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From the Writer’s Desk

Top 5 Books I Read to Research Nightspell

By Leah Cypess

1. The Hound and the Hawk: The Art of Medieval Hunting by John Cummins

Nightspell takes place in a medieval-style court, and includes hunting scenes. I’ve read so many historical and fantasy novels involving hunts that I thought I knew how they worked. But once I sat down to actually write one, I realized that all I knew was that there were horses and dogs involved. And trumpets. And someone crucial always fell off his horse or got gored.

After much searching, I found an out-of-print copy of this book, which was perfect; while not exactly a riveting read (though it is fascinating in parts, especially if you skip the detailed descriptions of the differences between various types of hunting dogs) it told me exactly what I needed to know in order to write my hunting scenes.


2. Genghis Khan by Harold Lamb

Why, you ask? Because originally, I thought I was going to base Raellian society on medieval Mongolia. This book convinced me that, actually, that wasn’t going to work for the story and characters I wanted to create. But it was still interesting. Also, it’s available as an audio book, which means I could do research while chopping vegetables! (Yes, the life of a writer is really as exciting as they say.)


3. Where the Pavement Ends: One Woman’s Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China & Vietnam by Erika Warmbrunn

Ostensibly, more research on Mongolia. Also, I love bike-riding (though clearly not as much as Ms. Warmbrunn), and the book is both fascinating and incredibly well-written. An example, which I think anyone who has bike-ridden over rough terrain and then seen pavement can empathize with:

“We play leapfrog for hours, bumping over rocks, crunching through ice and snow, wading through freezing streams, until in the early afternoon a black snake of pavement wells up on the horizon. Like a deep gulp of oxygen after staying too long beneath the waves. Like a western plane from a Soviet airport.  Like a language I know after one that I don’t.”


4. Great Caves of the World by Tony Waltham

Some of the pivotal scenes in Nightspell take place in caverns that wind their way beneath the castle. I took a bunch of books about caves out of the library, and this is one of the ones I bought after reading – mostly so I could keep going back to look at the pictures while I wrote. (More useful than the book, though, were my old travel notebooks with descriptions of various cave excursions; and more useful than either of those was the advice of fellow Greenwillow author Leah Clifford, who has done some serious caving in her day.)


5. The Nameless Book

Early in the writing of Nightspell, I was in the local B&N while my daughter slept in her stroller. One of the pitfalls of this particular workplace, obviously, is all those distracting books; but in this case, I was specifically looking for a book to read – a book set in a decadent intrigue-filled court, to get myself in the right mood. I wandered through the stacks until I found something that looked promising, and then I started reading it. Much to my chagrin, I can no longer remember what book it was. Something based on the English monarchy with a female heroine and a star-crossed love? I guess that doesn’t narrow it down all that much… sorry, Nameless Book. You were very helpful, though.


Leah Cypess is the author of Nightspell and its companion book, Mistwood. She lives in Boston with her husband and two daughters.


  1. J says:

    Need to check out that cave book… would be quite useful that.

  2. Lois says:

    Thanks for this great post, Leah. And medieval Mongolia . . . my mind just hadn’t gone there!

  3. […] Leah Cypess shares the top 5 books she read to research […]

  4. anonymous says:

    what is the name of the font used on the cover of nightspell?

  5. Tim Smith says:

    Anonymous, sorry we ignored you for so long: the title type used on MISTWOOD and NIGHTSPELL is “Rapture Heavenly”.

    (Yes, that’s really what it’s called.)


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