This reading group guide for The Progeny includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Tosca Lee. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction
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Emily Jacobs has no memory of how or why she ended up in a remote cabin in the backwoods of Maine. In fact, she has no memory of the last two years at all—including her real name. All she has is a letter from her former self, warning her not to go digging for answers.
But the past has a way of catching up with you, whether you like it or not. Emily learns her real name and identity: Audra Ellison, a member of the Progeny, the exceptional descendants of “Blood Countess” Elizabeth Bathory, purportedly the most prolific serial killer of all time. If that’s not bad enough, she’s also being hunted by the Scions, a secret society sworn to eliminate the Progeny. In order to survive, Audra must embark on a quest to unravel cryptic clues hidden throughout Europe. But time is running out and the stakes couldn’t be higher: If she fails, it could mean the end of the Progeny, and all that she holds dear.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Even before it’s revealed that Audra is Progeny, were you aware that she was special or different in some way? If so, what hints and clues in the text led you to that belief?
2. The word “progeny” means “descendant or offspring,” while the word “scion” means “a descendant of a wealthy, aristocratic, or influential family.” Considering that the Progeny and Scions are mortal enemies, how might the similarity of these two words be significant, and why are they surprising, given the groups they’re associated with?
3. Discuss the themes of memory and history in the story. Do you think Nikola is right when he says, “History teaches us who are” (p. 284)? How important is the past in defining our identity?
4. Before he dies, Ivan tells Audra, “There is an old saying among the Utod . . . ‘Better to die blindly than having seen too much.’ But I say: Better to live” (p. 121). With which saying do you agree? Why?
5. Discuss the role of the “sibling system” among the Progeny. If you were Progeny, whom might you choose as your sibling and protector?
6. After having heard both sides of the argument, do you think Elizabeth Bathory was innocent or guilty of the crimes of which she was accused?
7. Claudia reveals that the Bathory line is “affiliated with Vlad Dracul the third,” otherwise known as Dracula (p. 176). Discuss the similarities between the story of Elizabeth Bathory and the legend of Dracula.
8. Discuss the symbolism of Piotrek’s painting of “the foot of God” (p. 177). Do you find the image disturbing (as Audra does) or comforting (as Claudia does)?
9. Were you as surprised as Audra was upon learning that the Historian was a woman? Discuss the “irony—and twisted misogyny” (p. 282) of her role.
10. What was your interpretation of the inscription on Audra’s key: “Some rise by sin, some by virtue fall” (p. 165)? How might this phrase be a metaphor for the Scions and the Progeny, and even Elizabeth Bathory herself?
11. Discuss Audra’s decision to erase her memory, knowing that she might never remember or meet her daughter. Do you think she made the right choice?
12. How do you think the discovery of her child will change Audra’s plan going forward?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Divide your book club into two “teams” to research and debate the following issue: Was Elizabeth Bathory actually guilty of her crimes, or was she framed because of her wealth and power?
2. Hold your own “Progeny court.” Ask members of your book club to arrive in wigs, masks, or both. Play music and dim the lights to achieve the full effect!
3. Have your book club read Bram Stoker’s Dracula
. After having done so, further discuss any similarities between the character of Dracula and the legendary figure of Elizabeth Bathory.A Conversation with Tosca Lee How/why did you choose to write about the legendary figure of Elizabeth Bathory?
A few years ago, a reader wrote to me and asked me to write something about Elizabeth Bathory. At the time, I was knee-deep in my latest ancient historical. As soon as I finished, however, I was ready for a break from the genre. I knew I wanted to do a contemporary thriller with a new mythology, and when I went back into my idea file, there it was: Elizabeth Bathory.Your previous novels focus mainly on biblical characters. How did the writing process differ this time around?
Since the main characters are contemporary, it was so nice to not have to research what they ate, what they wore, or what the hygiene situation was!
As far as Bathory herself, it wasn’t that different—research is research. But it was nice to be able to visit places she lived and still be able to see her homes. Cachtice Castle is in ruins, but it’s still there, and you can walk from room to room. That’s the advantage to researching something four hundred years in the past as opposed to two thousand or three thousand years.What was the research process like for The Progeny?
I packed up my bags and invited my mom (who is always up for a new adventure) to come with me to Croatia, Hungary, and Slovakia. We purposefully made it a trip of planes, trains, and automobiles (and buses!). Beyond that, it was a lot of reading and reliance on my superb local guides, who generously stayed in contact with me during the writing of the book to answer my questions.Given all of your research, do you believe that Elizabeth Bathory was guilty of her crimes or that she was framed?
I’ve long believed that no one is just one thing. In Bathory’s case, it wouldn’t have been unheard of for her to abuse her servants. Did she systematically maim, torture, and murder six hundred girls? No. Were her purported crimes multiplied because she was an educated, newly widowed woman calling in debts even from the crown? I think absolutely.You are the author of the acclaimed novel Iscariot, a humanizing account of the life of Judas. Do you feel you’re drawn to characters that history has deemed “wicked”? If so, why?
In many cases, yes. Granted, there are characters I wouldn’t want to write about. But there is always more to a person’s story than the brief epithet assigned by history. Even in our own lives today, there’s far more going on than the assumptions people make about each other based on what they see on the surface.How did you come up with the clues that Audra must untangle throughout the story? Have you always been interested in cryptography?
The story about the windows in the Nyirbator church is true—it was a really weird moment when I realized that the direction of the sun told the story backward. I actually asked my guide to call the pastor we had just met there to confirm it. And if you’ve tromped around enough old churches, you can’t help but be filled with a sense of mystery—both ancient and morbid.
I’ve always found history’s secrets and secret societies compelling, including the circumstances that led to the need for such secrecy. History is, in the end, far more convoluted and strange than even fiction writers can conjure.What was the most challenging part of writing this story?
Figuring out how Audra goes after the Scions in book two!Do you consider The Progeny to be a feminist story? Why or why not?
I consider it to be a human story about contending with the fallout of a history—including our own.What would you like readers to take away from the story of The Progeny? What do you consider to be the most important message?
I shy away from trying to prescribe takeaways; every reader takes something slightly different away from the experience of a story, depending on what he or she brought to the book to begin with. At its heart, though, The Progeny
is a story about identity, and what makes us who we are.What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Keep writing. For long-form fiction especially, the best way to learn to write a novel is by writing a few.Will there be a sequel to The Progeny? If so, what can we expect?
Absolutely! Book two releases in February 2017. You can expect more action and higher stakes as Audra, much more in touch with her past and her abilities, attempts to take down the Scion cabal and reunite her family.