and its latest installment, The Spirit of Fire. We were delighted she stopped by to chat about the new volume. We hope you enjoy this exclusive interview. —J&H

J&H: Azemar, an orphan who became heir to the baron de Montpezat, feels safe at Mas Deu. What is it about this place that grants him such tranquility despite being pursued? Were you able to visit this place while researching the novel and what impression did it make on you?

SD: Mas Deu is a ruin now, and I didn’t get to it when I went to that part of France many years ago, so my impression of it is very much an act of imagination! As to why Azemar experiences tranquility there, I think it’s that, rather than having to make life or death decisions himself, and trying to figure out on his own what he should be doing, someone is taking charge of him and making decisions for him. Even though he’s being put through trials, and doesn’t understand what they are all for, he can perceive the ways in which they are making him stronger and ultimately more able to accomplish his ultimate goals. However, he’s not entirely tranquil there, because he doesn’t know what’s happening to Azalaïs while he is being put through his various trials.

J&H: Corbiu is tortured in an effort to extract information from him. In addition to having his eye put out, what would this torture have involved and how successful were these methods usually?

SD: Ugh, I really didn’t want to go into detail about torture, LOL! Common tortures were being racked and having one’s limbs severed. There’s a museum of torture in Carcassonne that I visited while I was there, and the things they dreamt up—I shiver just thinking about them. And of course, torture is never effective. Victims either die, or lie to make the torture stop.

J&H: When battles drew near, the churches filled with more than just the typical attendees which included monks and priests. Why was it important for individuals to demonstrate their faith and what repercussions might they have faced if they hadn’t done so?

SD: Villagers had to go to church once a month to prove that they weren’t heretics. Many who actually were Cathars at heart would go just to stay out of trouble. The Dominicans were vigilant in rooting out heresy wherever they perceived it, especially before the final stand at Montsegur.

J&H: What is a trabuca and why was it an important tool in battle? What other objects might warriors need during a thirteenth century invasion?

SD: A trabuca is the Occitan word for trebuchet, which is a siege engine that would hurl rocks at castle walls from a distance. Battle axes were also very important, with maces and and other heavy implements, to help break down the defenses. Probably the most common weapon, though, was the long bow. Crossbows hadn’t been invented yet by this time. Archers could send arrows flying over walls to wreak havoc even before a wall had been breached with a trabuca and knights wielding axes and broadswords.

J&H: How difficult would it have been for Jordane to acquire poison and which poisons were most prolific at the time?

SD: I can’t really answer how hard it would have been for Jordane to acquire poison. It would have involved her having knowledge of various plants, primarily, and those could grow anywhere. Because of her acquaintance with Azalais, she has easy access to the death cap essence stolen from Fraire Goncort’s hut. Poisons at the time would have been derived from Monk’s Hood, Belladonna, Hemlock, or various mushrooms—unlike the chemically based poisons we have today (arsenic and the like). Also, juice of the poppy could be used for either medicinal or nefarious purposes.

J&H: The third book in the Orphans of Tolosa series, A Song of All Time, will come out soon. What can readers expect from this next installment?

SD: Interestingly (well, I think so anyway), Book 3 is a prequel. Throughout the first two books, we never really discover the origins of the two orphans. Book 3 fills in and explores this mystery, what came just at the end of the second Albigensian Crusade in 1229.

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Susanne Dunlap's THE SPIRIT OF FIRE

Bellastoria Press LLP


Thirteenth-century Languedoc, torn apart by decades of crusades against the Cathar heretics, braces for the final stand of the Catholic Church against the Good Men and Good Women at the remote fortress of Montsegur. Azemar and Azalais, now fugitives after their daring escape from the castel de Belascon, must try to reach the fortress-and fulfill their destiny-before it’s too late.

But the captivating trobairitz Jordane de la Moux d’Aniort and her damozel Johana have escaped with them at the last minute, putting them all in grave peril. Will Jordane’s conflicting desire to reunite with the rebel Raimon de Berenger thwart Azemar and Azalais’s quest?

A cryptic note leads Azemar to the Templar stronghold at Mas Deu, where he undergoes brutal trials-only to discover that his ultimate purpose could lead him to destroy the very culture and religion he wants to preserve.

Book II of the Orphans of Tolosa Trilogy.


Susanne Dunlap is the author of six works of historical fiction. Two are for adults (Emilie’s Voice and Liszt’s Kiss, both published by Touchstone books of Simon & Schuster). Four are for young adults (The Musician’s Daughter, Anastasia’s Secret, In the Shadow of the Lamp, and The Academie, published by Bloomsbury).

A graduate of Smith College with a PhD in Music History from Yale University, Susanne grew up in Buffalo, New York and has lived in London, Brooklyn and Northampton, Mass. She now lives in Northampton with her long-time partner, Charles, has two grown daughters, three granddaughters, a grandson, a stepson and a stepdaughter, four step-grandsons and one step-granddaughter—that’s a total of four children and nine grandchildren!

In her spare time she cycles in the beautiful Pioneer Valley.

For more information, visit the Orphans of Tolosa website at OrphansOfTolosa.com. You can also like Susanne on Facebook and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads, and BookBub.

By Susanne Dunlap
330 pp. Bellastoria Press LLP. $17.95

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours bannerPurchase The Spirit of Fire at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

The Spirit of Fire is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

The Spirit of Fire_Blog Tour Poster

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

2 Responses to ‘The Spirit of Fire’: Six Questions for Susanne Dunlap [INTERVIEW]

  1. Pingback: The Orphans of Tolosa Trilogy Comes to a Dramatic End in Susanne Dunlap’s ‘Voices in the Mist’ [FEATURE] | Jathan & Heather

  2. Thank you so much for this great interview & for hosting Susanne’s blog tour! Happy Holidays!

    HF Virtual Book Tours

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