Phoenix Lore and Slow-Burn Romance: Laura Interviews Author Nicki Pau Preto

I first came across Crown of Feathers back in October and let me tell you, it has been so difficult to wait for it to hit shelves! I read the book in one day, completely engrossed in the world building and characters. I am so thrilled I was able to interview the author, Nicki Pau Preto, about her gorgeous story of sisterhood, deception, and betrayal.

LG: As I mentioned above, the bond between sisters, both Veronyka and Val as well as Avalkyra and Pheronia, is the beating heart of this story. There is such love and attention to their complex relationship. What was the inspiration for making this such a central theme to the story?

NPP: When I first started conceptualizing this book, I had three main ideas: the “girl dressed as boy” trope, phoenix riders, and sisters who wound up enemies. I don’t know why that particular dynamic resonated with me…I have two older brothers, but no sisters of my own, so maybe I wanted to explore something that I had no personal experience with. I also think that we still have so far to come in terms of representation of women in fiction, and there’s something so thrilling to see these two fierce, flawed, passionate women facing off—especially with all the baggage and emotional ties between them. Frankly, it’s just a joy to write complex female characters.

LG: Because Avalkyra and Pheronia lived many years ago you tell their story through historic documents and letters. Was this always the way you intended to tell the story? How do you hope this unorthodox form of storytelling adds to the novel?

NPP: Some of this was there from the start—namely the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter—but the letters and historical documents sprinkled throughout were actually my editor’s idea! I think we were trying to find a way to break up some of the dense world building and present it in a way that was more interesting and less info-dumpy. I thought it was a genius concept, and have so enjoyed developing those extra bits of content.

LG: While I adore all the relationships in this book, I have to admit I have a particular weakness for the slow burn romances. What are some of the challenges and joys of writing these romances, especially against the backdrop of a high-octane fantasy?

NPP: I love slow burn romances too! For me, there’s nothing better. When it comes to romance, it’s the lead up, the tension and the will-they-won’t-they that I love to read and write about. I also think that especially in a high-stakes, epic story, it’s all the more important to ground the reader in character-driven interaction. I mean, sure, we all want the good guys to prevail and for evil to be destroyed, but what we really care about is the small scale struggles, hopes, and dreams of characters we’ve grown to care about. It’s nearly impossible to relate to phoenix riders and magical battles, but we can relate to those human moments of love and connection.

LG: Speaking of burning, let’s talk about the phoenixes! Your phoenix lore is so incredibly detailed! What was the research process like for this? Did you draw sources from multiple cultures or try to simply stick to one? Also, were there any little features you added yourself that aren’t present in traditional lore?

NPP: Ahh, phoenix lore is so fascinating! And one of the most interesting things I discovered is that across the world, so many different cultures—Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, Persian, Russian, Native American—have versions of a mythical bird that is symbolic of immortality, resurrection, sun and fire. There were a lot of unique details, too, but I tried to stick with the commonly accepted traits to represent a creature that felt universal—that people would recognize as being distinctly a phoenix. So, long life, resurrection from ashes after going up in flame…these things are fairly common among all the myths. But, the idea that you could ride them is something I came up with, along with the concept of the bond—a magical connection between phoenix and rider. I was definitely inspired by a lot of dragon lore, too, and combined it all into something that is hopefully both familiar and fresh.

LG: The world of Crown of Feathers is incredibly complex. The Phoenix Riders especially fascinate me as they are haunted by history and intention. While they fight a noble cause, the organization itself is riddled with corruption of power. Do you believe it’s still possible for a group to accomplish good, even if its leaders and history are not?

NPP: Ooh, this is a wonderful question! In the beginning, the Phoenix Rider cause was definitely noble, but then their mission shifted from something divine and world-saving into a fight for lands and power as the empire was established. Yes, they are impressive warriors and very valuable in fighting back brigands and uprisings, but as we learn from the history of the Blood War, their loyalty was to themselves more than it was to the empire or the throne. I think Veronyka certainly believes that the order can be saved, and now that their fellow animages are being targeted and prosecuted, they have a noble cause once more. But if they win…then what? This is the question the Phoenix Riders have faced in both past and present in the world of Crown of Feathers…is their loyalty to the throne, the person who sits it, or to the people of the empire as a whole? I think it’s a fascinating conundrum, and one I intend to explore as the series progresses.

LG: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your book? Any questions you wish I had asked that I didn’t? Other random thoughts are welcome too!

NPP: I so enjoyed this interview and the incredibly thoughtful questions! I can’t wait for you to read book two, which I promise will have more sisterly drama, more history and phoenix lore… And more romance, too! :)

LG: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat about your incredible debut novel, Crown of Feathers. We absolutely cannot wait to start selling it in the store!

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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Crown of Feathers Cover Image
ISBN: 9781534424623
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Margaret K. McElderry Books - February 12th, 2019

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