2021 is definitely the year of adult fantasies
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that after reading The Poppy War, I absolutely fell in love with adult fantasies and have been on the look out for new ones ever since. When The Boy With Fire was announced, I was sold and wanted to read it as soon as possible.
Thanks to the ARC gods, I was able to read an early copy and have been head-over-heels for this one ever since. I was blown-away by the world and the characters that I knew I had to interview the author. If you are interested in reading my thoughts on The Boy With Fire, you can find a coherent review on my Goodreads.
A huge thanks to Aparna Verma for doing this interview and without further ado, let’s get straight into it!
About the book
The Boy With Fire
Dune meets The Poppy War in Aparna Verma’s The Boy with Fire, a glorious yet brutal tour-de-force debut that grapples with the power and manipulation of myth in an Indian-inspired epic fantasy.
Yassen Knight was the Arohassin’s most notorious assassin until a horrible accident. Now, he’s on the run from the authorities and his former employer. But when Yassen seeks refuge with an old friend, he’s offered an irresistible deal: defend the heir of Ravence from the Arohassin, and earn his freedom.
Elena Ravence prepares to ascend the throne. Trained since birth in statecraft, warfare, and the desert ways, Elena knows she is ready. She only lacks one thing: the ability to hold Fire. With the coronation only weeks away, she must learn quickly or lose her kingdom.
Leo Ravence is not ready to give up the crown. There’s still too much work to be done, too many battles to be won. But when an ancient prophecy threatens to undo his lifetime of work, Leo wages war on the heavens themselves to protect his legacy.
The first of The Ravence Trilogy, The Boy with Fire is the tale of a world teetering on the edge of war and prophecy, of fate and betrayal, of man’s irrevocable greed for power — and the sacrifices that must come with it.
Interview with Aparna Verma
Prutha: Hello Aparna, thank you for joining us for the interview today! For the readers who might not know of you, can you introduce yourself and your upcoming release, The Boy With Fire?
Aparna: Thank you for inviting me, Prutha! My name is Aparna Verma and I’m an Indian-American author who, on good days, plots to overthrow the publishing industry with BIPOC stories, and, on the bad days, listens to The Attack on Titan soundtrack to re-live pain. Kidding (kinda).
In all seriousness, I’m an author who can’t seem to stop writing about her desert roots. The Boy with Fire is a South Asian epic fantasy inspired by Hindu mythology and my birthplace, Rajasthan, the desert state of India. It’s about an assassin, an heir, and a tyrant’s struggle for power when an ancient prophecy threatens to destroy their world. It’s rich and dark, full of splendid plot twists that have gotten me angry/shocked DMs from readers. It’s a book that is unapologetically diverse and true to its roots. In short, it’s a book I wish I had read when I was 18.
Prutha: The Boy With Fire is heavily inspired by Indian culture. What was it like being a BIPOC author in a white dominated industry to put forward this book?
Aparna: It was a daunting task, in truth. There were many days when I questioned the validity of my story. Growing up, I was conditioned to read and only think about white-centered narratives. Is my book too Indian? Is it not Indian enough? Will it find the “right” readers? But as I began to edit the book, I found this old YouTube video of mine. Back in the day, I filmed “A Video to My Future Self,” in which I asked my older self to continue writing because her story matters. Her words matter.
And they do. Every one of us has a story, one that’s so raw and true to who we are, that we are bursting at the seams to tell it. When I wrote The Boy with Fire, I had no writers’ blocks. I think it’s because the story was so close to home for me. I spent nearly 10 years building the world and lore of Sayon. I infused it with the stories of the Ramayana, the Mahabharta, and other myths I grew up hearing. I welcome any and all readers to partake in the world of Sayon, but I especially wrote this book for the nerdy desi girl who loves storytelling, who wants to see herself in the pages she’s reading.
That video reminded me of what was at stake: representation. There are so few South Asian-centered fantasy stories. But if I could change that, if I could make that nerdy desi girl feel seen, then I know I did my job right.
Prutha: What was the best part of writing The Boy With Fire?
Aparna: The best part for me was getting to know the characters. I mentioned before that I never got writer’s block when writing The Boy with Fire. The words came, slowly on some days, as smooth as a river on another. It truly felt as if these characters were travellers who found me, sat on my couch, and told me their stories. I was but the simple scribe who wrote it all down.
When you write a story full of love for the characters, love for the world you’ve created, it shines through in the words. The Boy with Fire is a meaty book. It delves deeply into a prophetic world of morally grey characters and their inner demons. Sometimes, you’ll want to root for these characters. Other times, you’ll wish they never win. But through it all, I hope the reader gets to see the love behind the words. The Boy with Fire was a joy to create, even though I wanted to rip my hair out and become a hermit when I was editing. The editing made it better though, so I can’t complain.
Prutha: Now let’s talk about your characters Yassen, Elena, Leo, Samson and Ferma. They are morally-grey and badass. Were there any inspirations drawn from mythology to write them?
Aparna: The story of Kali and her chandikas deeply inspired me when I was creating Elena and Ferma. Kali is perhaps the most misunderstood Hindu goddess. With her red rolling tongue and necklace of skulls, she seems more a demon than a goddess. But Kali saved the gods from Mahisura, the water buffalo. She drank his blood so he never regenerated, and her chandikas (female warriors) slew his army. Sometimes, you need a little darkness to create the light. Elena is constantly trying to balance her love for her people, and the fire madness that runs in her family. She wants to protect her kingdom, but in her desire to control fire, she might destroy it. For me, Elena is a complicated character who battles between the ruler she wants to be, and the ruler she must become, a ruler her father had always warned of.
Ferma was inspired by the chandikas, Kali’s badass female warriors, and Indian tradition. In India, there’s a great emphasis on hair. Often, mothers rub coconut oil in their daughter’s hair to make it healthy and strong. Hair can sometimes seem frivolous, girly even. I wanted to make hair a source of power. So the Yumi, the race of warriors, have hair that can cut through steel and flesh. They are deeply loyal to their kingdoms and are Sayon’s most deadly soldiers. Ferma is Elena’s closest friend, as the chandikas were to Kali.
As for Leo, he wasn’t inspired by mythical figures, but by humans who doubt the gods. Leo’s battle is one against the heavens. All of his life, he has protected his kingdom, so when a Prophet threatens to destroy it, Leo rebels. He challenges the Phoenix — fate itself. In a way, Leo seems the most human.
Yassen and Samson weren’t inspired by mythical figures either, but their inner battles make them the most interesting, at least to me.
Prutha: The Boy With Fire is an epic high fantasy. If you ever got the chance to make a screen adaptation for it, what would be the songs that you would add to the soundtrack?
Aparna: This is such a great question! It would definitely be a mix of Bollywood songs, the Attack on Titan soundtrack, and Hans Zimmer.
I imagine the opening shot of the movie accompanied to the “Urumi Theme” by Deepak Dev. When Leo goes to the Temple to do you-know-what, I imagine XI-Tt by Hiroyuki Sawano. When Elena dresses for the coronation ceremony, I always imagined her doing so to Rani Sa by Sanchit Balhara. As for the last scene between two of the main characters, I imagine Godspeed by James Blake playing in the background. One day I’ll get my act together and clean up the Spotify playlist I made for The Boy with Fire. Until then, I’ll enjoy the fan-created playlists.
Prutha: And lastly, what’s something you’d like your readers to take away from your book or something you’d like to tell them?
Aparna: I hope The Boy with Fire will inspire readers to read more South Asian fantasy and explore Hindu mythology. We’ve seen many books based on Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, but I beg to differ that Hindu mythology is more vibrant, complicated, and badass. I also hope the reader sticks around for Book 2 (currently untitled) because Shit. Hits. The. Fan. The morally-greyness turns pitch black; the battle scenes get more heated; and you may or may not see some familiar faces, although when you do meet them, you wish they never returned.
About the Author
Aparna Verma was born in India and immigrated to the United States when she was two-years-old. She graduated from Stanford University with Honors in the Arts and a B.A. in English. The Boy with Fire is her first novel.
When she is not writing, Aparna likes to ride horses, dance to Bollywood music, and find old cafes to read myths about forgotten worlds. You can connect with Aparna on Twitter and Instagram at @spirited_gal.