In The Other Merlin, released in 2021, bestselling YA author Robyn Schneider introduced readers to Emry Merlin, daughter of Arthur’s legendary court wizard. Denied an opportunity offered to her twin brother, she disguises herself as him to take on his role at Camelot and finds herself in the midst of palace intrigue and romance. Mixing humor, fantasy, and lots of passion, the story offered a fresh take on the world and characters that have inspired so many retellings. The next chapter in Emry’s story will unfold in The Future King, out in March 2023, just after The Other Merlin’s paperback edition releases in February with a new cover.

The Merlin stories are a bit of a departure from Schneider’s nearly decade-long career in YA, which started with her realistic coming-of-age romance The Beginning of Everything, released in 2013. She followed up that success with four additional novels in the genre, building a loyal following. “I actually never meant to become a contemporary YA author,” she said. “I’d always dreamed of writing a YA fantasy series about a girl wizard. Because The Beginning of Everything was so popular, my team encouraged me to stick with writing contemporary realistic YA. But I always knew that my heart was off questing with magical swords and wizards, and it was only a matter of time before my stories went there, too.”

Admirers of Schneider’s previous books were quickly won over to her new direction. “I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first sat down to read The Other Merlin,” said Jenny Bak, executive editor of Viking Children’s Books. “But I could tell from the first chapter that Robyn had the vision and the skill to take this very old, very-revisited legend and turn it into something clever, funny, and unexpected.”

For Schneider, the series is a chance to re-envision a story that has long appealed to her. “I’ve been a huge King Arthur fan since I was a kid, but I never saw myself in stories of jousts and chivalry and magic swords. I always wondered why the handsome prince was always some overconfident jock, and why the small-town girl couldn’t be more powerful than the boys, and why straight was always the default.”

Beyond that, she questioned Arthur’s origin story. As king, he “ushers in this golden age of tolerance and understanding,” she said. But what was it that fostered his sense of compassion? “I felt like something had to happen to make a leader like that fight for the underdogs and care about those who are less privileged.”

Rather than a naturally fearless warrior, Schneider’s Arthur is “a smart, lonely outsider” driven to his mission of justice by observing the mistreatment of his friends. That’s consistent with the characters she’s always been drawn to, she said. “All of my books, both contemporary and historical, straight and queer, are about smart, nerdy outsiders falling in love and learning to show the world who they truly are.” She’s drawn to stories of “found family, self-discovery, and those big, important firsts.”

Those universal experiences are part of this series but the setting adds layers of fantasy. “There’s something inherently magical about lavish balls and grand libraries and chivalry and courtship,” she said. “It makes you want to believe in happily ever afters, especially for characters who worry they’ll never get one. Reading historical romance is like trying on a ballgown—it makes you feel like maybe the world is beautiful after all. And it’s especially important for queer readers who haven’t always seen ourselves in this kind of story, particularly centered as main characters.”

Schneider believes that classic tales like the story of Camelot are ripe for reinterpretation. “I’m genuinely surprised that there aren’t more retellings done in this style, with modern sensibilities, but also with raunchy humor. How could you not want to ship a prince and his wizard, and to write their romance in the most entertaining, hilarious way possible?”

The new direction for the covers, she believes, captures the “irreverent and fun vibe” of the books and the “snarky and modern” feel of the characters. Colorful and contemporary, they hint at the witty banter in store for readers. Bak calls the stories “addictive” in their storytelling and meticulous in their level of detail. “I was especially impressed by the depth of research she undertook to make the details of the setting true to the era. For instance, despite the contemporary slang, all of Robyn’s spellcasting words are rooted—and sometimes written—in Greek and Latin, and her impressive knowledge of early 16th-century medieval English clothing is on point!”

Schneider said that in The Future King, fans of The Other Merlin can look forward to “a medieval bachelor party, long nights in the library, lots of kissing, extremely perilous questing, a depressed gargoyle, disastrous alchemists, and an excessive amount of frogs!”

In this series, Schneider said, she feels she is truly in her element. “I’m finally getting to write characters who aren’t stuck in third-period English class. I love writing about wizards and royals who are genuinely concerned about a fight they had with their crush, or a societal expectation that makes them feel unseen. My secret goal with this series was to give it the soul of a contemporary coming-of-age-story, dressed up with all of the fun of an escapist fantasy.”