Author Interview

Q & A with Andrew Shvarts

Last week, I finally experienced crying over a book. This special debut novel, entitled Royal Bastards, just came out a week ago. I’ll never forget how it positively wrecked me. If you want to know more about my thoughts and feels, check out my review. I loved reading this book, so I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know its author. Hopefully, other readers would feel the same way.

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  1. Did your love for video games manifest in Royal Bastards? (P.S. I love Final Fantasy and other JRPGs)

“What a great question! I hadn’t really thought much about it, but now that you mention it, I definitely think there’s a lot of jRPG DNA in Royal Bastards. Growing up, a lot of those games (especially ones like Final Fantasy 7 and Chrono Trigger) were incredibly influential, and in a lot of ways, made for my favorite kind of stories: groups of misfits and outcasts, coming together for a great journey, overcoming their demons and bonding along the way.”

  1. What was your inspiration for the world and magic system in Royal Bastards?

“Hmmm, I think there were a lot of different influences. Obviously, there’s a little bit of Westeros in the mix, with the different noble Houses and the way the world is run on violence and intrigue. But I also wanted to do something different than the typical ‘European pastiche’ fantasy, which is why the geography resembles the Pacific Northwest. The magic system just sort of wrote itself, honestly… I knew I wanted it to be based in something physical, like Rings and martial forms, and to have clear rules and parameters. I tend to like fantasy worlds where magic is rare but powerful, and where it’s explicitly shaped the contours of society.”

  1. Which character was the hardest (and easiest) to write about? Do you have a favorite character?

“Easiest and most fun was Jax; he’s all heart and jokes, which meant any scene with him was an absolute delight. Zell was a lot trickier; because he’s so stoic, guarded, and taciturn, he’s pretty much the opposite of me, so it took a lot of effort to figure out his voice.”

  1. Zell (who reminded me of FF8’s Zell) was sometimes called a “barbarian.” With that in mind, how did you implement diversity in your work?

“I believe diversity and positive representation in fiction is incredibly important, and something I strive for in everything I write. From the start, I knew that Royal Bastards would be a diverse fantasy world with many POC characters and cultures; beyond just the social good of writing diversely, I think it makes for vastly more interesting fiction.

“Regarding Zell, I hope it’s clear that any perception of him as a ‘barbarian’ by the non-Zitochi characters is purely their own prejudice, refuted on the page; the Zitochi, with their rich history, democratic government, and egalitarian norms, are arguably the most modern and progressive culture in the novel.

“On a thematic level, I think ROYAL BASTARDS is about that point in adolescence when you really start to question the way you were brought up; that means realizing your parents aren’t the heroes you may have always believed, but also realizing that some beliefs you’ve been brought up with are actually harmful prejudices.”

  1. Gleaning upon your novel, how do you think bastards/illegitimate children are seen and treated in our own society nowadays?

“Interesting question! I think, by and large, we’ve moved away from seeing a given child’s ‘legitimacy’ or heritage as critical to their role in the world, which is unquestionably a good thing. I think categorizations like that tend to exist to reinforce power structures, which invariably serve as systems of oppression. This is something you’ll see explored more in the sequels to Royal Bastards, the extent to which a given culture’s ingrained norms exist primarily to ensure that the powerful stay in power.”

  1. How did being color-blind and tone-deaf affect your writing process?

“Tone-deafness hasn’t affected much, except my ability to sing karaoke, but being color-blind has had a fairly formative impact on how I tend to think. When you’re color-blind, you just have to accept that your own perception is wrong, and rely on others; no matter how much your eyes tell you two colors are the same, if you want to function, you need to trust others when they say they aren’t. I think that’s made me more open to feedback as a writer, and more willing to question my choices.”

  1. Can you disclose anything about the sequel(s)?

“I can’t say much, but I will say that you’ll learn a lot more about the nature of magic and the history of the Volaris… and that I wrote an action scene that has my favorite kill I’ve ever written!”


 

About the author:

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Andrew Shvarts is an author of novels and video games. He has a BA in English Literature and Russian from Vassar College. He works for Pixelberry Studios as a designer, making mobile games like High School StoryChoices, and more. Andrew lives in San Jose, California, with his wife, toddler and two kittens.

Visit Andrew’s website

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Book Review

Legitimate Tears

Royal BastardsRoyal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I buddy read this book with the charming bookish king, Solomon, and the empowered fangirls, Cait and Ambs.

LO AND BEHOLD, THE VERY FIRST BOOK THAT MADE ME CRY.

Exactly 18 hours ago, my heart broke. Please send help because I haven’t gotten over that painful yet beautiful plot twist. I really did not expect to be emotionally invested in this book. I’ll do my best to convey my thoughts without sulking, bursting into man tears, or giving any spoilers. :p

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Royal Bastards follows five teenagers who are caught in the middle of a civil war. Tilla, Jax, Miles, and Zell are bastards (illegitimate offspring), while Lyriana is the daughter of the ruling King. Falsely accused for the murder of the King’s brother, the group goes on a breathtaking journey full of action, adventure, and even romance. This book is marketed as a mashup of Game of Thrones and Six of Crows. I haven’t read both series, but you might want to check out Royal Bastards in light of that blurb alone.

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I loved this book because I found it to be simultaneously plot-driven and character-driven. It featured an intriguing and relatable cast of protagonists who were shoved into such thrilling situations. I lost count of the times they nearly lost their lives! The perfect pacing of the plot more than compensated for the inadequate world building.

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Among the protagonists, Tilla and Jax were my absolute favorites. They were half siblings who belonged to different walks of life, but they were as close as heck. I was particularly fond of this aspect of the story since I myself am close to my siblings. In fact, I liked it even more than the romantic relationship between two certain characters. 😉 Literary romance is quite overrated for me at this point, so I would rather be entertained by brotherly or platonic love.

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Lyriana was my other favorite. She seemed to be a typical dim-witted princess at the beginning of the book, and I was very pleased when she proved me wrong. I specifically admired her insightful thoughts on chastity, which is a rare character trait in YA. I should’ve remembered that readers should never judge characters by their socio-economic status. xD

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The antagonists (I refuse to disclose their names) were fascinating in their own twisted way. Their reasons for anarchy were actually legitimate. Honestly, I sympathized with their desire to free their province from the clutches of the Kingdom. However, the things they did to achieve their goal were unquestionably unethical.

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Many fantasy novels nowadays have been criticized for their lack of diversity. If you’re one of those haters of such “politically incorrect” literature, you’ll probably find Royal Bastards as a breath of fresh air. Zell and Princess Lyriana are people of color, and one of the male side characters is said to “prefer the company of men”.

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I cannot finish my review without shining a light on the book’s unforgettable plot twists. One of them made me cry, as you already know. I’ve read many emotional books that made me teary-eyed, but Royal Bastards was the first one that actually made the tears flow. My throat was so heavy last night when I tried to bottle up my emotions in front of my brother, who understandably laughed at me. Looking back, I had a hunch that something bad would happen. Still, I didn’t assume that it would be that evocative. GAH! I AM SO TEMPTED TO SPOIL EVERYONE JUST SO I CAN SHARE THE PAIN!

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In the end, it must be clear that I genuinely enjoyed Royal Bastards. I’m not sure when I’ll finally get over it. Probably not for a week or two. The beauty of this book nearly gave me a reading slump, so please tread carefully. To the author, Andrew Shvarts, thank you for creating such an outstanding debut novel. 😀

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P.S. I managed to schedule a written interview with Andrew, so stay tuned! 🙂

*The featured image was taken from Andrew’s website

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Book Review

A Love That Is Anything but Twisted

HuntedHunted by Meagan Spooner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead

There’s no such thing as living happily ever after—there’s only living. We make the choice to do it happily. —Meagan Spooner

This was my third buddy read with my admirable friend, Bentley (Book Bastion). I’m still not over the live action film of Beauty and the Beast, so this book was a pleasure to read.

Essentially, Hunted is a super Feminist retelling of BatB. Set in the rich and mythical world of Russia, this book is also reminiscent of Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. Most of the plot stays loyal to Disney’s BatB, but Meagan Spooner also made some changes in order to make her story one of the best fairy tale retellings YA has to offer.

For me, the best feature of this book was its lack of instalove. Enraged by the death of her father, Yeva was determined to exact vengeance on the Beast. Consequently, nearly 50% of the book was about Yeva honing her archery skills and plotting to kill the Beast. I admit that this made the plot relatively slow-paced, but it was for the best because Yeva and the Beast’s relationship felt more authentic.

To my surprise, Meagan Spooner also explored Stokholm Syndrome in her novel. Since Yeva was temporarily a prisoner in the Beast’s castle, her sisters were bewildered to discover that she developed romantic feelings for him. However, Yeva clearly stated that her reasons for falling in love were anything but twisted. It is also important to note that Yeva realized her affection for the Beast after she plunged a knife into his throat. In light of her very active agency, it would be ridiculous to describe Yeva as a victim of Stokholm Syndrome.

I enjoyed Yeva’s character arc, but the Beast was actually my favorite character because of his intriguing complexity. He always referred to himself as “we” (because of his dual nature as man and beast), he was very secretive, and he was adorably bookish like Yeva. Furthermore, I savored the poetic voice of his chapters, which unfortunately were only 2 to 3 pages long.

In addition to Yeva and the Beast, Hunted also featured a memorable cast of side characters. Among them, Solmir was the one who piqued my interest the most. He was basically a new version of BatB’s Gaston, so I immediately expected him to be a charming villain. Surprisingly, I found myself shipping him with Yeva because of his generous and respectful attitude. Overall, I liked him because he had a talent of defying my negative expectations.

With all that said, I genuinely enjoyed Hunted. The only weakness I found was its relatively slow pacing; some of the chapters made me sleepy because they were uneventful. Nevertheless, I am glad to have read it because it is unquestionably an outstanding retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I will never forget its confusing yet utterly beautiful ending.

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Book Review

Princess Problems 103

The Beauty of Darkness (The Remnant Chronicles, #3)The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead

I am yours, and you are mine, and no kingdom will ever come between us.

This is undeniably one of the best books I have ever read. It made me feel a myriad of emotions, ranging from uncontrollable joy to heartbreaking grief.

After Lia barely escapes Venda, Rafe brings her to Dalbreck, where he plans to make her his queen. Unfortunately, Lia’s happily ever after is obstructed by a mind-blowing plot twist: the despicable Komizar is still alive. Guided by her Gift of knowing, Lia is determined to expose the wicked in her own kingdom and thereby convince everyone to prepare for war.

It took me around three weeks to finish this book, but it was not because it was boring or dragging. I really just wanted to savor each chapter because I did not want to say goodbye to my favorite characters, my fictional BFFs. With that in mind, I was so thankful that I had 679 pages to get through. It was definitely a slow yet unforgettable journey.

Lia was already amazing in The Heart of Betrayal, so I was surprised that she still had further development in this book. She became more attuned to her Gift, and she learned how to convict every man who underestimated her, including her beloved Rafe. Throughout the novel, Lia exhibited a lot of virtues, such as bravery, fortitude, and wisdom. All in all, she was utterly and positively different from the Lia we met in The Kiss of Deception.

I am sad to say that Rafe somewhat became annoying in this book, especially in the first half. His desire to protect or shelter Lia was often too much; it was the cause of many heartbreaking arguments, aka Yelling Sessions. I did not know what to do with myself when they parted ways. Thankfully, Rafe was able to redeem himself by helping Lia in Morrighan. Lia was indeed a formidable female, but she would probably be dead without Rafe. (To be fair, Lia first saved his life in Venda.) In totality, I admired Rafe because of his integrity, as well as his unconditional love for Lia.

Given my history with Kaden, I was surprised by the realization that he could actually be likable. In this book, he wasn’t such an insufferable THIRD WHEEL. He was always by Lia’s side, but he finally stopped trying to win her over. I never shipped him with Lia from the start, so I was so happy that he ended up with Pauline (who was adorable, btw). If anything, I guess I loved that he was so loyal to Lia despite his connection to the Komizar.

Overall, The Beauty of Darkness is a beautiful ending to an unforgettable series. I loved literally everything about it. The evocative writing. The gripping plot. The rich, mythical world. And most of all, the precious, well-developed characters. Prepare to be enthralled.

I also gave 5 stars to the previous books, so I can confidently say that The Remnant Chronicles is one of the greatest series YA has to offer. I will definitely read it again someday just to relive all the feels.

P.S. I must give an honorable mention to Jeb. May he rest in peace. 😦

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Author Interview

Q & A with Roshani Chokshi

It really makes your day when one of your favorite authors accepts your request for an interview. The Star-touched Queen is one of the best novels I have read this year, and I am so proud and happy that it was written by a fellow Filipino. If you want to know more about my thoughts on TSTQ, feel free check out my review. Roshani’s new book, A Crown of Wishes, just came out last month, and I am confident that it will be an addition to my shelf of favorite books. I hope that this interview will encourage you to read Roshani’s outstanding works. 😀

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“Hi Josh! I loooove these questions. Thank you so much for taking the time to come up with them! I really appreciate it. My answers are below!”

1. How did you express or manifest your Filipino heritage in the Star-Touched Queen (and/or A Crown of Wishes)?

“While my Filipino heritage was not explicitly referenced in TSTQ and ACOW, the motivation behind why I wrote the stories is a direct result of my Filipino and Indian heritage. Because I wasn’t taught my parents’ native languages, myths and fairytales from across the world bridged that cultural gap.”

2. Compared to many YA heroines, Maya is significantly empowered; Amar, her love interest, is depicted as both her equal and supporter. With that in mind, is The Star-touched Queen intentionally Feminist?

“I love this question! TSTQ is intentionally feminist in the sense that no sense of female power is denied. I wanted to express this not just in TSTQ but also ACOW, where the main character (Gauri) is equally comfortable in traditionally “masculine” and “feminine” settings and subverts both to possess the only identity that matters: hers. Gauri loves makeup. She loves swords. Maya loves strategy and power. She also loves fairytales. I wanted to challenge this idea that femininity is a soft thing, because it is intense and multi-faceted and I want my female readership to know that they contain multitudes and HAVE it all.”

3. Kamala, Maya’s horse, is a very peculiar character. What was the inspiration behind her creation? I actually imagined her as Maximus from Tangled. xD

“LOL! Kamala is actually based off of me and one of my childhood best friends. We have a rather dark sense of humor and I kinda imagined what *I* would be doing in a quest story, and honestly, I’d never be a main character. I’d be the sidekick constantly derailing the plot to go find something to eat…”

4. Are Maya and Amar self-sufficient characters? Hypothetically speaking, would they be able to attain a “happy ending” without each other?

“I don’t think so. And I don’t mean that in the sense that either of them needs a significant other to “complete” them or give them contentment. The reason why they need each other is because of the perspective and depth that comes from their relationship. Because of the value added to their existence by knowing each other. We don’t go through life as islands. We draw on the nourishment of relationships (platonic, romantic, familial, etc…) to bloom and grow, and I think that’s just as true with Maya and Amar. Perhaps they could’ve figured out how to find fulfillment without one another, but I’m a sucker for love stories <3″

5. Let’s go back to basics. As Filipino teachers ask, what is the “moral lesson” (#Redundant xD) of The Star-touched Queen?

“The moral lesson is that fate is a squishy thing that we must forge for ourselves.”

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About the author:

Roshani Chokshi is the New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen. Her work has appeared in Strange HorizonsShimmer, and Book Smugglers. Her short story, The Star Maiden, was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.

Visit Roshani’s website

 

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Book Review

Princess Problems 102

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles, #2)The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: If you haven’t read The Kiss of Deception, please do not read this review.

With my last dying breath, I would make him regret the day he ever laid eyes on me. —Lia

Ouch. That ending was utterly painful. The last time I felt this way was when I read The Winner’s Crime. There were so many evocative scenes crammed into the last hundred pages. My brother recently asked what’s wrong with me because I couldn’t help but verbally express my shock and indignation at everything that happened to Lia and her comrades. I’m sure as heck going to start The Beauty of Darkness ASAP. However, for now I am obliged to stay sane and somehow justify my love for this book (series).

I wasn’t particularly fond of Lia in The Kiss of Deception, but I was amazed by her character development in this book. All of the pain she went through changed her in all the best ways possible. The harshness of her environment in Venda also contributed to the growth of her inner strength. Lia was like Kestrel of The Winner’s Curse in that she significantly relied on the sharpness of her intelligence (and tongue). However, unlike Kestrel, Lia was also adept at physically defending herself. Adding up all of these factors, Lia was a brilliant example of an empowered female protagonist. She definitely wasn’t someone you could easily trifle with.

This might come as a surprise, but I actually enjoyed Kaden’s characterization. Even though he bugged me to no end, it was intrigued to know the reasons behind his unswerving loyalty to Venda and the Komizar. His backstory was mysterious enough, but I must say that it failed to lessen my hate for him, if not for his title as the Assassin. Every time he was deceived into thinking Lia had romantic feelings for him, I experienced equal degrees of pity and grim satisfaction. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see him as worthy of Lia’s affection. If anything, I liked him only because he made the story more entertaining.

Unsurprisingly, I had no problem with Prince Rafe. From the very first chapter, I fervently wished that his relationship with Lia would push through in spite of their mutual deception in the past. It was clear that Rafe loved Lia not for her title, but for who she really was. I especially admired his self-control because I myself would crack in the presence of despicable men like the Komizar. Rafe prioritized Lia’s safety over his own emotions, and I applauded him for doing so.

The last thing I liked about this book was its infamous villain, the Komizar. As you have probably discerned from the paragraphs above, I absolutely hated him. To be more precise, I loved hating him because he was one of the most horrible villains I’ve encountered in literature. I will never forget how he almost made me cry when he did something to one of Lia’s close companions. There were so many shades to the Komizar’s depravity, and it reflected the author’s talent for creating such complex and meaningful characters.

With all that said, The Heart of Betrayal is an outstanding sequel to The Kiss of Deception. I honestly can’t say anything negative about it because I enjoyed it immensely. I am both afraid and excited to see how Lia’s journey will end.

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Author Interview

Q & A with Christina June

Hi, booknerds! Dessa and I recently read an ARC of It Started with Goodbye by debut author Christina June.

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We genuinely enjoyed this contemporary retelling of Cinderella (both of us gave it 5 out of 5 stars), and we can hardly wait for the rest of the YA community to read it. If you want to know more about ISWG, feel free to check out our review. We hope that this written interview will encourage you to pick up ISWG when it comes out on May 9, 2017. Happy reading!

1. The title of your book is open to interpretation, so what does it mean to you personally?

The original title of the book was VALEDICTIONS, which is just the long word for saying goodbye, usually at the closing of a letter.  My publishing team came up with something a little more catchy, but the definition of a valediction will appear on the back of the finished copy–both what the dictionary says and Tatum’s more snarky explanation.  I’m glad it survived!  At the beginning of the novel, there are many goodbyes–Tatum to her father, Tatum to her best friend, Tatum to her summer of fun–that turn into new beginnings and opportunities, so I think the title fits well.”

2. What version of Cinderella do you like more, the Grimm version or the Disney version?

I grew up on the Disney version, and Disney-like versions in the fairy tale anthologies my mom would read from at bedtime.  I like that it has a hopeful ending and that Cinderella gets away from her unfortunate home.  But, I do enjoy the Grimm’s version as well.  I like the step-family getting a little justice.  I used an awesome website out of the University of Pittsburgh when I was doing research that lists the Cinderella trope in all the cultures where it occurs.  It’s fascinating how the same story cropped up, just different details, all over the world.”

3. Romance is a minor theme in your novel. Was this done intentionally, and would you describe Tatum and SK’s relationship as true love?

I would certainly say Tatum and SK are a great match and could definitely fall in love down the line.  While romance is pretty central to the original Cinderella story, I purposely made sure all the relationships in Tatum’s life–family and friends–were examined as well.  Not every teen falls in love, or is hoping to, but I believe we all need a strong support network.”

4. Tatum and her stepmother had a really tough relationship. What is your message to those who are in the same situation?

I would hope that readers would feel empowered to stand up for the things that are important to them.  Just because someone you love has a different idea of what happiness or success looks like doesn’t make your dream less valid.”

5. What is the story behind Tatum’s name? (It inevitably reminded us of Channing Tatum) xD

Honestly, it’s just a name I like and not one that I’ve seen much in YA.  It does make me think of Channing Tatum, though, and that’s never a bad thing.”

6. ISWG deals with family and friend issues. Is the book somehow inspired by a significant part of your life?

No, nothing specific from my own life informed this story, but universal emotions certainly did.  I observe a lot of teens struggling with the moment they discover their parents, or other important adults in their lives, come with their own baggage.  It can be a hard pill to swallow, but as we see from Tatum’s story, having that context can be really eye-opening.”

7. What did you like about the process of writing a fairy tale retelling?

I love that fairy tales are easily recognizable and make for a good starting place with a brand new story.  It was really fun taking the classic elements and turning them into something new.  A lot of retellings, especially in YA, are fantasy or science fiction, so I wanted to do a contemporary story with no magic.  It was important to me that Tatum feel like an “everygirl” and not a damsel in distress.”

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About the author:

Christina June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor.  She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.

Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, eats too many cupcakes, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland.  She lives just outside Washington DC with her husband and daughter.

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