In her new novel, The Impostor Queen, Sarah Fine takes readers on an exciting, emotional and political fantasy adventure. At the heart of this new novel is a young girl named Elli. Ever since she was a child Elli has been in training with the Elders of Kupari and one day she will succeed the Valtia and protect the Kupari people with her command of fire and ice. But when the time finally comes for her to embrace her powers they’re nowhere to be found. Fearing for her life she escapes the city, not realizing the much bigger events she’s set in motion.
It feels like element-based magic systems are all over YA fantasy right now, and at times the stories can feel repetitive or even stale. But The Impostor Queen grabbed me right from the start. The characters, both good and evil, are layered and complex. Elli, the protagonist of the story, is particularly well rounded. She’s kind and brave and at times a force to be reckoned with. But she is also scared, she makes mistakes and she doubts herself. Readers may not be able to relate to the specifics of her situation, but many will recognize Elli’s struggles with her own version of Impostor Syndrome.
In addition to the characters, Sarah Fine has also crafted an interesting world with high stakes politics and religious ideologies. I personally found that the Valtia-Saadela political system shared some similarities to the Dalai Lama-Panchen Lama system of the Tibetan Buddhists and I was intrigued to see how that scenario would be play out in a high fantasy setting. As a former religious studies major I was also fascinated by the religious fervour that surrounded the Queen and her abilities and what the possible fallout (and advantages) might be for the people.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to speak with Sarah Fine about her new novel and find out more about the magic, Elli’s romantic interests and what might be next in this fabulous new series.
Hi Sarah – your new novel, The Impostor Queen, has a very unique and complex magical system. Can you tell us more about how the system is organized and where the idea came from?
On its face, the magical system in this book actually seems pretty simple—there are only two types of magic: ice and fire. Some people have a bit of one or the other; some people have both. Some have a lot, and some have a little. I spent a lot of time thinking about all the ways fire, ice, and temperature in general affects air, blood, flesh, rock, etc. But one thing that was really important to me was that the magic be dangerous, not only when it’s used on you, but when you have it inside you. In the world of The Impostor Queen, those with the most magic are sometimes the most vulnerable, the ones who are suffering most from its effects, and the ones most sensitive to heat or cold, fire or ice. So much of the magical system (and the entire story) has to do with the balance between these two extremes … and the truly ghastly things that happen when no balance can be found.
Your previous novel, Of Metal and Wishes, is also a YA fantasy, but instead of queens and elemental magic, it has ghosts and slaughterhouses. Are there any similarities between the two works?
Well, I have a fondness for genuinely good (if also quite dangerous) love interests, as opposed to the snarky, bad boy variety, so Melik and Oskar have that in common. But also, I like writing female protagonists who are not necessarily battle-trained or physically strong, but who must negotiate terrifying, life-threatening situations while tapping into other strengths—resourcefulness, perseverance, cleverness, emotional connection. Wen and Elli are both like that, though they are very different characters in different worlds with different conflicts.
When you’re not writing YA fantasy you’re also writing sci-fi thrillers, and adult urban fantasy. Do you find it difficult to switch between genres? Are there any others you’re planning on tackling?
I love inventing new worlds, so switching isn’t that difficult. The one thing that is really tough is going back and forth between the more contemporary, modern voice of series like Guards of the Shadowlands and Servants of Fate to the more “historical” voice of fantasy novels like Of Metal and Wishes or The Impostor Queen. When I’m writing the latter, I constantly have to check myself when I use a phrase or idiom or metaphor or word that doesn’t work for that fantasy world.
In terms of tackling other genres … never say never, right?
The story hints at Ellie having some romantic feelings for her maid, Mim. But later she becomes involved with a young man, Oskar. Do you consider Ellie a bisexual character? Will that element of her personality continue to be relevant as the series progresses?
Yes, Elli is bisexual. It’s knitted into her being, simply part of who she is. It’s not the focus of the story by any means, but I felt it was an important part of her identity, magical and otherwise. It will definitely be relevant going forward.
Why do you feel it is important to have LGBTQ representation in genre fiction in addition to contemporary novels?
Because in both contemporary fiction and genre fiction, we’re writing about humans (okay, or humanoids). Humans in fantasy novels are still human, which means some of them are LGBTQ. Humans sometimes fall in love, and not all of those romances are cis-male—cis-female. In other words, erasing LBGTQ characters from a fantasy world renders it a less rich, less plausible place (same goes for POC characters). And hey! Readers are also human. Why shouldn’t we all get to read about humans like ourselves, having adventures and falling in love and saving the world? And why shouldn’t we get to read about humans different from ourselves, doing the same?
Is there anything you can tell us about the sequel to The Impostor Queen?
The sequel to The Impostor Queen is entitled The Cursed Queen. And I think it’s going to surprise people. It’s actually more of a companion novel than a traditional sequel … and I am so, so excited to share it with readers.
The Impostor Queen is out now from Margaret K. McElderry Books