Bloody Monarchs: Sarah Beth Durst dishes on her new fantasy series

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Things are about to get bloody in book one of Sarah Beth Durst’s new series The Queens of Renthia. In this gripping new novel, The Queen of Blood (Harper Voyager, Sep.), young Daleina witnesses the massacre of her village as a child by crazed spirits. No, spirits in Durst’s novel aren’t kind protectors, they’re vicious, and only the queen is able to keep them at bay. Luckily Daleina is able to save her family because of her own just-discovered ability to control spirits. She then dedicates herself to training at the academy to become an heir — a possible candidate to take over for the queen when she passes.
Daleina is neither the strongest nor the smartest, but she fights to make a difference anyway. We caught up with Durst to get the dirt on this new series, where her inspiration comes from and what we can expect in the future.
You’ve written many YA novels, what was it like making the switch to an adult audience for The Queen of Blood?
I think of writing a book as taking a journey. For each one, you start out the same way with all the same supplies — you pack your adverbs and adjectives, a few snacks, some sunscreen, a length of rope for scaling any Cliffs of Insanity, a sword for fighting any stray fire-breathing dragons, and a towel for any unplanned interstellar travel — and you go where the road takes you.
Making the switch to adult was no easier or harder than starting down another new road.
For me, the key difference is the type of road you take, rather than the audience. Is it a full-of-danger epic-fantasy road or a paved-with-snark contemporary road? When I write, I deliberately try not to think about who the audience is; I just think about who the characters are and where they're going.
I do have to add, though, that writing The Queen of Blood was one of the best writing experiences that I've ever had. I loved working on this book so much!
In many fantasy worlds the “spirits” are elusive, holy and often benevolent. In Renthia, the spirits actively wish to eradicate humans and only the queen can keep them from doing so. What inspired these beings?
I can pinpoint the exact moment of inspiration. I was at a cabin in the woods, looking up and admiring the trees, and I tripped over my own feet. The sudden pain while surrounded by the beauty of nature led directly to Renthia's bloodthirsty nature spirits.
Apparently, complete klutziness can lead to books.
In The Queen of Blood, only women are able to connect with the spirits. As a result you have a lush and full cast of well-developed female characters. Why is it important for women and girls to see themselves represented in the fantasy genre?
When I was ten years old, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I'd never met anyone who was a writer, so I think in the back of my mind I believed all real writers were mythical or dead. It was this impossible dream. But then I read Alanna by Tamora Pierce, about a girl who becomes her land's first female knight, and I remember thinking, "If Alanna can become a knight, I can become a writer."
Fantasy is — or can be — a literature of hope and empowerment. And I think it's extremely important to have women and girls stride through that kind of landscape, both as heroes and villains, achieving their impossible dreams. Certainly it's changed my life.
Daleina is neither the strongest nor the smartest — what sets her apart?
Daleina really shouldn't be the hero of this story. But she's determined to be.
I wanted to write about a character who wasn't either an antihero or a Chosen One. She's just a girl (and then a young woman) who desperately wants to do the right thing. While I was writing The Queen of Blood, she became very real to me.
Kind of feel like I should send her an apology note for all I put her through.
Merecot was a character who immediately leapt off the pages. She has a very strong personality! Did anyone in your life inspire this fiery young woman?
I loved writing Merecot! She walked into the story while I was writing it and demanded a role — so much fun when that happens, when the characters arise from the world.
I very rarely use real people in my writing. I prefer for the characters to exist whole on their own within the story — which has the odd side effect of making me sad whenever I finish writing a book, because I don't want to say goodbye. One of the things that excited me the most about writing The Queen of Blood is that it's book one of a series, so when I finished the last chapter, I didn't have to say goodbye!
And I can tell you that we haven't seen the last of Merecot …
The kingdom of Aratay is built in its massive trees (an entire village can be built into just one tree!), what inspired your worldbuilding? Will we see the other kingdoms up close?
I picture Aratay as sort of a cross between Lothlórien and the forest moon of Endor. HUGE trees, with the majority of the population living at "midforest," halfway between the forest floor and the canopy. The landscape was shaped by the tree spirits who live in Aratay.
In the other kingdoms — which I do plan to visit in future books! — other kinds of spirits have had a greater influence. Semo, in northwest Renthia, for example, is overrun with earth spirits and is therefore filled with tremendous mountains and threatened by volcanos and earthquakes. Ehlim, to the northeast, is dominated by ice spirits, and the people eek out their existence on the face of glaciers.
Renthia has a much more extreme landscape than Earth, and the idea for it grew out of the core concept of these out-of-control nature spirits. Only queens can keep the spirits' powers in check and make it possible for humans to survive.
Can you give us a teaser for book two?
Book two is called The Reluctant Queen, and while The Queen of Blood stars a woman who makes the most of her weak powers, book two will introduce a woman whose powers exceed any who have come before. I don't want to give too much of it away, but I can tell you that she doesn't have an easy time of it either ... Life isn't easy for anyone who lives in a world that wants them dead.
If you’re ready to learn more about the dangerous world of Renthia, pre-order your copy from one of these retailers: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | IndieBound.