F.T. Lukens has explored fantasy tropes in their queer-normative novels, including fairy tale In Deeper Waters and Dungeons and Dragons-inspired So This Is Ever After. In their latest, contemporary fantasy Spell Bound, 16-year-old Rook desperately hopes to uncover his own magical ability. Along the way, he joins forces with nonbinary teen Sun to help rescue their mentors when both run afoul of the draconian magical oversight body. PW spoke with Lukens about their inventive worldbuilding, multifaceted characters, and the power of fantasy to make queer teens feel seen.

The magic system in Spell Bound relies on invisible ley lines. How did you choose to use them in this work?

On the way back from Dragon Con in Atlanta, I was on the phone with my brother talking about magic systems and how magic would work in a city. We started talking about how our phones can pick up cell signals and computers connect to Wi-Fi, and the worldbuilding started percolating into this idea of magical Wi-Fi. I already knew about ley lines from other fantasy media and it was easy to blend that idea with what I was trying to accomplish.

One of your protagonists, Rook, starts out in a way that might suggest the Chosen One trope, but you then lean away from this. Can you say more about that?

I’ve played with Chosen Ones tropes before, but for Rook I didn’t want him to have this prophecy of fate. In the beginning, his motivation is very internal and selfish and he’s making choices not for the greater good but for Rook. Those choices have consequences that he has to take responsibility for later without brushing them off as fate. He does end up working for the greater good, but that’s not his initial motivation.

Can you talk a bit about why you minimized angst and even much detail around Sun’s gender identity?

We’re not supposed to have favorites, but Sun is my favorite. I wanted to show how easy acceptance can be—they have a supportive family, a love interest, and can go on an adventure. Right now, queer teens, especially trans, non-binary, and gender queer teens, are finding themselves centered in highly politicized, negative, demeaning conversations. Being a teen is difficult as it is, and I can’t imagine how difficult it is to hear daily about if they have a right to exist. I wanted to portray a non-binary teen who is not just surviving but thriving. There’s of course room on the shelves for a spectrum of queer stories. I like to write queer-normative worlds where characters are living their best lives.

Your last three books have all placed queer teens in fantastical settings. What draws you to build these queer-inclusive worlds?

I love fantasy worlds. I was a voracious reader when I was young of anything about magic, or spaceships, or dragons. But those books didn’t have any queer characters. One of my goals as a writer is to make worlds that are accessible and relatable. Not having queer characters or BIPOC individuals is not inclusive, it’s not real life, and it’s not relatable. It means so much to me when readers reach out to tell me they are so happy to read about a queer character going on an adventure or that it’s their first time reading fantasy and they felt the book was accessible and enjoyable. That’s really what I’m trying to do.

Spell Bound by F.T. Lukens. McElderry, $19.99 Apr. 4 ISBN 978-1-66591-622-6