It’s Brenna Nation’s first time in Europe and she’s taking in the scene. Her journey from the bustling United States to London, however, compares little to her exciting rise as a debut writer.
In her new book, Nation sets up a mystical world of intrigue, mystery and lesbian romance. Readers follow the unfolding adventure of Sapphire, an unsuspecting kingdom heiress, who finds herself in the unknown land of Eriobis surrounded by magic and secrets. Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, she sees her — the unnamed girl from her visions. As the pair get to know each other, Sapphire realises there’s a deep darkness brewing in Ashes. With her life in jeopardy and the kingdom on the line, Sapphire must choose between besting or befriending Ashes before it’s too late.
As The Shattered Lands hits shelves, we sat down with the book’s creator to learn more about her creative style, how characters Sapphire and Ashes came to light, and what else she has in store for fans.
So, how did The Shattered Lands come to be?
When I was growing up, there weren’t books like this that existed. I remember when I was 16 or 17 and I was becoming comfortable with who I was. I wasn’t allowed to have any kind of queer literature in my home. I grew up in a really religious household. But, I decided I was gonna go buy a book and I was going to hide it. I went to look for a book with people like me and every single one that I found, there were three, were so sad. You look at it and you’re like ‘Is this my future?’ As I got older, and the sapphic genre began to grow, I decided that I wanted to write a book that centres around a normal fantasy story. There’s no coming out, there’s no homophobia or anything like that, and it’s just very normal. You get a fantasy plot that has the typical tie-backs to fantasy books and it doesn’t centre around somebody’s coming out. That was super important to me.
How did you go about bringing these characters to life?
Sapphire is by far the most complex character for me. She took a lot more time than Ashes. Ashes is just jaded. It’s who she is so that was very much an easy thing for me to figure out, but for Sapphire, her background is so complex. We really have to look at her as she’s never experienced anything like this. She grew up in a home where she was the protector. She’s never really focused on herself
As I rewrote, I realised that she’s an anxious character and I wanted her to feel realistic. Women in fantasy books specifically aren’t allowed to be emotional. Sapphire’s just like other girls. She is scared, she is emotional and she acts on impulse. It was very important for her to be a super grounded character so people can see this really powerful who has anxiety.
What inspired this love-hate dynamic between the two?
I grew up with morally grey men. I was like ‘What if it was a morally grey woman?’ that did things that aren’t exactly the best, but she owned it. That’s really where Ashes started being built and rounding out her character was really cool. I’m excited for the future book because she’s not as tough as she seems. You can start seeing that, as you read, she has some holes poked in her facade base, especially as she softens for Sapphire. I love the lines ‘I’m soft only for you’ and ‘I’m protective only for you. So that was Ashes building her out. She’s actually super complex and not just this awful witch.
There’s a lot of growth in queer sci-fi spaces at the minute. What do you make of this movement?
I think it’s beautiful. I’m not the first person to write a sapphic fantasy book. I’m so grateful for the authors that came before me and laid the path. I can’t imagine walking into the scene and there’s not an established genre. It is now growing really rapidly and they’ve made it clear that there is a consumer base. I’m excited, but also eternally grateful for the people who came before me.
What do you hope The Shattered Lands will bring to the sci-fi landscape?
I want someone to read this book and see themselves in it. Also, The Shattered Lands is not coming out focused. It’s more like ‘I can have this big adventure’ and it’s not at the cost of my trauma, which is very important to me. I feel like it’s getting better in the sci-fi genre. Queer people should be able to experience fantasy books without the attachment of trauma and that was my goal for The Shattered Lands. You can immerse yourself in the world and I think that’s really exciting.
How did you establish boundaries as a writer covering queer characters and someone that identifies as lesbian?
The Shattered Lands isn’t as difficult as some other queer stories. I feel like the story is really empowering to queer people. It’s very normalising. Even outside of Sapphire and Ashes, the characters still run into couples that are obviously queer. Keeping my own experiences was really important because I haven’t had super empowering experiences and I wanted to empower the people who read this. So there are powerful characters and they are allowed to do what they want to do. Those characters don’t need that and that was really a big focus for me.
What was a book that shaped your approach as a writer?
I’ve always been a fantasy gal. One of the books that helped me shape The Shattered Lands is Furyborn by Claire Legrand. It was one of the first fantasy books that toyed with the idea of Gods and Angels. Coming from a religious background, it was really cool to see her kind of flip it on its head. It doesn’t always have to be a villain person can be like a villain god.
Reading sapphic fantasy books like Jasmine Throne [by Tasha Suri] and seeing how the relationships and how they were developed. Furyborn was the first time that I experienced a holy war in a fantasy context. It helped me a lot, with my religious stuff, and unpack it. So, when I was reading through the Shadowlands, it was really soothing for these gods to exist and not be an almighty beings.
The Shattered Lands doesn’t necessarily go down that traumatic, coming out route either…
I will say there are books that have done really well with it and there is a place and a time for that kind of story, but The Shattered Lands isn’t that. [Instead], it’s a celebration of queer love, no matter how dramatic it is. And, in general, queer characters exist there even if there wasn’t a romance there. So, having these characters own who they are and it’s never questioned for a second was super important to me.
If you could assign a musical score or an artist’s sound to your book, what would that be?
So the book was really born from Willow by Taylor Swift but the soundtrack that I listen to the most is actually by Klergy. It sounds like she literally writes music for fantasy books. She has so many songs that feel like they are for a fantasy soundtrack. I also love Hozier so much so that would be a big one. Another song is I Think You’re The Devil by Ellee Duke which was actually in First Kill, the Sapphic vampire show, on Netflix.
The Shattered Lands is out now and available to buy here.