The Nethergrim, by Matthew Jobin, with a guest post from the author on the use of anthropology in fiction

This week The Nethergrim, by Matthew Jobin (Philomel Books, 2014), is out in paperback!   It's the start of a series of three young teenagers who pit themselves against an ancient evil--the Nethergrim--and the monsters that serve it.   It was thought that the Nethergrim had been destroyed years ago....but that was not true.  And  now it is rising again...

Much of this first book sets the stage for things to come, introducing us to the central three characters--Edmund, whose nascent gift of magic has never been encouraged by his harsh father, Katherine, trained by her father in combat and horse training, and Tom, hard worked slave to a harsh master, whose own gifts of healing and animal husbandry verge on the preternatural.   When the peace of their village is threatened by attacks from the Nethergrim's monstrous minions, and children from the village are captured, Edmund finds in a stolen book of magic the knowledge that might lead them to the source of the evil...but the adults refuse to believe the missing children might be alive.  So the three of them band together to set out and seek the source of the evil themselves, following in the steps of the heroes who had tried to defeat it before them.

Though it is not till well in the book that the actual quest begins, there's enough happening before this to make it a fast-paced page turner.  The fact that the mystery of the Nethergrim takes a while to unfold adds considerably to the tension, and the friendship between the three kids, and their desires to fight for the village, and to fight as well the pressures of their parents and society to shape their lives (for Tom, abused by his master, this is especially pressing!), adds  much interest to the story.   The actions and inactions of some of the adults didn't always make sense to me (why, for instance, wasn't more made of Edmund's sudden use of magic?  Why did no one seem to care all that much?) but the sweep of the story carried me past these moments of doubt.

Give this one to anyone who enjoys brave kids with a mission!

And now, it's a pleasure to welcome Matthew Jobin, a fellow anthropologist! 

On the use of anthropology in fiction

In addition to being the author of The Nethergrim and its upcoming sequels, I am also an academic anthropologist, that sometimes-maligned discipline often found sharing a floor on campus with sociology. The two pursuits—anthropology and fiction—are more closely related than they might first appear. In fact, I can credit the study of anthropology and its sub-fields with much of my inspiration for the creation of the world of my books. Anthropology has taught me to dig deeper into the reasons why people are they way they are, how things as seemingly disparate as geography, folklore, biology and language all influence each other and provide the ground of human experience. It has taught me to never assume without cause, never stereotype, and to attempt to understand everything I perceive from as many points of view as I can find. It has helped me to become a better writer, and more importantly, a better person living a richer mental life.

Anthropology, for those new to the subject, is the study of everything human, from our bodies to our minds to the things we build around us. Amongst its sub-fields is archaeology, the study of human material culture—the things we make and leave behind. An archaeologist often attempts to infer from what remains of a culture what it looked like in the past, and in researching The Nethergrim I used readings in archaeology to lay deep foundations under the things my heroes see. Why is that ruined building there? What was it used for, and what were people thinking about themselves when they built it? In seminar and textbook throughout my career, I have found archaeologists expounding ever on the same theme—what we make says a great deal about how we think. Properly read, our buildings, our possessions, and even our garbage tell tales of our inner worlds.

There are other subfields of anthropology that have aided me in creating the world behind my books. Cultural anthropology helped me to get unstuck from the norms of my own upbringing and to see the lives of other people from the inside. It is so easy, when writing about a distant or created culture, to use it as a prop against one’s own values, but the result of such work never satisfies as deeply as a culture that seems real unto itself. Biological anthropology helped me to take the long view of humanity, and to consider always that we are influenced by both the contents of our minds and the structure of our bodies. Readings in linguistics inspired me to follow the tree of change back toward its roots, to create the languages I constructed for my world under the influence of believable historical forces. Perhaps the greatest gift, though, that anthropology has given me are friends and colleagues who are experts in all of the fields I mention above. I’ve got to get things right in the world of my books, or they’ll never let me hear the end of it.


  1. Those covers are gorgeous, but that aside, it seems like a very nice mix of history and magic. Plus friends who hold you accountable, well they are the best.

  2. Love the covers! The books also sound fascinating and right up my alley. :) I look forward to reading them. It was also fun to hear from the author.

  3. I agree, the covers are beautiful. Are they two books or two versions of the first book? Is the second book out? I'm always up for brave kids with a mission! And I'm curious to see if an anthropologist does a better job of worldbuilding than your average writer.


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