In a multi-house auction, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Books, has acquired Queen of Faces, the first book in a fantasy trilogy by debut author Petra Lord. Peter Knapp and Stuti Telidevara at Park & Fine Literary and Media sold North American rights for seven figures to Brian Geffen, with Claire Wilson at RCW Literary Agency representing Lord in the U.K. and Debbie Deuble Hill at IAG handling film and television rights.

The story is set in a world where the rich buy and swap designer bodies like clothes, while the poor, like teenage Ana, are stuck with whatever they can find and afford, such as the broken male body she has inhabited from a young age. With nothing but her illusion magic and quick thinking at her disposal, she must learn to navigate a cutthroat magical academy in order to earn a new body before the one she’s in breathes its last breath. Her counterpoint is Nell, an elite from a wealthy family, soon to be forced into a body swap by her disapproving mother. The two characters are “diametrically opposed dark mirrors of each other,” said Lord, who is trans and biracial, and structured the story to explore the trans experience from multiple perspectives.

Knapp said Queen of Faces “truly feels like a thrill ride,” which simultaneously tackles questions of queer and trans identity, mental health, self-determination, and “the grit required to carve out a life for yourself in a world that feels hostile to your very existence.” In their pitch, the agents compared the book to Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone (with dark academia elements), pitching it for fans of Marie Lu and The Magicians by Lev Grossman. While acknowledging its “electrifying” plot, Knapp said the story has an admirable depth. “The world Petra has created is shaped by devastating wars, threatened by rising seas, and suffering a plight of great economic disparity—a world familiar, in these ways, to our own.” Queen of Faces asks important questions for contemporary readers, he added. “How do you find hope through despair? How do you create a life, one day at a time, and cultivate a sense of purpose and meaning?”

In a crowded YA fantasy market, Geffen said that “something needs to knock me off my feet” for it to catch his interest. “Petra and Queen of Faces did that. It feels fully fleshed out from the very first page. It’s impossible to overstate what a page-turner this book is. It has cinematic set pieces, glorious fight scenes, and plot twists that will leave you breathless.” He adds that he gets countless submissions comping Leah Bardugo’s Six of Crows, and “this is the first time that comp resonated.”

Geffen also said that the inclusivity of the world-building in the book feels fresh. “Gender fluidity is baked into this world with an organic, natural feel. He added that Queen of Faces could be the seminal work of trans YA fantasy. While the book clocks in around 500 pages, its “taut pacing and shocking twists and turns” keep readers turning the pages. “It’s complex, but not complicated,” he said.

A Cinematic Storyline

A fantasy reader from a young age, Lord studied TV writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She started what would become Queen of Faces as a side project while still in school. At the time, the story was a “creative playground where I could be as unique and strange as I wanted without having to worry about making it a viable screenplay,” she said. After she moved to Los Angeles and started her “standard Hollywood job hunt,” the pandemic hit. She moved back in with her parents and returned to the story, becoming more and more engrossed. In fact, she typed so much throughout long days that she ended up getting thoracic outlet syndrome—a condition that often results from repetitive movements—and ended up having to voice type much of the manuscript. More than a year later, she has nearly recovered.

With 500,000 words of the story, she began publishing it online chapter by chapter, developing a fan base. She turned to friends from school who have “a strong grasp of the fundamentals of storytelling” to help cut the story by more than 80% and compress it into something that could be pitched as a traditionally published YA novel. Her parents served as early editors as well. While she was hopeful about the story when sending it out, she said the overwhelming response has been “surreal.”

Lord said her goal was to write “a transgender fantasy, not just a fantasy that happens to have trans characters,” creating an epic that was “completely inseparable from trans-ness, with trans themes woven into the magic system and at the core of the story.” That meant including “a big cast of trans characters, not just one or two.” She hopes the story will resonate with “young people uncertain about their own identities and desperate to find their own place in the world,” adding that while queer readers will certainly identify with the book’s themes, these are universal concerns for teens.

Geffen said that in addition to the magic and the dizzying plot twists, Queen of Faces stands out for its ensemble cast and celebration of found family. “Queer joy and the joy of becoming oneself are an import part of the story. It’s brimming with light and hope,” he said. “I’m excited to share it with trans readers and excited to see it out in the world.”

Queen of Faces is set for release in winter 2026.