Mai Corland’s Five Broken Blades is a genre-bending epic fantasy set in the vibrant fictional world of Yusan. Integrating romantic, mystery, and thriller elements, Five Broken Blades is told from the perspectives of six different narrators. Corland (a pen name for the writer Meredith Ireland) spoke with PW about worldbuilding, her novel's distinctive setting, and how she developed her multitude of central characters.

Tell us about Five Broken Blades and the origins of the story.

Five Broken Blades began with the concept of a poison maiden—a girl who can kill with a kiss. From there it branched out into the question of whom would she want to kill and why would it be so difficult? The answer was trying to kill a god king. And from there Five Broken Blades was born with four other killers who either want the crown and aren’t all that concerned with King Joon’s welfare or specifically want him dead.

There are six main characters in the story—five of them the “Blades” referenced in the title. Can you tell us a bit about who they are and how they’re brought together?

Sora is the poison maiden, a phenomenally beautiful girl put through nearly a decade of poison training. Royo is rough-around-the-edges muscle for hire. Euyn is an exiled prince King Joon sentenced to die. Mikail is the charismatic royal spymaster. And Aeri is a clever thief. The last point-of-view character is Tiyung, a nobleman whose father controls Sora.

What can you share about your worldbuilding process?

I started with the core concept of east meeting west. I was born in Seoul, Korea, but I live in America, so it was important to me to bring in a fusion overlay to Yusan (the fictional setting of the novel) with characters with a blended or mixed-race appearance and food reflecting global influences. Five Broken Blades has four distinct old capitals, each with their own style. I wanted to start the characters in different parts of the world and have them converge on the central capital, which led to me making a poorly hand-drawn map so I could visualize everything. I also spent a lot of time on Google looking up things like how many miles a carriage can travel in a day and asking my partner about the logistics of killing megafauna. The last step for me is adding in details of the five senses so the reader feels like they are walking down the streets with the characters.

From your perspective, what essential ingredients go into creating an immersive fantasy realm?

I think a fantasy realm is immersive when it answers the fundamental questions of daily life. How do the people procure goods—is it money, trade, or something else? What do their streets and buildings look like? What is the weather and how does it interact with their setting? What kind of clothes do they wear? What’s the bathing situation? What do they eat? And is it the same for everyone? More than anything, the logistics have to make sense in that world. And then from there the fantastic can become real.

Five Broken Blades blends elements of romance and fantasy, and while it definitely appeals to romantasy fans, it also pushes beyond this subgenre. How does the book push the boundaries of both the romance and fantasy genres (and potentially other genres as well)?

A traditional epic fantasy tends to focus on the quest and not romance. A romance has a main character and love interest falling in love as the crux of the story. Five Broken Blades mashes up those genres with hints of mystery and political thriller subgenres. With six narrators, I’ve been able to explore love, friendship, quests, and intrigue in a way that may not be considered romantasy but is deeply romantic. I love the excitement that comes from none of the characters being assured a happy ending, which I think gives more flexibility as an author and leads to tension for the reader.

You also write children’s and YA books. As you set out to write, do you consider the intended audience, or does that come about more organically?

Audience is central to my storytelling! I love how the core of middle grade is getting to know yourself, while young adult explores finding your place in the world, and then new adult and adult looks at “now what?” and “is this how you want your life to be?” There are beautiful stories to be told at every level, but the emotional maturity of the reader is primary to me.

Do you start out knowing everything about your characters, or do they reveal themselves to you as you’re writing?

My greatest joy in writing, the biggest thrill, is finding out about my characters. I know some writers live and die by their outlines, but I love to begin with a concept, a voice, and an overall direction and then I watch it bloom and unfurl from there. The first draft where it all comes together is the magic for me.

Entangled’s Red Tower Imprint seems like the perfect home for Five Broken Blades. From your perspective, what makes Entangled so special?

My gosh, how much time do you have? Entangled is dynamic and the most supportive publisher I have had by a mile. They are small enough where I’ve been able to get to know everyone involved and yet they are steadily taking over with hits like Fourth Wing, Iron Flame, and Assistant to the Villain. Liz Pelletier at the helm is disrupting the traditional–and in my mind, outdated–publishing model. Entangled is so versatile and unafraid of this book not neatly fitting into a genre. I have been encouraged and uplifted every step of the way and I couldn’t be happier with Entangled as the home for Five Broken Blades.