Sarah Beth Durst is one of my favorite authors. It’s hard to pick just one of her books to have as my absolute favorite but I have to say The Reluctant Queen might be it. This book is the second in Sarah’s award winning Queens of Renthnia series which starts with The Queen of Blood. Today Sarah is here for our tenth interview to talk a little more about The Reluctant Queen.
Miss Print (MP): When we last talked about The Queen of Blood you explained that the Queens of Renthia series originally started with The Reluctant Queen as the first book before you made a switch and started the series with Daleina’s path to the throne. What was it like going back to this story after shifting the beginning in that way? Did The Reluctant Queen have any big changes because of the shift?
Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Starting with book two, then creating book one, and then returning to book two made for a surprisingly fantastic writing experience. It was nothing I could have planned or predicted, but it turned out to be the best thing for me.
The entire time I was working on THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, I had the story for THE RELUCTANT QUEEN churning in the back of my mind. So when it was time to write book two, I knew the world, the story, and the characters so well that it felt like coming home.
Well, “home” if home were a massive forest with cities high up in the trees and tons of bloodthirsty nature spirits eager to destroy humanity…
MP: As its title suggests, this story focuses on a woman who doesn’t want to be queen. Naelin is very powerful and, as one character describes her, “deeply committed to living a forgettable life” and never attracting the attention of the spirits. Naelin’s lack of ambition and focus on her family is often in stark contrast to Daleina’s own position as Queen and her deliberate choices to take up that role. If you were in Renthia, whose path would you be more likely to understand and follow yourself?
SBD: I love writing about brave heroes like Daleina — she’s not particularly powerful (in fact, she’s at best a mediocre student, lacking the innate talent and skill of her classmates), but she’s determined to protect her family and save her world anyway.
I do consider myself to be determined (being a writer requires a certain amount of pig-headed stubbornness), but I’m not very brave. Daleina ziplines all around her forest and faces down vicious spirits. I, on the other hand, can’t even handle a nice, placid bike ride without being terrified, and I’m afraid of skunks.
So I’d probably chose Naelin’s path.
Actually, I agree with many of Naelin’s life choices. She has immense power but chooses not to use it out of a (very, very reasonable) fear that she’ll leave her children motherless.
MP: The Reluctant Queen shows readers several new parts of Aratay including a much more in-depth view of the palace in Mittriel. What was your favorite room or place to showcase in this book? Which are you most excited for readers to discover?
SBD: My favorite room is the Chamber of the Queen’s Champions, even though Daleina isn’t as fond of it as I am:
Carved into the top of the palace tree, the Chamber of the Queen’s Champions was known far and wide as a marvel. It was said to have been created by one hundred tree spirits, working together under the command of a long-ago queen, in a mere instant. It was enclosed by arches of curled wood—living wood with leaves that whispered together when the wind blew. Sunlight poured into the center of the chamber, illuminating the queen’s throne in a perfect star pattern. The champions’ chairs circled it, each chair alive, budded from the tree. Higher than the surrounding trees, the only way to reach the chamber without using spirits was to climb the stairs that spiraled up from the palace on the outside of the tree’s vast trunk.
It was indisputably impressive, but today Queen Daleina hated it. She also hated the nameless long-ago queen who’d thought it was a grand idea to construct so many stairs.
MP: Since Renthia is filled with spirits that want to kill humans, we have already seen a lot of them by the time this book starts. What struck me while reading about the spirits is how unique they are. What inspired your vision for the spirits in Renthia? How do you make sure they are all distinct?
SBD: I wish I could tell you I’ve developed some fancy, professional-sounding writerly technique for creating the spirits… but honestly, I just try to make them as awesome as I can. My personal favorite is an air spirit that is essentially a giant ermine with bat wings. It looks kind of like Falcor from The Neverending Story. (That’s the spirit on the cover of THE RELUCTANT QUEEN. The cover artist is the amazing Stephan Martiniere.)
MP: In this book readers meet new characters like Naelin and her children Erian and Llor while also learning more about some of the familiar characters from book one including Daleina’s sister Arin, Healer Hamon, and Champion Ven. This book features quite a few more perspective shifts as the story unfolds from several points of view. Did you always know that this series would feature multiple perspectives? How did you go about balancing that aspect of your storytelling in your outlines and drafts?
SBD: That’s one of my favorite things about writing epic fantasy. I love deciding whose turn it is to tell the story. It feels like conducting an orchestra.
Mostly, I chose the POV character based on who is most affected by the upcoming scene, but I also color-code my outline to make sure that all characters have the appropriate amount of screen-time and that everyone has enough time to complete their character arc.
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
SBD: 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!
Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!