The gorgeous cover of Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West caught my eye earlier this year and I immediately added it to my list of most anticipated releases once I read the description! It’s this gorgeous YA fantasy that weaves together elements of Cinderella, Sleepy Beauty, Mulan, and other stories into an entirely original and imaginative world (see my review here).
If you adore retellings or YA fantasy books as much as I do, then absolutely check out this book! It was an amazing debut and I’m so excited to see what Hannah West does next!
Hannah West has swooned over fantasy and fairy tales since before she wrote her first story
about a runaway princess living on top of a flagpole with two loaves of bread. Kingdom of Ash and Briars is her first novel, which she began as a college junior while studying abroad in Orléans, France. She freelance writes for Modernize.com about renewable energy and sustainable living. She lives in Rockwall, Texas, with her husband, Vince, and Robb, their rambunctious blue heeler.
Follow Hannah on Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, her website, and Pinterest!
Bristal, an orphaned kitchen maid, lands in a gritty fairy tale gone wrong when she discovers she is an elicromancer with a knack for shape-shifting. An ancient breed of immortal magic beings, elicromancers have been winnowed down to merely two – now three – after centuries of bloody conflict in the realm. Their gifts are fraught with responsibility, and sixteen-year-old Bristal is torn between two paths. Should she vow to seek the good of the world, to protect and serve mortals? Or should she follow the strength of her power, even if it leads to unknown terrors? She draws on her ability to disguise herself as a man to infiltrate a prince’s band of soldiers, and masquerades as a fairy godmother to shield a cursed princess, but time is running out. As an army of dark creatures grows closer, Bristal faces a supernatural war. To save the kingdoms, Bristal must find the courage to show her true form.
Building on homages to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jane Austen’s Emma and the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, Hannah West makes a spectacular debut.
• What do you do when you’re not writing?
My husband and I watch a lot of shows together: Penny Dreadful, Game of Thrones, Veep, Outlander, Silicon Valley, and basically any British detective drama! I love walking my dog, Robb, and hiking/camping with my boys or with friends, but the Texas heat can limit that.
• What inspired you to write a fairy tale retelling and how did you come up with the premise?
I loved Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and every Robin McKinley retelling growing up. I also loved all the Disney movies. There is something so comforting and sparkly about fairy tales told in that way, and I think that’s why so many authors and readers are fascinated with fleshing them out and making them grittier. We love the Disney classics but they’re not all substantive. So when we want more, we weave whole worlds around them.
I was always writing little snippets of retellings as kid. But when I was studying abroad one semester in France and everything around me felt like a fantasy, I wrote out a scene where a girl gets kidnapped and dragged through snowy woods toward an uncertain fate. I could feel that it was the beginning of something but I didn’t know what. But then came the idea that the stories of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella could intertwine with this kidnapped girl playing the role of fairy godmother. Underneath her disguise, she’s so much more, and there’s a deeper, clandestine purpose behind everything that she does.
• What was your favorite scene to write?
I loved writing the scenes that focus on magic: Bristal discovering her power, learning just how magnificent it is, realizing that it can be frightening if she doesn’t use it wisely. But romantic scenes are always fun, and sometimes I get so excited about them that I draft them before I even get to that point in the story!
• What was the hardest scene to write?
The sweeping battle scene. When there are so many players to physically keep track of, ones with different powers and different weapons, getting a battle scene to feel right takes quite a bit of strategy. And you have to have emotional checkpoints, too, since everything builds and builds and then finally comes to a breaking point.
• Which books have you read recently and what’s on your TBR list?
In the past couple months I’ve finished THE SHADOW QUEEN by C.J. Redwine and WINTERSPELL by Claire Legrand, both of which I loved and were totally up my alley as retellings. Same with THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, which I’m reading right now. Next up I’d love to read SHADOW AND BONE because for some crazy reason I haven’t read Leigh Bardugo yet!
• Any advice for young authors looking to be published?
Take criticism in stride. We all get hard notes. We all have to let go of things we think are essential to our stories. But if you’re working with people you trust and you give the advice time to settle rather than rejecting it right away, you’ll end up with a richer, cleaner story that you’ll love a million times more than your first draft. It doesn’t mean you can never say no to a note, but you should always ponder deeply before you do.
Thanks for sharing and congratulations on your new book!
You can order her book on Amazon or add it to your Goodreads!