Welcome to the Children’s Book Review! We’re so excited to have Roseanne A. Brown here to discuss her debut novel, A SONG OF WRAITHS AND RUIN. It’s already on the New York Time’s Bestseller list and has received so much buzz. We can’t wait to dive into the book, her writing, and the process. Let’s get started!
First, can you tell us about your book, A SONG OF WRAITHS AND RUIN?
Of course! A SONG OF WRAITHS AND RUIN is a dual-POV YA fantasy novel inspired by West African folklore, and it follows two protagonists: a refugee named Malik and a princess named Karina. When Malik’s younger sister is abducted by a vengeful spirit, he strikes a deal to win her freedom by murdering the crown princess of Ziran. Meanwhile, Karina’s mother the queen has just been assassinated, and she needs the heart of a king in order to perform a forbidden spell to bring her back to life.
Malik enters a competition to win Karina’s hand in marriage to get close enough to kill her, not knowing she’s hosting this entire competition to murder the winner for the spell. So Malik is trying to kill her, Karina is trying to kill him, and all the while a thousand-year evil is stirring back to life. And of course, both Malik and Karina have to wrestle with their tasks once they actually meet and realize they have more in common than their enemies want them to believe.
What inspired you to write this novel? What were some of your influences for such a richly drawn setting and folkloric world?
I was born in Ghana, so my earliest introduction to fantasy was the epic folktales my family would tell me. The tales of Anansi are some of the most well-known of those stories, but they are also so full of myth and magic and epic characters. As a lifelong fantasy fan, I wanted to write a story that featured the same epic scale we see in a lot of high fantasy novels but centering on the kinds of cultures and people I grew up with.
One of my favorite sources of inspiration came through in the magic. Among the Akan people of Ghana, my mother’s tribe, the day of the week on which a person is born holds great significance and even decides one of their names. I used this as a structure for the magic system in ASOWAR, where the day of a week on which a person is born decides what kind of magic they can do. I wrote an in-depth breakdown on the magic in the book, which can be read here: https://www.epicreads.com/blog/a-song-of-wraiths-ruin-astrology/
Karina is a feisty, flawed, and endlessly brave heroine who readers root for from page one. What would you say is Karina’s most interesting characteristic?
I think Karina’s most interesting characteristic is how loving she is. She is someone who has been through a lot of pain and trauma and because of these experiences, she tends to lash out at others to protect herself. But behind her spiky armor is someone who cares so much about the world and the people around her. With Karina, it was really important to me to write a Black girl character who was allowed to be messy and sharp and sometimes downright mean, but who was also unabashedly the heroine and worthy of being loved and cared for. I wanted young readers, especially Black girl readers, to know you don’t have to be perfect to be the hero of your own story.
Malik struggles with self-doubt, yet always pushes through when it counts. What do you think draws Malik and Karina together if they are so different in specific ways?
As a refugee and a princess, respectively, Malik and Karina live on opposite sides of society. Yet despite how different their upbringings were, they both have experience dealing with intense grief and trauma. But more than that, they both see in the other the kind of person they want to be. Malik admires Karina’s conviction and the strength to always do what she believes is right, while Karina admires Malik’s nurturing soul and ability to connect and inspire other people. So strip away all the magic and the evil, they’re two people who help make each other better, which I think is the heart of all romance.
What is your favorite part of your fictional world? The city of Ziran? The Solstasia festival? The world of demons and spirits?
My favorite part is definitely the backstory! Their world is several thousands of years old, with lots of history and wars and alliances and epic tales that led to Karina’s and Malik’s. I got to expand on that a bit in the second book, but I would love a chance to explore some of the other stories that have happened
Both Karina and Malik are dealing with severe anguish and hurt throughout the story. How do you hope readers will connect with your characters in these thoughtful moments?
I hope that readers get what I wished someone could have told me when I was that age, which is that there is life and hope on the other side of extreme trauma. And also that you can often find your greatest strength in the very parts of yourself you find the most broken and wounded. That’s what Malik and Karina learn to do, and I hope the book helps readers realize they have the strength to do it too.
Can you tell us about your writing process? Plotter? Pantster? Obsessive outliner? And how long did A SONG OF WRAITHS AND RUIN take to write?
I’m what some people like to call a road tripper of a headlighter, which basically means I know where my end destination is, I know the general direction I need to go in, I know where I am and what’s right in front of me…and that’s it. I find that when I try to outline too tightly before I begin a project, I get bogged in the weeds. A lot of my best scenes come when I throw my outline away and just completely trust my gut.
I began ASOWAR in the Spring of 2016, my junior year of college, so it was about 4 years from initial idea to publication. It sounds so short now, but I was really feeling the grind every day!
Is A SONG OF WRAITHS AND RUIN the first novel you’ve written? Have you dabbled in other types of writing forms?
A SONG OF WRAITHS AND RUIN is the first novel I’ve ever written. Before that, I wrote primarily short stories, two of which were actually published. I had attempted to write full novels before ASOWAR, but every time I’d get so bored around the 25,000-word mark that I’d give up. I realize now that’s pretty common for all novelists, just not first-timers!
What children’s books did you love growing up? Which most influenced your writing?
Like most other kids in my generation, I was obsessed with Harry Potter. I was also an avid reader of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, THE EDGE CHRONICLES, everything by Gail Carson Levine and Margaret Peterson Haddix and Cornelia Funke, and Rick Riordan’s novels.
The two children’s writers that most influenced my writing for ASOWAR were Jennifer Nielsen and Sabaa Tahir. Nielsen’s book THE FALSE PRINCE was the first book that made me really want to try writing a book and Tahir’s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES showed me that you could center a YA novel in a non-Western world and people would respond positively.
What’s your favorite book that you read last year?
This question actually took me the longest to answer because thinking back to last year feels like thinking back to a different century. My favorite read of last year was definitely JADE WAR by Fonda Lee. It’s the sequel to her adult fantasy novel JADE CITY, and the way in which Lee expanded her world, the characters, the depth of the story, all within a tightly executed, action-packed plot is nothing short of masterful. She also recently announced the TV rights sold, so I’m super excited to see this story in a visual medium!
My favorite kidlit read of last year was SLAY by Brittney Morris. Morris was able to fit such important discussions on racism and safe spaces all within this super fun, video game, genre-bending world. Keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel!
What are you currently reading and loving?
Right now, I most recently finished THE PROJECT by Courtney Summers and like all her books, it has emotionally destroyed me. Up next for me is LIKE HOME by Louisa Onomé and LEGENDBORN by Tracy Deonn. These days I’m really into adult romance, both fantasy and contemporary, so I am doing a deep dive into the works of Alyssa Cole, Beverly Jenkins, Maria V. Snyder, and Adrianna Herrera.
What are you working on next? Is there a sequel in our future?
Right now I’m currently working on the sequel to ASOWAR, A PSALM OF STORMS AND SILENCE. With the first book we stayed in one city the entire time, so I’m really excited to open up the world to the readers and show the ways it matches the characters’ perceptions and the ways it doesn’t. There’s more magic, more intrigue, and of course more of Malik and Karina’s not quite lovers, not quite enemies tension going on.
Beyond the ASOWAR world, I’m also researching and drafting my middle grade debut, SERWA BOATENG’S GUID TO VAMPIRE HUNTING which will be out
What are some of your favorite non-writing hobbies?
Right when the pandemic started I got really into Pokémon GO and it’s not rare for me to spend several hours running around hitting all the Pokéstops and gyms in my town. I also love cooking and baking, it’s all the fun of creation but with the instant gratification other mediums lack. If I write a book it’s years before readers get to see it. When I bake brownies, it’s an hour before I get to devour them. Truly wonderful.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Roseanne!
Written by Roseanne Brown
Publishers Synopsis: An instant New York Times bestseller!
The first in a gripping fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction—from debut author Roseanne A. Brown. This New York Times bestseller is perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi, Renée Ahdieh, and Sabaa Tahir.
For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts his younger sister, Nadia, as payment to enter the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.
But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.
When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a heart-pounding course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?
“An intricately detailed and enormously entertaining read, A SONG OF WRAITHS AND RUIN will endlessly entertain teens and adults alike.” — The Children’s Book Review
Ages 13+ | Publisher: Balzer + Bray | June 2, 2020 | ISBN: 978-0062891495
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About the Author
Roseanne A. Brown is an immigrant from the West African nation of Ghana and a graduate of the University of Maryland, where she completed the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her work has been featured by Voice of America, among other outlets. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is her debut novel. You can visit her online at roseanneabrown.com.
This interview—Roseanne A. Brown Discusses A Song of Wraith and Ruin—was conducted between Roseanne A. Brown and Denise Mealy. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Adventure, Fantasy, Folklore, Immigrants, and Young Adult Fiction.