Victoria Aveyard’s dystopian fantasy debut, Red Queen, launched a hit series and landed on bestseller lists in its first week of publication. Aveyard is hoping for a repeat performance with Realm Breaker, a YA high fantasy that marks the start of a trilogy. PW talked with Aveyard about her plans for the new series and the pressures of success.
You were unpublished when you wrote Red Queen; now you’re an international bestseller. Has that impacted the way you write?
This time around is a little scarier because I know what the pitfalls are, and I know how many bullets there are to dodge. But process-wise, not really. We planned several years ago for 2020 to be my year off from publishing a book because I wanted to have as much time as possible with Realm Breaker, to give it the best ramp I could and make sure that it was as strong as possible. So I got really lucky and didn’t have a book come out during the height of the pandemic.
Has the success of your first series made the prospect of launching a new one easier, or more daunting?
The success of Red Queen is what gave me the opportunity to write something like Realm Breaker. I knew that I had a little more room to take a big swing and write what I wanted to write, and go where the wind was blowing me. But at the same time, it is a lot to live up to, and it feels a little greedy to be like, “Okay, guys! That book series was amazing, and a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Let’s do it again!” You hope, of course, that it lands in the same way and finds an audience that’s just as supportive and that enjoys it as much as people enjoyed Red Queen. You feel a responsibility to the readers you already have, as well.
How did you know that you’d hit upon your next big idea? Did you have any false starts?
Once I sort of knew, “Okay, I’m gonna write the fantasy adventure that I was always looking for when I was a teenager. I’m gonna write what happens when the heroes fail, and the people that are supposed to save the world can’t,” I ran with that. It never felt like, “Oh, I’m kind of going down the wrong path here....”
Had you been noodling the idea for a while?
I believe the original seed of the project came to me after War Storm, before Broken Throne. It’s been just kind of sitting in my brain. One good thing about having deadlines and another project that you have to be working is, you will get ideas all the time, but the ones that really matter—the ones that you have to pursue—will stick with you. I’ve had so many that have come and gone, but this is one of two that have stayed with me over years and years of having to push them away. So I knew: “Okay, this is something I need to do.”
What was it like to conceive a whole new fictional universe after having written four books and two novellas in the world of Red Queen?
That was really exciting. I very much wanted to play in a new sandbox and create another world from scratch. Red Queen is a bit of a hybrid, because it’s our world in the future, but Realm Breaker is completely its own thing. It’s in a different time period, it’s high fantasy. It was something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a kid—definitely when I was a teenager—drawing fantasy maps and coming up with these worlds. And now I’m doing it for real and getting paid for it. It’s a dream come true, this series.
Realm Breaker features lots of complex wordbuilding. Did you work out much of that before you started writing, or did you figure it out as you went along?
A lot of that was done beforehand—the map, the structure of the world, the skeleton on which everything is based. I knew I wanted it to be a world inspired by the Medieval Mediterranean—Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. I wanted it to be sort of akin to the 13th century, the Crusades. And once I had those two lenses, it was much easier to figure out what I was doing, and use those as references for myself.
My challenge wasn’t how much to build before the book, it was when to stop. Because I could do that exclusively and never start writing, and kind of burn out my motivation. I had to rein myself in, and say, “There are things you’re going to discover as you’re writing the book. Give yourself space to have that level of discovery, or else it’s going to feel a little too constructed.” You have to allow some flexibility for the story to grow.
Realm Breaker has a large ensemble cast. At what point in the process did you realize that it would require multiple point-of-view characters, and how difficult was that to navigate?
I went into this knowing it would be a multi-POV story. Of course, the great challenge there is making sure the points of view all sound distinct and different, but the voices and the characters were clear to me very quickly. And I really enjoyed writing the different perspectives, because not only does that service the story, it also services the world—the scope is much broader. I was excited to get to do point-of-view characters who are very different from each other. A few of them are teenagers, a couple of them are immortals, and some of them are adults who are very cynical. It was cool to get to bounce among all of these worldviews and then also throw them together and see how their relationships develop.
Was it challenging to incorporate adult perspectives into a YA story?
The key is—and I think this is the hallmark of the YA genre—that all of your characters are figuring out who they are. While that is usually something that happens when you’re a young adult, that isn’t always the case. You have adults who discover who they are much later in life—in the case of some of these characters, hundreds and hundreds of years in. They are, compared to some people, kind of young adults themselves. So that was a fun dichotomy to play with—that trope of the all-knowing immortal who’s actually kind of a dummy when it comes to the real world.
What can readers look forward to with book two?
With every series, I try to focus on escalation, both with regard to the set pieces and the action, but also the emotional stakes—the way that the characters interact with each other. I love where the second book ends. It’s one of the pieces of the series that’s been in my brain the longest. I can’t wait to write it, and I think people will be very angry at me for it.
How many books do you have planned for the series?
This is a trilogy, and I know I originally said Red Queen was a trilogy and it turned into four books and some stories, but this is very much a trilogy. I’ve had a lot of this series in my head, and it breaks down into a three-act structure—from book to book, and also the series as a whole.
Do you know how the series will end?
I do! It’s another piece that’s been in my brain for a very long time. I’m excited to get to do some of the things that I couldn’t do in the Red Queen series.
Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard. HarperTeen, $19.99 May 4 ISBN 978-0-06-287262-3