After writing more than two dozen books inspired by Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Norse mythology, Rick Riordan heads into the ocean for his latest adventure. In Daughter of the Deep, he makes his first foray into science fiction with a contemporary reimagining of Jules Verne’s classic submarine-piloting antihero, Captain Nemo. The novel explores Nemo’s legacy through the experiences of his latest descendant, 14-year-old Ana Dakkar. PW spoke with Riordan about how this project represents a number of firsts for him. We also chatted briefly about the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, whose most recent releases include The Cursed Carnival: and Other Calamities, an anthology featuring all of the imprint’s authors so far; and the third in Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong series, Tristan Strong Keeps Punching, which shares a publication date with Daughter of the Deep.
Daughter of the Deep is inspired by Jules Verne’s scientific romances, such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island, which both featured Captain Nemo and are considered some of the earliest examples of modern science fiction. What drew you to these books, and what aspects were you most excited to introduce to your audience?
Jules Verne is a writer I’ve been fascinated with for as long as I can remember. I have to confess, I didn’t read his novels when I was a kid. They were difficult for me to get through. I was introduced to his worlds through movie adaptations like Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the Classics Illustrated comic editions. They were a great doorway for me into some of those stories I didn’t feel ready to appreciate yet. Later, I read the actual novels and found them fascinating. I appreciate Verne’s forward thinking in terms of what humanity can accomplish if we set our minds to it. And I loved the idea of having a submarine that can just disappear into the ocean and travel the world unseen. I also loved the idea of Nemo, who’s a rebel and a man without a country who follows his own rules. He’s a captivating character.
I spent years researching submarines and underwater exploration and cutting edge 21st-century technology regarding marine warfare, and then extrapolated backwards to what Jules Verne considered cutting edge, and came up with a hybrid vision of what it would look like if Nemo had invented technology far ahead of his time, sort of like Leonardo da Vinci. In The Mysterious Island, [the characters] hint at the idea of cold fusion [by pulling hydrogen from the ocean as an infinite source of energy]. I also incorporated the concept of the supercavitation drive, which is like a warp drive for underwater vehicles. That would be pretty nice if you were Nemo.
As an Indian American teenage girl, Ana Dakkar represents a different background and set of experiences than your earlier protagonists, such as Percy Jackson, Magnus Chase, and Apollo, all of whom are white males. What prompted this choice of heroes, and how did you make sure her voice felt authentic?
Something I felt merited updating is talking about Nemo as Prince Dakkar, an anti-colonialist Indian noble. He was a man ahead of his time, but he wasn’t recognized as a scientist. He fought oppression, and was ostracized and branded a rebel and a terrorist by the powers that be. That legacy made me wonder what his descendants would be dealing with today. I thought it would be interesting to explore Nemo’s motivations and how that would inform the way Ana sees her own family legacy.
Ana is my first solo female protagonist. A lot of readers asked me for this, and it was time I did it. It was a challenge, and something I was conscious of as I created her character and tried to inhabit her mental and emotional space. I wrote her as I thought made sense, and I was careful to get a couple of really great sensitivity readers who had some wonderful suggestions. Obviously, there are some stories that are better told by other authors, and in this case, I thought about it. I was dealing with creations by Jules Verne, who was French in the 1800s, and I was extrapolating from his characterization of Nemo and creating a sequel and reinterpretation of what he’d done. I felt it was fair for me to make the attempt, but it was still important for me to have a lot of test readers to give me feedback. I’m pleased with the way it worked out. A lot about this book has been a first for me: my first female hero, my first science fiction and non-mythology book. It’s still about the ocean, like Percy Jackson, though. It took more than a decade of thinking about it, letting it percolate in the back of my mind before I was ready to tell this story.
Over the past few years, you’ve scaled back your writing schedule to focus on one book a year, and you’re concentrating on standalones rather than longer series. What are you working on currently, and can we expect a sequel to Daughter of the Deep or something stemming from your story about Finn Mac Cumaill in The Cursed Carnival?
I’d love to do both of those things. Right now, I have another manuscript in progress on Celtic mythology that’s not directly related to my Finn Mac Cumaill story. When that’ll come out, I’m not sure. I have several irons in the fire, but I really have scaled back because of the other things I’m working on. There will be a book coming out in 2023 that’s set in Percy Jackson’s world, which I’m very excited about, but I can’t tell you anything definite yet. There’s some other stuff that we’ll announce during the release tour for Daughter of the Deep.
The continued success of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint still blows me away. Everybody has embraced the idea behind the imprint, from librarians and booksellers to teachers and readers, and the authors are just wonderful. I’m not sure how we’ve managed it, but they’ve become a family, and are so supportive of each other. We have a lot of great things coming up. We’re branching out into the young adult side of things with Daniel José Older, whose novel Outlaw Saints comes out next May, and it’s his most ambitious and exciting book yet. I’m thrilled to promote all of these books. The worlds they open up to readers are fabulous, and it means so much for kids to see themselves reflected in the stories, to see the folklore and mythology they grew up with represented. I’m happy I can be a cheerleader for these authors.
You’ve been granting fans brief insights and updates into the production of the live-action Percy Jackson series for Netflix. What can you tell us about the current state of this and your other media adaptations, such as the Kane Chronicles movie?
The Percy Jackson series is being done with 20th Studios, and we’ll be airing on Disney+. We don’t have the formal green light yet, but I’m confident we’re in good shape. They’re waiting to see a few more scripts from us to make sure everything looks good, but I think everybody is operating under the assumption that this is going to move forward. They’re talking about things like studio space and the preliminary casting process. Nothing super concrete, but the writers’ room has been meeting for about two months now. It’s a wonderful group of people, and I feel very good about the direction the writing is taking. I don’t want to jinx anything, but this is going to be a dynamite show.
The first season will be the story of The Lightning Thief. The beauty of things is that the lens has shifted just enough that we can offer new insights into why things happened and what’s going on in other spaces or behind the scenes while Percy’s doing whatever. We can offer more nuance and depth to the story. We’re all assuming this will be a five-season event that covers all five of the Percy Jackson books, so that’s how we’re thinking about writing and casting and budget. The bad thing about making the announcement when we did is that everyone has to wait with us in real time while we figure out the nuts and bolts. Meanwhile, The Kane Chronicles is going to be developed as a feature film for Netflix, starting with The Red Pyramid. But that’s still in the writing phase. We’re doing revisions on the first draft of the script now. Once we have it where everyone is happy, we’ll start showing it to directors and go from there.
Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan. Disney-Hyperion, $19.99 Oct. 5 ISBN 978-1-368-07792-7