For bestselling YA author Richelle Mead, 2015 will be a year of both closure and new beginnings. The Ruby Circle, the sixth and final volume of her Bloodlines series, is due from Razorbill on February 10. And Mead’s first standalone novel and first fantasy, Soundless, a saga inspired by Chinese folklore and set in a remote mountaintop village where no one has spoken for generations, is due from the publisher on November 17.

Though Mead calls finishing Bloodlines “bittersweet,” she believes that The Ruby Circle brings the story arc to the right conclusion. Launched in 2011, the series is a spinoff of Mead’s debut series, Vampire Academy, and one that fans eagerly embraced: together, the two series have 10 million copies in print in the U.S. alone. “It was hard to finish The Ruby Circle, since I’ve put so much work into these series, and I love the characters,” said the author. “But it feels right, and I believe I’ve left them in places they need to be – I hope readers feel the same way.”

Though carefully sidestepping spoilers, Mead shares that Bloodlines fans will find some unexpected twists in The Ruby Circle – some of which they just might have inspired. “In addition to wrapping up the plots and resolving conflicts in the story, I did throw in a few bonus things,” she hints. “I get a lot of feedback from fans, through social media and emails, and I hear certain questions frequently. It’s so gratifying that I’ve created a world that readers are invested in – they think of things I would never think of! So in this final book, I’ve added some surprises along those lines.”

Breaking New Ground

The inspiration for Soundless came from Mead’s longtime fascination with folklore, which she studied as an undergrad at the University of Michigan, before moving on to earn a master’s degree in comparative literature from Western Michigan University, followed by a second master’s in teaching from the University of Washington.

“I’ve always been a fan of epic fantasy,” said Mead. “That’s what I grew up reading, and what I’d always thought I’d end up writing. I wanted to write an epic story and create a world, but realized that while many fantasies are based on Western folklore – like Celtic and Norse – you don’t see many fantasies based on the mythology of ancient China, which has so much neat stuff to use.”

Soundless centers on Fei, a girl whose isolated village has heard no sound for decades. Like the other villagers, Fei can neither hear nor speak, until she is suddenly awakened one night by a searing noise, and sound becomes a weapon she can use to save her people from an oppressive regime.

“The hearing aspect of the plot was a very interesting and challenging piece for me,” said Mead. “Not only did I have to work out how these characters in this isolated town survive if they are unable to communicate with each other, but I also had to figure out how to describe what Fei, who narrates the story, is feeling, since she doesn’t have words to use until she suddenly discovers she can hear – for reasons she can’t understand. It was a great challenge for me, but that’s always what I want: to become a better writer by trying new things.”

Plus Ça Change…

Though Soundless takes a big leap from the paranormal world of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines, which together have 10 million copies in print in the U.S., Mead explained that there are common threads between her earlier and latest fiction. “I think the characters and certain aspects of the stories are the same,” she observed. “They all have romance – which I love to write – and all have strong female characters. Fei has the same fierce spirit as the in-your-face heroines in my series, but because of the culture she has grown up in, she must put on a polished, respectful face and can’t instantly say what she feels. I really loved getting into her head.”

Compressing her story arc and character development into a single volume was a new task for Mead to tackle. “It was different, since Soundless is really an epic story, and I had to learn a new world and a new character, whereas in my series the systems, places, and names were already in place and I knew that world inside-out,” she said. “And here there was a lot I wanted to fit into one book without having the option of cliffhangers, which for writers can be almost a crutch. I can say, ‘Okay, we’re done here for now – I’ll deal with this in the next book!’ Though cliffhangers in their own way are also big challenges. But with a standalone, there’s obviously the need to wrap things up.”

Senior editor Jessica Almon, who has been Mead’s editor since arriving at Razorbill two years ago, also viewed Soundless as a mix of unique elements and stylistic traits that are vintage Mead. “This is truly one of the most innovative YA novels I’ve read,” she said. “It was a bold move for Richelle – and the perfect next move for her. Though it’s her first fantasy and her first standalone, the novel delivers on all of the things that she does best and that her fans love: a universe that is very different from ours but feels very grounded, a compelling heroine, huge romance, high stakes, and tons of adventure.”

Razorbill has announced a 250,000-copy first printing for Soundless, which it will support with a national author tour in November, major consumer advertising and media campaigns, and promotion at industry conventions, consumer book festivals, and school and library conferences.

The Seattle-based author is currently gearing up for her nine-city tour promoting The Ruby Circle, which kicks off on February 10 at Kepler’s Books in San Francisco and is spread out over three weeks to accommodate another of her treasured occupations: spending time with her two sons, ages three and one. “This is my first big tour in a long time, since I had a baby last year and didn’t do any traveling,” said Mead. “It will be exciting to get back out there. I spend days holed up in my office, and it’s so important to meet the people who are reading my books, and seeing the impact they have on them. For me that is a vital part of my job.”

Bloodlines: The Ruby Circle by Richelle Mead. Razorbill, $18.99 Feb. ISBN 978-1-595-14322-8

Soundless by Richelle Mead. Razorbill, $19.99 Nov. ISBN 978-1-595-14763-9