“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
Sarah Beth Durst is the prolific author of several fantasy novels for adults, teens, and kids–and a Book Smuggler favorite. Her latest series, the Renthia books, are set in a world in which elemental spirits coexist with humans… but try to kill them at every turn. It is only the magical power of a human Queen who can hold these spirits in check–and Queens don’t really live that long. Today, Sarah is here to talk about the newest book in a spinoff/companion series set in the islands of Belene, The Deepest Blue.
One of the reasons I’m so drawn to fantasy (aside from the obvious “BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME!”) is that it’s a marvelous laboratory for exploring the extremes of the human condition. You can push people to their limits and see how they survive and what strengths they draw on when, for instance, they’re faced with a cataclysmic array of sea monsters…
My upcoming novel, THE DEEPEST BLUE, is a standalone epic fantasy set on islands besieged by a sea full of malevolent spirits. It’s about Mayara, a fearless oyster diver, who is about to marry the love of her life when a spirit-driven storm hits her island. To protect her loved ones, she’s forced to reveal she has the power to control the spirits. When the storm ends, she’s arrested by the queen’s soldiers and taken, along with other women of power, to an island filled with dangerous spirits. Whoever survives the Island of Testing will be declared heirs to the queen.
One of the ideas I’ve been exploring in my writing lately is different ways for women to be strong. There’s a common trope in fantasy novels of the character who is strong because of past trauma — the pain, or the scars that formed in the wake of their pain, have made them resilient and powerful. And I do love that trope. But in THE DEEPEST BLUE, I wanted to play with the idea of a woman made strong by love, by the support of the people in her life. Mayara draws her determination and power from the love of her husband, her family, and her friends.
All these people in her life also give her something to lose. And something to fight for.
I got the idea for this book while I was drawing a map for my Queens of Renthia trilogy, to be used as a reference by the artist who would draw the final map. My now-complete Queens of Renthia trilogy (THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, and THE QUEEN OF SORROW) takes place primarily in the massive Lothlorien-Endor-like forests of Aratay and ventures up into the sky-piercing mountains of Semo. But on that map of Renthia, I also drew a little collection of islands to the south, bordering the untamed sea.
I started wondering about those islands, how the people there lived, how they survived with a sea full of wild, malevolent ocean spirits at their shore… I imagined the islands were built on the bones of long-dead leviathans and formed a precarious barrier between the sea and the mainland… And I could not stop thinking about them.
THE DEEPEST BLUE is a standalone novel set on those islands. You don’t need to have read the original trilogy first — this is a new story with new characters. But if you have read the Queens books, there is one familiar face you’ll see!
I loved writing this book so much! It was such an immersive writing experience. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world!
About the Author
Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of eighteen fantasy books for adults, teens, and kids, including The Queens of Renthia series, Drink Slay Love, and The Girl Who Could Not Dream. She won an ALA Alex Award and a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and has been a finalist for SFWA’s Andre Norton Award three times.
Sarah was born in Northboro, Massachusetts, a small town that later became the setting for her debut novel. At the age of ten, she decided she wanted to be a writer. (Before that, she wanted to be Wonder Woman, except with real flying ability instead of an invisible jet. She also would have accepted a career as a unicorn princess.) And she began writing fantasy stories. She later attended Princeton University, where she spent four years studying English, writing about dragons, and wondering what the campus gargoyles would say if they could talk.
Sarah lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat.
For more, visit her at sarahbethdurst.com.
About the Book
The natural magic of the classic The Island of the Blue Dolphins meets the danger and courage of The Hunger Games in this dazzling, intricate stand-alone fantasy novel set in award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst’s beloved world of Renthia.
Life is precious and precarious on the islands of Belene. Besieged by a capricious ocean full of malicious spirits, the people of the islands seek joy where they can. Mayara, one of the island’s fearless oyster divers, has found happiness in love. But on the day of her wedding to the artist Kelo, a spirit-driven storm hits the island with deadly force.
To save her loved ones, Mayara reveals a dangerous secret: she has the power to control the spirits. When the storm ends, she is taken into custody by the queen’s soldiers and imprisoned with other women like her.
They vary in age and social status, but to many they are heroes who will aide the country or witches that will sacrifice themselves trying. No matter who they are, the women are sent to a terrifying place — an island filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits, and left without food, water, shelter, or any tools except their own instincts and magic. Whoever survives the Island of Testing will be declared heirs to the queen. But no matter if she wins or loses, Mayara knows that the life she dreamed of is gone.