A Houston college student trying to finish her degree, McKenzie has been working for the fae king for years, tracking vicious rebels who would claim the Realm. Her job isn’t her only secret. For just as long, she’s been in love with Kyol, the king’s sword-master—and relationships between humans and fae are forbidden.
But any hope for a normal life is shattered when she’s captured by Aren, the fierce and uncompromising rebel leader. He teaches her the forbidden fae language and tells her dark truths about the Court, all to persuade her to turn against the king. Time is running out, and as the fight starts to claim human lives, McKenzie has no choice but to decide once and for all whom to trust and where she ultimately stands in the face of a cataclysmic civil war.
The Shadow Reader is your first published novel. Can you share a bit about how this book came to be?
The book started with one idea: a girl hanging over the edge of a platform being forced to accept the help of her gloating enemy. I had that scene written down in my notes file for a couple of years. I pulled it out after typing THE END on a different urban fantasy book. I knew that girl had a special ability. All the years it sat gathering dust in my file, I thought that ability was to track spaceships. Yep, that’s right. I thought it was going to be a scene in a science fiction book. But I fell in love with urban fantasy and wanted to write a story about a fairly normal girl getting sucked into a war. Once I discovered that the war was between the fae, who have the ability to fissure (teleport) from place to place, I realized that tracking them was that girl’s special ability. After that, the book pretty much wrote itself.
McKenzie Lewis, the heroine of your book, is a young woman living in Houston and studying for her English degree. You currently live in Texas and work part-time as a librarian. Did some of the inspiration for McKenzie’s interests and personality come from your own life? Are there ways in which you are totally different from her?
I wish I was more like McKenzie! Other than us both living in Texas, the only similarity I can claim between us is her voice. It came naturally because the things she thinks and says during the story are the things I would think and say if I was as brave and determined as she is. But that’s why we’re totally different. I’m sure I’d be a coward if I were thrown into the fae’s war!
On the other hand, it was important to me to make McKenzie an extremely normal human. She doesn’t have any big-time supernatural abilities and isn’t a modern day She-Ra. She’s very realistic about what she’s capable of doing, and it’s her determination and devotion to certain causes and people that drives her to take risks. If she didn’t have the ability to see and track the fae, she’d completely blend in with human society.
The fae in this novel are a bit different from what readers have seen in urban fantasy before, like in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye novels. How did you decide what the fae in your novel were going to be like? Did you draw any of their characteristics from classic fairy tales or legends?
One of the things I love about the fae in urban fantasies is how different they are from novel to novel. Many authors draw upon classic fairy tales and legends when they develop their fae societies, but mine are influenced mostly by traditional fantasy. They have their own world, their own culture, and their own magic system.
Like other books on the urban fantasy shelf, The Shadow Reader deals with a character in our own world who learns about or is a part of a supernatural society among us. But McKenzie also travels to the Fae Realm—a more traditional fantasy-style world with palaces and swordfights. Why did you decide to meld these two genres in this way?
Because swords are sexy!
Aside from that, I’m a huge fan of genre blending. I read a good amount of traditional fantasy and have always admired the authors who’ve built such complex and thorough worlds. My writing style doesn’t suit that genre, though, and I’d rather read other authors’ big fat fantasies than try to write my own.
But when I realized McKenzie’s story was going to take place in our world and in the fae’s, I was more than happy to bring in some of the tropes of traditional fantasy into my urban fantasy book. Developing the world, the magics, and the history that led up to the current war was fun, and I’m looking forward to expanding on that world building more in the sequel.
Which authors are your influences in these fantasy genres, or in any genre that you like to read?
From traditional fantasy, the authors that influence me the most are Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Brent Weeks.
I learned character development from Rothfuss. He’s a brilliant story teller, and his character, Kvothe, is one of the most thoroughly developed heroes I’ve ever read.
From Brandon Sanderson, I learned about world building. Each of his books has a unique magic system set in a unique world. I’m amazed at how deftly he crafts each society (and I might be a little jealous of his skill, too!).
And as for Brent Weeks? He taught me all about character torture. In the middle of the second book of his Night Angel Trilogy, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to murder Mr. Weeks or bow down and worship him.
It’s difficult to name just a few influencers from urban fantasy. I love so many authors! Patricia Briggs is one of my favorites, and I have a soft spot for Kim Harrison since she is the author who first sucked me into the genre. Other favorites include Richelle Mead and Ann Aguirre.
The secondary characters in The Shadow Reader are given complicated motivations and back-stories of their own. Which of the secondary characters are your favorites?
Ooh, that’s a tough question. I like to give all my secondary characters a pretty thorough back-story, even if that back-story doesn’t completely make it to the page, so there are things I like about all of the supporting characters in The Shadow Reader. Which are my favorites? If I can count Kelia and Naito as a pair, I’d say they just barely edge out Lorn as my favorite. I love watching them interact and seeing how much they care about each other.
Can you tell us a bit about what’s next for McKenzie, or what you’re working on now?
It’s so hard to talk about the next book without spoiling the first one! What I can say is that, even though a certain somebody is defeated at the end of the first book, the war is far from over, and it’s affecting McKenzie’s real-world life more than ever. Her human friend, Paige, who we met briefly in book one, is abducted by the fae. Getting her back isn’t going to be easy, especially when dealing with a new and cunning enemy!