Book Supplement: Sophie, in Shadow adds a fantasy element to history

In an endless sea of pale girls peering out from under dark bangs plastered on every book cover in the young adult section of Chapters, Eileen Kernaghan’s newest novel, Sophie, in Shadow, stands out against the masses. It’s no secret that young adult fiction is enjoying the spotlight, but Kernaghan is an old pro at weaving intriguing tales that teens and adults can enjoy.

Kernaghan isn’t picky about her audience. “Somebody, somewhere, wrote an article that I read that said the secret to why young adult novels are really popular is because of the story, they have to have a strong story,” she said.

Sophie, in Shadow, is Kernaghan’s ninth novel. The captivating story, set in India in 1914, has earned the book a spot as a finalist for a BC Book Prize in Children’s Literature. The plot centres around Sophie, a girl orphaned by the sinking of the Titanic -- inspired by Kernaghan’s ancestors missing the fateful voyage. Following a move to India, Sophie finds that she struggles with a strange power that emerges from the hallucinations she has as a result of post traumatic stress disorder after losing her family.

Described by the publishers as historical fantasy, Kernaghan says that her main interests are history and archaeology. “All these years I’ve been indulging my fondness for doing historical research,” she said. “Everything I’ve written has been historically as correct as I could make it but there’s a fantasy, supernatural element to it so it’s kind of hard to put an exact genre on it.”

Kernaghan’s career lifted off while she was living in Burnaby, raising her young children, with the publication of The Grey Isles trilogy. Now settled in New Westminster, she continues to work on books that blend her ravenous curiosity and passion for intense research with her long standing love of fantasy.

In the case of Sophie, in Shadow, Kernaghan was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim which, like Sophie, in Shadow, sees the protagonist through the Great Game -- the network of spies and terrorist plots which arose from the conflict between Britain and Russia -- in India during the most of the 19th century.

Kernaghan is drawn to the untold stories of history, focusing on people and events that have escaped the canonical history books. Another muse was Alexandra David-Néel. “[She] was a big source of inspiration,” Kernaghan said. “[She] ... was a real person, [a] famous Himalayan traveller Buddhist expert [and an] explorer. I like using real people, too, there’s quite a few real people in the book.”

Kernaghan hopes that readers will take a deeper interest in histories that are often overlooked by popular literature and would love to see her readers go back to Kipling’s Kim if they want to read more about the excitement of the Great Game. Kernaghan’s goal is to instil “a sense of adventure” in her reader. “I kind of like to take a period that is not widely known or an aspect of a period and delve into it,” she said. “You know, find out what is there to be found.”