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Fantasy novelist Audrey Coulthurst returns with powerful new book

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Audrey Coulthurst — Photo by Evrim Icoz
Audrey Coulthurst — Photo by Evrim Icoz

Earlier this year, our book club had the pleasure of reading Of Fire and Stars, the first novel by fantasy author Audrey Coulthurst. Fans raved about the book's magical metaphors and rich romance. Now, by popular demand, Coulthurst's sequel Of Ice and Shadows is out, picking up right where the previous book left off.

Of Fire and Stars took us to the magical kingdom of Mynaria, where witches are feared for their magical powers. We were introduced to princess Denneleia, a shy and sophisticated young woman with secrets so deep she kept them from herself. Forced to hide her powers and a growing attraction to her soon-to-be sister-in-law, Princess Amaranthine, Denneleia had to choose between her duty to the kingdom or her duty to her heart.

The story continues

In our last interview, Coulthurst let us in on the not-so-surprising secret that they are very detail-oriented when it comes to their writing process. While the reins haven't loosened much since the publication of their first book, they admit writing the sequel was, at times, a struggle.

"Writing the sequel was much more difficult, mostly because of time constraints," they said. "Since Of Fire and Stars was my first book, I had all the time in the world to revise it before submitting it to agents. There was a gap of almost five years between the first draft of that book and the version I [submitted] for publication.

Coulthurst was willing to sit down with us once again and dish about their newest hit. (Note: For those who have yet to read that first book, the rest of this article contains some spoilers.)

Image courtesy of Balzer + Bray  

"Of Ice and Shadows was written on a much shorter timeline — and it's a longer book. In all honesty, it was one of the hardest books I've ever drafted. Getting it across the finish line to publication took a lot of support from my editor and my writer friends."

For Coulthurst, the research part is always their favorite. While they had already spent hours researching everything from horsemanship to stab wounds for the first book, there was more they needed to understand when writing Of Ice and Shadows. "When writing fantasy novels, I often end up reading about geography, weather, and architecture to support world-building," they said.

Another challenge Coulthurst had to face when coming up with their sequel was how to develop Denna and Mare's relationship further. Since the characters overcame their main hurdle in the first book and got together in the end, Coulthurst had to find ways to keep readers interested while building off of the previous love story. However, Coulthurst always loves a good challenge.

"It was fun to put Denna and Mare through new challenges and to explore how getting together in the first place is hardly the main obstacle in a relationship. Time will always bring new trials to a partnership and give people the choice to confront them together or be driven apart," they said. "Much of what Denna and Mare go through in Of Ice and Shadows is figuring out how to balance their love for each other with what they need from each other and might not yet know how to give."

More than just romance

Evolving the story beyond romance was also something Coulthurst had to work through. "Of Fire and Stars was essentially a romance," they said. "Of Ice and Shadows required me to write a different kind of story, one that was much more driven by the external plot and character decisions that weren't related to their relationship."

And, as much as this may dismay some readers, Coulthurst felt their relationship ought to take on some angst as well. "The book wouldn't have been interesting if Denna and Mare's relationship hadn't faced some difficulties, so figuring out how to do that in an authentic way that gave the characters room to grow was important to the development of the plot."

Coulthurst also admits that the plotlines they focused on in Of Ice and Shadows had been stewing in their brain for years. "A draft of Of Ice and Shadows existed before I wrote Inkmistress or even got Of Fire and Stars published, but the revision process of the first book and the writing of Inkmistress dramatically changed the plot and world-building of Of Ice and Shadows. Very little of the original draft remains."

Favorite romance tropes
Coulthurst partnered with the SGN Book Club earlier this winter to give away a few copies of their newest book. Those who received a personally inscribed tome may have gotten a hint of its main theme. "It's worth noting that the inscription I use when personalizing Of Ice and Shadows is 'Own your power!' So much of Denna and Mare's journeys in this book is about figuring out their true strengths and who they want to become. It's hard for Denna to embrace her magic after hiding it for so long, and it's extremely challenging for Mare to have sacrificed everything familiar to go to a kingdom where she is the weak one, the outsider, because she doesn't have magic."

While the story is one of growth and self-love, it is, essentially, still a romance. With three books under their belt, Coulthurst is becoming something of a romance expert. And their audience is sure to recognize some of Coulthurst's favorite tropes. "Readers can probably figure this out via my books, but I'm a big fan of enemies-to-lovers or rivals-to-lovers. There's something about the inherent tension in a rivalry that makes for a fun romance."

Coulthurst is also a fan of the "forbidden love" trope, which they think Queer stories are especially good at telling. "The experience of falling for someone of the same gender can be fraught with internal conflict (especially if it's the first same-sex relationship). While society has broadly become more accepting, and we see more Queer stories now than ever before, it is still challenging to grapple with first-time same-sex attraction, because heterosexuality is the default orientation and is likely to always be the majority."

A special message for their readers

As they settle into this new year, Coulthurst has some big goals on the horizon. "I hope to finally finish my next book for publication," they said.

While 2021 was a bit of a challenge, they said they're back in a very creative frame of mind and ready to write, and they hope their readers are feeling prosperous as well. "I also wish for health and happiness for all my readers and the people they love," Coulthurst said, looking forward to 2022.

As for their characters, Coulthurst is sure they'd have very different resolutions for the new year. "Denna would be the type to have an organized checklist of goals, whereas Mare would make a joke of a resolution like 'drink more ale at seedy pubs' — if she made one at all."

For those who have resolved to read more, pick up a copy of Of Ice and Shadows and read along with us on Instagram, where our book club can be found @SGN_books.