An ambitious teenager will stop at nothing to get what she wants in The Darkness Within Us, the companion novel to YA romantasy author Tricia Levenseller’s viral BookTok sensation The Shadows Between Us. When her elderly duke husband dies, Chrysantha Stathos is finally free to shed her façade as a naïve duchess. Now wealthy and widowed, Chrysantha lives life according to her terms—until she meets Eryx Demos, her late husband’s estranged grandson who claims to be his heir. Though his arrival threatens her newfound freedom, it also heralds an opportunity for Chrysantha to show up her younger sister—and future queen—Alessandra. Deciding to kill two birds with one stone, Chrysantha takes Eryx underwing. Levenseller spoke with PW about revisiting previous worlds, writing morally gray characters, and how BookTok fame has impacted her career.

Why did you write a companion novel to The Shadows Between Us?

I love this question because I finally get to talk about this epic YA fantasy trilogy that I’ve been trying to sell to my publisher for forever. They finally did buy it, thank goodness, but they said, “Before we start this trilogy, we want another dark romance because The Shadows Between Us has done very well.”

In what ways is The Darkness Within Us different from The Shadows Between Us?

It’s familiar in the sense that you’re going to get another dark romance, and you’re going to get more of that enemies-to-lovers vibe, but because the female leads are so different, the stories unfold differently. Alessandra and Chrysantha are both schemers—they’re not afraid to go after what they want. They just go about it in very different ways. Alessandra, for example, will find the mark, get what she needs out of him, and then toss him aside. Chrysantha, meanwhile, is an actress; she can play the part that she needs to play, and she’s been playing it for years. Even her younger sister thinks that she’s a total simpleton who’s happy to do whatever Daddy wants, when she’s really been playing this role so that men will say things in front of her and act like she’s not even there. Then she can pull their strings and get them to do what she wants without them even realizing that she’s doing it.

I got kind of overwhelmed by all the good girl stories that I was seeing. Not that we don’t love our self-sacrificing female characters. But I was like, “I need to write somebody who’s a little bit different. I just need a breath of fresh air.” Once I started writing these morally gray characters, I was having so much more fun. Who doesn’t want to create a character who does things that you would never do?

How did you feel about The Shadows Between Us going viral on BookTok?

It’s amazing that TikTok makes it so that I reach readers I wouldn’t have otherwise. I love that it’s totally reader-based, too. Rather than authors and publishers being like, “Here’s me, here’s my book, I hope you read it,” it’s other readers saying, “I read this book and you need to know about it.” I love what it’s done for me and my career, obviously. It’s been phenomenal. As for why this book, I think it’s because of the reasons I mentioned before—the idea that there’s a morally ambiguous female lead is something that we’re just not quite used to seeing yet in literature, and I think people are hungry for them. I hope we see a lot more.

What are you working on next?

My next book is my debut adult romance Hell Hath No Fury, which is about a kingdom where there’s a shortage of men. So in order to take her crown, a warrior princess has to go and kidnap a husband of noble blood from a neighboring kingdom. That’s obviously going to be rife with enemies-to-lovers shenanigans. It’s planned for fall 2025 and we’re working on a cover right now, so I hope we’ll have something to share soon.

The Darkness Within Us by Tricia Levenseller. Feiwel and Friends, $24.99 July 9 ISBN 978-1-250-84077-6