Earlier this month, Sarah Beth Durst returned to the world of Renthia with the new novel, The Reluctant Queen. Today she’s joining us for an interview about her fantastical Queens of Renthia series.
Can you describe your Queens of Renthia series for those not familiar with it?
Absolutely! The Queens of Renthia is epic fantasy, set in a world filled with nature spirits… but these aren’t sweet, frolicking pastoral sprites. These spirits want to kill all humans. And only certain women — the queens — have the power to control them.
Book one is called THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, and it centers on Daleina, a young woman who is the opposite of a Chosen One. She doesn’t have any secret, undiscovered power. She doesn’t find a magic sword or inherit a magical amulet. There are no prophecies about her. She’s a mediocre student who has to work — and work hard — to even be on the same playing field as her classmates. But she wants to protect her family and save her world.
I wanted to write about someone whose true magic is her determination.
Book two is THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, and it continues Daleina’s story, plus introduces Naelin, a middle-aged woodswoman with immense power who refuses to use that power. She’s (rightfully!) afraid that if she uses it, she runs the risk of leaving her two small children motherless — or worse, endangering their lives. She’d rather watch the world burn than risk her children.
At their heart, these books are about power: who has it, who wants it, what you do with it, and what it does to you. And they were so much fun to write!!!
Can you talk a little bit about the process of writing The Reluctant Queen? How did it change from your original idea?
Actually, my original idea for the series was THE RELUCTANT QUEEN. I wrote a synopsis and about ninety pages of it, and my agent submitted it to publishers. After reading it, David Pomerico, my incredible editor at Harper Voyager, called and said, “This is great! But can it be book two?” He was 100% right — now I can’t imagine the series existing without THE QUEEN OF BLOOD as the beginning.
It did make for an interesting writing experience, though, because while I was writing THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, I knew exactly where it had to end — who had to live and who had to die — for THE RELUCTANT QUEEN to match what I imagined.
And because I’d conceived of the idea for THE RELUCTANT QUEEN so long before I wrote it and had it churning away in the back of my mind while I wrote Book One, I had a very clear vision for what I wanted the story to be. So that made writing it a true pleasure.
The whole experience was very immersive. I’d sit down at my computer and feel like I was walking through a portal into Renthia.
What inspired the character of Naelin? I found it particularly interesting that she was a mother and middle-aged, both traits unusual for fantasy heroines.
I wanted to write about a hero who was reluctant for a very, very good reason — a reason I wholeheartedly agreed with. Naelin doesn’t want to lose her family. And being heroic in a land like Renthia… well, let’s say it doesn’t come with a long life-expectancy.
I also wanted to write about someone who knows who she is and knows what she wants out of life. Naelin doesn’t put up with nonsense, and I love that about her.
If you could control one type of spirit, which would it be?
Most likely, they’d all kill me instantly. (I have zero survival instinct. In a zombie apocalypse, I’d be the fodder.) But if I were powerful enough… I think I’d want to control air spirits so I could fly.
One of my favorite spirits is the one pictured on the cover of THE RELUCTANT QUEEN. The artist (the amazing Stephan Martiniere) painted him exactly the way I imagined him: a little like Falcor from The Neverending Story but with the head of an ermine and wings of a bat.
What’s your number one piece of advice to aspiring authors?
Write what you love. Write the kind of book that you want to read.
Also, don’t be too critical too early! You wouldn’t pull a carrot out of the ground to see how well it’s growing. Let your story have a chance to grow. Be kind to yourself as you write (and in life too!).
And don’t be afraid to ignore writing advice that doesn’t work for you. Everyone’s brain works differently, and it’s okay if what works for one writer doesn’t work for you.
What books would you recommend to readers who enjoy the Queens of Renthia series?
I’d recommend UPROOTED by Naomi Novik and anything by Tamora Pierce. (My personal favorite by Tamora Pierce is WILD MAGIC, but you could also start with her first, ALANNA.) I also love THE BLUE SWORD by Robin McKinley and THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD by Patricia McKillip.
I love the kind of fantasy novel where, after you close the book, the world feels a little more magical and you feel a little stronger than you were before. I’m also a sucker for anything that’s girl with sword, girl with wolf, girl with dragon… etc.
Do you have any current writing projects? Are there any future releases we should watch out for?
I write fantasy for all ages, and right now, I’m working on my next middle-grade novel. It’s called THE STONE GIRL’S STORY, and it’s about a girl made of stone, forever twelve years old, who has outlasted the father who carved her and gave her life. But now the magical marks that animate her are fading, and she must leave home and find help, if she wants her story to continue. It will be out in spring 2018 from HMH/Clarion Books. I’m so excited about it!
Thanks so much for interviewing me!
And thanks so much for agreeing to the interview!
About the Author
Sarah Beth Durst is the author of fourteen fantasy books for adults, teens, and kids, including The Reluctant Queen, Drink Slay Love, and Journey Across the Hidden Islands. She won an ALA Alex Award and a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature, and has been a finalist for SFWA’s Andre Norton Award three times. A graduate of Princeton University, Sarah lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat. For more information, visit her at sarahbethdurst.com.