Friday, 9 April 2021

Interview with Sebastien de Castell

 This is very very late. Due to health reasons pushing me to go on an unexpected hiatus, I never got to post this interview during the publicity for Crownbreaker. I'm still not well enough to go back to posting regularly, but with Way of the Argosi coming out in just over a week, I thought what better time to post that interview that I was really excited about! So here it is, late but here. 

1. Through the book (Crownbreaker) Kellen visits so many different places with different politics and agendas and is pushed around and manipulated a lot, especially by the Jan'Tep. Did you have this all planned out before you started or did it mostly crop up organically? Was there anything you added along the way?

As soon as I knew Spellslinger was going to be a six book series, I wrote synopses for each instalment. I honestly didn’t expect to stick very close to them – it was more a matter of giving my publishers the sense of confidence that we knew where the story was going. However looking back on those synopses now, I’m surprised by how closely the books ended up following my original ideas.

Of course, there are always changes as you go. Charmcaster is the book that’s least like what I initially envisioned. I had this idea about a mechanical bird and as soon as that came into the picture, I knew I needed to build a whole society around the skill necessary to create such a creature. Then because the Gitabrians were to be explorers, inventors, and traders, the notion of coin magic started to interest me. So there are always ideas that crop up as you’re writing, and some of them change the story in drastic ways, but they’re almost always worth the extra effort.

2. Kellen is so many things, but he's certainly not the most likely of hero's, which is part of what makes him so unique and fun to read. What would you say were the most important characteristics you wanted him to have?

More than anything, when I think of being a teenager, I think of being conflicted. Some of the most intense emotions and inner conflicts we encounter come at us when we’re in our teens, and exploring these in a meaningful way requires a character who isn’t sure of everything around him. So the most important quality Kellen needed was to be perpetually conflicted. He begins the first book convinced that magic is the most important force in the world, that his people created the greatest nation, and that his family are noble and caring. Once that certainty is taken away from him, he starts calling everything into question. All six books in the series push him towards different positions that others hold as both sacred and obvious, but Kellen’s always asking himself where he stands on those issues and what he really believes. That’s what makes his life so difficult throughout the series, but to me, the best kind of hero is one who’s always questioning.

3. The (UK) cover art of these books have been fantastic and really seem to depict the individual books as well as the playing card motif of the series in general, do you think they do the series justice? Do the characters match your mental pictures of them?

I adore the covers and was incredibly appreciative that Hot Key Books allowed me to collaborate so intensely with their terrific art director, Nick Stearn, on setting the direction for the covers and the inner artwork. The cover images always respected the text of the characters, but never looked exactly as I myself imagined them – which is part of why I like them so much. Each one changed my own perception of the character for the better, starting with Ferius Parfax, but continuing with Seneira, Reichis, and so many others. It’s really been a joy to participate in that process.

4. Obviously there are already audio books of the series, but with your love of performance and the fantastic readings you do at your own events, have you ever thought of doing your own version?

I love doing public readings because it’s the one time you’re really getting to tell the story directly to fans of the series. However Joe Jameson’s narration is far superior to what I could do. He doesn’t just read the book aloud, he interprets the text the way an actor does (though in his case, he has to play dozens of parts and give each one their own voice and flavour.) For me, one of the best rewards of having the series in audio is that listening to them gives me an entirely new perspective on the story.

5. How has writing for Young Adults compared to writing your adult series? Do you prefer writing for one market over the other or do you tend to just write and not worry too much about the audience?

I’m very conscious of the audience simply because my publishers are incredibly conscious of them. There are a number of ideological constraints on writing – both for YA and adult markets – that don’t get discussed very much even though they probably should. For example, we tolerate incredibly amounts of violence in YA fiction, but swearing can get a book in all kinds of trouble. We often talk about the need for not talking down to teen readers, but it’s often adult readers of YA who insist on keeping some subjects out of bounds because for some of them (not all, of course) choosing a YA book is about wanting to read something they feel is safe. In my life I’ve never had a teenaged reader complain about swearing.

But it goes beyond that, too. Book 4 of the Spellslinger series had to have an 18+ warning on it in Russia because one of the characters is gay (despite there being no sex of any kind in the book). Why? Because Russia has a law that was passed to “protect” anyone under 18 from "gay propaganda". But there are internalized constraints, too – ones publishers and authors put on themselves because controversy can ruin careers. The argument is always the same: putting “this” (whatever “this” happens to be) in the book could harm readers, so let’s leave it out. No doubt sometimes that’s the right thing to do, but freedom of expression is something we all need to be concerned about, because the argument against it will always be that the risk of harm outweighs the importance of any given story an author wants to tell.

6. Now that the series is finished have you got any plans to return to these characters or this world? Are you sad to bring the series to a conclusion or happy to move on to new things?

I never really think of the final book in a series as saying goodbye to the characters. First of all, they live on (and continue to have adventures) in the imagination of anyone who enjoys them. That’s how it should be. We don’t need to treat characters like gold mines that we just keep digging in until they collapse on themselves. There will be more Spellslinger books in future – but it’ll be when there’s something worth exploring for which Kellen and Reichis are the best characters for it.

In the meantime, I’ve got two Argosi books due to come out starting next year, and loads of Greatcoats books in the works, so I’ve got lots to do!

7. Finally, and probably a question you've heard a million times before, but any tips for new writers, especially ones who want to start writing their own fantasy series?

Fiction is lying, and the first and most important lie is the one you need to tell yourself: your book is special. You know why? Because it is special. There are going to be loads of bad things about it, but there are also going to be some wonderful parts, and those are the parts that help you discover yourself as a writer.

Despite the claim that we’re all becoming “snowflakes” and getting participation medals for everything, the truth is that much of world around us seems dedicated to telling us that a first novel will be awful, that too many people are writing books, that if you’re not “this” kind of person you shouldn’t be writing “this” kind of story. Who knows? Maybe all of it’s true. But anyone who listens to those voices will get so discouraged when the writing gets tough that they’ll abandon the book, stick it on a shelf, unfinished, and never reap the incredible benefits that come from finishing your first novel.

My first effort was a terrible mystery novel that will never be published, but it changed my life for the better in so many ways. It expanded my mind, gave me confidence (that led to promotions at work), and made the world around me more interesting. Most importantly, it gave me the urge to write my second book years later, and that one got me a four-book deal that launched me into this amazing career.

So if you want to write your first fantasy novel, write it fearlessly, putting all the things you want into your story, ignoring the voices of disapproval coming from inside your head (and elsewhere), and tell yourself that this book – this one you’re writing now that feels like it’s off the rails? It’s worth finishing. It’s special. Keep telling yourself that as many times as you need to in order to come back to the keyboard and write the next scene. When you get to the end, no matter what you or anyone else thinks of the finished book, it will have transformed you from someone who talks about writing books to someone who actually writes them. What could be more special than that?

The Way of the Argosi comes out on the 22nd of April 2021 and follows the path of Ferius Parfax, a character that was introduced in the now finished Spellslinger series. 




I received a copy of Crownbreaker from the publisher. 

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Girls of Storms and Shadows by Natasha Ngan

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 416
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton 
Released: 5th of November 2019 

Lei and Wren have escaped their oppressive lives in the Hidden Palace, but soon learn that freedom comes with a terrible cost.

Lei, the naive country girl who became a royal courtesan, is now known as the Moonchosen, the commoner who managed to do what no one else could. But slaying the cruel Demon King wasn't the end of the plan---it's just the beginning. Now Lei and her warrior love Wren must travel the kingdom to gain support from the far-flung rebel clans. The journey is made even more treacherous thanks to a heavy bounty on Lei's head, as well as insidious doubts that threaten to tear Lei and Wren apart from within.

Meanwhile, an evil plot to eliminate the rebel uprising is taking shape, fueled by dark magic and vengeance. Will Lei succeed in her quest to overthrow the monarchy and protect her love for Wren, or will she fall victim to the sinister magic that seeks to destroy her? 

What I Have to Say 


This series keeps breaking my heart over and over, and I couldn't be more addicted to it. I just want Lei and Wren to be happy and free and in love, and all this thrilling, captivating and incredibly upsetting stuff keeps happening to them. It's not often that I get quite so invested in certain characters and relationships, but when it happens it is always a sign of an incredible series that I will love forever. I'm so attached to Wren and Lei, and also some of the other girls, that their victories and defeats thrill and hurt me. Ngan is a genius with a pen and her words are truly magic, if cruel, vicious magic that makes me want to cry and scream in frustration, especially with her cruel, heartless endings.

I really liked exploring more of the world in this book after spending so much time trapped in the palace in the first book. It was fascinating to see the different kinds of demons and the way they lived. I especially liked the birds and the way that their palace was set up and streamlined for flight, while also having stairs in place for the steel and paper castes to allow them to walk between levels.

I also loved seeing the different viewpoints throughout the book; seeing glimpses of what was happening with the Demon King and the paper girls who remained back at the palace. It feels weird to say but I think the Demon King's voice was one of my favourite viewpoints as it showed a glimpse into the mind of a monster, showing the way he thinks and also the fact that Lei has gotten under his skin, an incredible victory that I took so much pleasure in.  I also really liked Aoki's chapter even though it was so heartbreaking to read. Her feelings towards the Demon King show the trauma bond that can form between a victim and their abuser and this was a well written insight into those kinds of feelings.

I can't wait and am also dreading the third and final part of this trilogy and seeing how everything comes together. The heartbreak, betrayal, death and beautiful writing make this series such an incredible edge-of-your-seat journey.



My thanks go to Hodderscape for providing me with this free copy! 

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Tilly and the Lost Fairytales by Anna James

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 400
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books 
Released: 19th of September 2019 

A magical adventure to delight the imagination. The curl-up-on-the-sofa snuggle of a series from a uniquely talented author.

Tilly Pages is a bookwanderer; she can travel inside books, and even talk to the characters she meets there. But Tilly’s powers are put to the test when fairytales start leaking book magic and causing havoc . . . 

On a wintery visit to Paris, Tilly and her best friend Oskar bravely bookwander into the land of fairytales to find that characters are getting lost, stories are all mixed-up, and mysterious plot holes are opening without warning. Can Tilly work out who, or what, is behind the chaos so everyone gets their happily-ever-after?

What I Have to Say 

The second book in the Pages & Co series and it's managed to be even better than the first! Though I am biased as I just love fairy tales and anything involving them. And it was set in Paris! What could be better?

The fairy tales and how they worked with book wandering was definitely the best part. It was obvious that James had really thought about the oral tradition of fairy tales, as well as the fact that there are so many different versions of them and how this would affect the rules of book wandering that she had already put in place in the first book. I loved her idea of wild and changeable fairy tales and how easy it is to wander off the path and get completely lost inside the story, unable to return home. It connected beautifully with the heart of fairy stories, and the danger and moral messages contained in them, so beautifully. And it made it fun and exciting when Tilly and Oskar end up lost inside a book of fairy tales.

The politics of the book wandering community was possibly the only thing that put me off the book, though I feel that's more about my own incredible fed-upness about real world politics at the moment, more than the politics in the book itself (although they did seem to mirror our political climate a bit). However, the political scenes and issues were interesting and menacing and I'm looking forward to seeing how they impact further on Tilly and Oskar's book wandering.

I'm also so excited to see how the fact that Tilly is half fictional will impact things, especially with the new abilities that were revealed in this book! I can't wait for the next instalment.



My thanks go to Harper Collins and Netgalley for providing me with this free copy for review. 


Sunday, 13 October 2019

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 256 
Publisher: Lion Forge 
Released: 15th October 2019 

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers' bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery. 

What I Have to Say 

My first graphic novel review and it is definitely a must read! A fantastic story of adventure, family and love combined with a gorgeous art style full of colour and magic. It was a perfect combination of the two showing a vibrant world with fully shaped and relatable characters who burst out of the page with every word and image.

There was so much representation in this book and it flowed perfectly into the story. Tam is non-binary which informs so much of their past and relationship with their parents. Nova is deaf, and with hearing aids, which is a fact important to the story and her relationship with Tam, who comments on how Nova has changed hearing aids and that they like the colour. Both Tam and Nova are also Asian-American and their queer relationship is a major part of the story.

One of the things I loved most was seeing how Nova's deafness and magic interacted. How the magic is used to highlight her deafness and her experience of both. My favourite scene was one where the characters linked psychically and Nova talks about the way that she gets a taste from it of how her life could be without deafness. It was done in such a beautiful way, showing the impact being deaf has on her life but without denying how much a part of her identity it is or showing her as some poor trapped, disabled character wanting to be free (a trope that is used so often and is extremely harmful for people with disabilities).

This is such a great book full of magic and excitement whilst also showcasing the intricacies of regular life. Definitely a must read.


My thanks go to Lion Forge and Netgalley for providing me with this free copy for review. 

Saturday, 5 October 2019

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 352 
Publisher: Hot Key Books 
Released: 1st of October 2019

Aster. Violet. Tansy. Mallow. Clementine.

Sold as children. Branded by cursed markings. Trapped in a life they never would have chosen.

When Aster's sister Clementine accidentally murders a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge - in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by the land's most vicious and powerful forces - both living and dead - their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It's going to take more than luck for them all to survive.

What I Have to Say 

A great new fantasy book about girls fighting against their abusers and oppressors. The thing that really set this book apart for me was that though they showed the trauma of sexual abuse perfectly and in several different ways, the emphasis is on fighting back rather than the abuse and trauma itself.

The wild west inspired world that the Good Luck Girls was based in was a really well created picture of colonialism and slavery. The references to the taking and corrupting of native lands made a fantastic contrast to the glorified picture of cowboys and outlaws that are often shown in Westerns.

I loved these girls so much that it was sad to put the book down. I look forward to seeing what Charlotte Nicole Davis comes out with next.


My thanks go to Hot Key Books for providing me with this free copy for review. 

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Sophie Takes to the Sky by Katherine Woodfine

Synopsis (from Goodreads and Katherinewoodfine.co.uk

Pages: 104 
Publisher: Barrington Stoke 
Released: 15th of September 2019 

Scaredy-Cat Sophie is afraid of everything! So when a balloonist comes to the town fair, Sophie is left behind while everyone else goes to watch him fly in his marvellous balloon. She’s far too frightened of the crowds, the commotion and even riding in a horse-drawn carriage.

But Sophie longs to watch the hot-air balloon sail across the blue sky. If she could just be brave enough to face her fears, who knows where her journey might take her … A touching tale for young readers of learning to overcome anxiety and follow your dreams.

Illustrated by Briony May Smith, and published by Barrington Stoke as part of the super-readable Little Gems series.

What I Have to Say 

A really cute imagining of the early life of the world's first female balloonist, Sophie Blanchard. Sophie Takes to the Sky is a great book for young readers. With gorgeous illustrations by Briony May Smith, and Barrington Stokes' attention to making their books as easy to read as possible, this is a great book for young or dyslexic readers (and I adored it immensely even in my late twenties).

I loved the way that Woodfine's imagining of Sophie made her scared but stubborn, showing a girl conquering her fears through sheer determination to get to the fair to see the balloon. It's a great message to any young person that determination can get you far.

A really great book for younger readers.


My thanks go to Barrington Stoke for providing me with this free copy for review. 

Friday, 13 September 2019

A Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith Barton

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 336
Publisher: Penguin
Released: 11th of July 2019 

How can I hold myself together, when everything around me is falling apart? 

Neena's always been a good girl - great grades, parent-approved friends and absolutely no boyfriends. But ever since her brother Akash left her, she's been slowly falling apart - and uncovering a new version of herself who is freer, but altogether more dangerous.

As her wild behaviour spirals more and more out of control, Neena's grip on her sanity begins to weaken too. And when her parents announce not one but two life-changing bombshells, she finally reaches breaking point.

But as Neena is about to discover, when your life falls apart, only love can piece you back together.

What I Have to Say 

A great new novel to add to the ranks of excellent depictions of mental health in YA. This story explores grief and how much it can affect your mind. It shows Neena's spiral into complete breakdown in a slow gradual way, building up symptoms and issues, going unnoticed by those around her until it's too late. 

I love how deeply it delves into how the mind can trick you. How it can tell you things that you know can't be true, but still you believe them. The way Neena got so utterly convinced that her brother was helping her finish her paintings, the way that they were better when she woke up to them finished.

It was good to see a mental health book that really highlights the taboos surrounding mental health and discussion of it. The way Neena's mother doesn't leave the house but won't talk about it, pretending that everything is normal. The way she treats Neena's medication, hiding them away and treating them like a dirty little secret that she shouldn't tell people around. 

I also loved the cultural aspects. The descriptions of food made my mouth water! 


My thanks go to Netgalley and Penguin for providing me with this copy for review.