Two fantasy series—one YA, and one adult—that sold in high six-figure deals just before the Frankfurt Book Fair are drawing notice from a number of foreign houses. The first, a YA trilogy called Ash Princess, was just acquired by Delacorte Press. The other, which is set in the Middle East and opens with a title called Daevabad: The City of Brass, was nabbed at auction by Voyager in a joint U.S./U.K. acquisition.
Krista Marino at Delacorte won North American rights to Ash Princess at the end of last week, after a heated auction, paying a high six-figure advance for three books. The author, Laura Sebastian, who grew up in South Florida and volunteers at New York City’s Housing Works Bookstore, was represented by Laura Biagi at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.
Biagi said the series is “perfect for fans” of An Ember in the Ashes and Red Queen, as well as those “who root for Sansa’s grit on Game of Thrones.” It follows a princess who, at age six, sees her country invaded and her mother, the queen, murdered. A decade later the princess, who’s been held as a kind of prisoner in her own court, has, as Biagi put it, “learned to survive under relentless abuse.” When rebels infiltrate the country the princess joins with them to seduce, then kill, the prince. But, Biagi continued, the heroine will have to ultimately decide “how much of herself she's willing to sacrifice along the way.”
The Naggar agency has received a number of offers from foreign publishers at the book fair, where Jennifer Weltz is handling sales. Biagi said that Weltz confirmed “major activity in Germany” with a number of houses in other countries, including the U.K. and France, who are currently “reading the manuscript” and “[being] very active.”
In the second deal, S.A. Chakraborty’s book was bought, jointly, by Priyanka Krishnan at Harper’s Voyager imprint in the U.S. and Emma Coode at Voyager UK. Agent Jennifer Azantian, who has her own shingle, represented the author, selling world rights to the three books. The auction for the series involved nine editors, Azantian said, and the preempt happened within four days of her sending the book out on submission.
An epic historical fantasy, Daevabad follows, Azantian said, the possibility of a centuries-old religious war being reignited by a young, female con artist. The con artist, who has “healing abilities,” as Azantian explained, strikes up a friendship with “a fiery djinn prince who dreams of revolutionizing his father’s corrupt regime. But, in a world where loyalty is a magical bond and grievances last for millennia, she soon learns that working with the enemy – even to make peace – can have deadly consequences.”
Priyanka said she was drawn to the series for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that it is set in Egypt and the Middle East, as opposed to the more common “western European-centric” titles that most SFF series take place in. Beyond that, though, the editor said she was beguiled by the way Chakraborty drew upon “the history of the Mughal Empire, the Sunni-Shia conflict, Persian and Indian folklore, and Islamic tradition to create this wonderfully rich world; it feels relevant to current events, and yet it’s action-packed, delicious escapist storytelling at its best.”
A resident of Queens, N.Y., Chakraborty has published short fiction in a number of literary magazines; she’s also an organizer of the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers' group. And, interestingly, Azantian found the author through social media.
Chakraborty—and her manuscript—came to the agent through a literary Twitter event called #DVpit, hosted by the Bent Agency’s Beth Phelan. It was created to highlight work by, as its mission statement declares, “marginalized voices.” Chakraborty pitched Azantian during a #DVpit session, and the agent wound up taking on the author, and her project, in quick succession.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that these books were drawing foreign interest from houses in Germany; the series are currently drawing general foreign interest, with the trilogy Ash Princess drawing specific interest from a publisher in Germany. Additionally, Laura Sebastian does not work at Housing Works Bookstore; she volunteers there. And in Ash Princess, the heroine does not masquerade as a commoner as initially stated; she has been kept as a prisoner, of sorts, in her own court. In Daevabad the religious war referred to is not nascent, it is centuries-old. And the auction for the book involved seven editors, not nine. Additionally the preempt for the book happened within days of sending it out, not the auction.