Eight years after the publication of her last Graceling Realm novel, having seemingly left the series behind, Kristin Cashore is returning to the popular fantasy world. Winterkeep, a story set a few years after the events of Bitterblue, will be published on January 19, 2021 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Winterkeep introduces a new continent and nation, located on the far side of the world from the characters of the first three books. The original trilogy, which began with Graceling (Harcourt) in 2008, edited by Kathy Dawson, established a nation called Monsea, where some are born with a special talent, known as a Grace. For Katsa, the heroine, that Grace is to kill, a skill she employs as an unwilling henchman to her uncle, the king. The trilogy continued with Fire (Dial), the prequel to Graceling which is set in the kingdom adjacent Monsea, in 2009 and, six years later, Cashore seemingly said goodbye to the Graceling Realm with Bitterblue (Dial). In this new book, again edited by Dawson, Monsea, led by 23-year old Bitterblue, hopes to forge a relationship with the unfamiliar nation Winterkeep, a democratic republic with advanced technology similar to Monsea, but with a great deal of political division, especially regarding environmental resources. “When Bitterblue’s envoys drown under mysterious circumstances, Bitterblue decides to go to Winterkeep herself. The adventure starts from there,” Cashore said.

When asked about her inspiration for Winterkeep’s strained political system and the environmental themes of the story, Cashore said that she “started writing and planning this book before the last election” but admitted that the divisiveness of U.S. politics was certainly an influence as the story came together. “In the book, there’s a fuel in Winterkeep that politicians are really divided about; it can do a lot of wonderful things but is also a polluter. My awareness of global warming and the way that we’re treating Earth and using up our resources was on my mind, as well as how our human behavior affects animals and the ocean.”

This book is a departure for Cashore in that it’s told from five perspectives. Two are familiar to readers: Bitterblue and Giddon, who readers will remember from Graceling. “I’ve enjoyed his journey,” Cashore said, “because he’s such a jerk in Graceling, but he’s grown up now. I liked getting into his head and giving him his own perspective.” The third point of view is that of a new character named Lovisa, “a student at Winterkeep Academy, who is a bit of a secret keeper.” The final two perspectives are both non-human: a telepathic fox and a 13-legged, 23-eyed gigantic sea creature who lives on the ocean floor. Like the previous novels in the Graceling Realm, Winterkeep stands on its own, but Cashore warns that, like the other books, it has spoiler potential, saying it’s “just the nature of these books.”

Cashore hopes that readers “get to know her characters and learn that they aren’t alone in their feelings. If you’re angry, it’s probably because there’s something to be angry about. There’s nothing wrong with those feelings. I hope readers start thinking about who they are and what their own power is.” While Cashore said she doesn’t write for a particular type of reader, she is always touched when young women reach out about her books. “I remember being very young and how important books were to me. On a gut level, I get what it means to love a book and feel that I’m a part of that story. It’s surreal when readers have that experience with my books.”

Cashore isn’t ruling out writing for adults or younger readers, but it seems she’ll be with YA for now. “There’s something about coming of age and the way perspectives can start to change,” she said. “You begin to see authority figures differently. You pick up on the bullshit and recognize it in a way that can be life- and character-changing. You start figuring out who you are and what impact you can have.” Cashore taps into the powerful nature of coming into one’s own: “[It’s an experience] that continues through adulthood, but there’s something about the first time that happens that can be really magical.” Perhaps it’s that awareness that keeps readers coming back again and again, pushing sales of the Graceling Realm books to more than 1.3 million copies in the U.S. and spurring their publication in 33 languages.

While mostly mum about what’s next, Cashore said, “I’m not done with the Graceling Realm, nor am I done with non-Graceling Realm books. I have both types of books lined up in my mind!” Cashore said she’s also been consulting with artist Gareth Hinds, who is writing and illustrating a graphic novel adaptation of Graceling, due out next fall by HMH. Last year, Cashore did a two-week residency aboard a tall ship in the Arctic Ocean, which she said informed the book that will follow Winterkeep, as well as the sense of setting for Winterkeep. A lover of winter settings (but, not, she noted, winter itself), Cashore said that the trip “immersed her in a place with beautiful winter landscapes,” which contributed to the mood of the novel. “The next book,” she said, “picks up right where Winterkeep ends, opening on a ship in frozen waters.”