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A Throne of Swans

Katharine & Elizabeth Corr

In this sweeping fantasy saga, intrigue, courtly romance and shapeshifters take centre stage as Aderyn, the young heir to the dominion of Atratys, seeks revenge for the death of her mother years earlier, only to discover how much is at stake for the future of Atratys, the dominion she has recently inherited.

In her bid for revenge, Aderyn instead finds herself at the centre of a deceptive, courtly web and in grave danger since, unlike the other leaders, she is unable to shapeshift into her family's ancestral bird, a swan. The penalty she would face if discovered is death.

We asked author KATHARINE and ELIZABETH CORR to tell us more about A THRONE OF SWANS, the first novel in their new fantasy series:

Q: As you work together on your novels, can you tell us how you develop ideas and write between you? Does it make it harder or easier when there are two authors?

A: We talk a lot, to begin with! And the fact that there are two of us definitely makes things easier, most of the time. If one of us gets stuck, the other one can usually think of something to fix the problem, whatever it is.

Occasionally we have disagreements about the direction the story is taking (or about which character to kill/not kill off), but we're so close that our arguments never get that bad. Not so far, at least! We write separately but sometimes edit together, and we also often re-write each other's work, so it's hard to tell by the end who's done which bit.

Q: What is your latest novel, A Throne of Swans, about?

A: Very broadly, it's Swan Lake meets Game of Thrones meets Hamlet: a historical courtly fantasy filled with political intrigue, revenge, romance and shapeshifters.

Aderyn, our hero, inherits the role of Protector of Atratys, a dominion within Solanum, a kingdom ruled by nobles who can shapeshift into birds that represent their family bloodline. Aderyn travels to the corrupt court of her uncle the king, secretly searching for those responsible for her mother's murder, but also concealing a potentially life-threatening secret: she's been unable to transform into a swan, her own ancestral bird, since her mother's death.

But taking revenge proves to be more complicated and deadly than Aderyn expected. As she uncovers the dark heart of the court, Aderyn realises she will have to risk everything in order to protect the land she loves.

Q: You have mentioned that Swan Lake was the original inspiration for writing A Throne of Swans, but can you tell us a bit more about how the novel developed and which elements from Swan Lake were you keen to keep in your novel?

A: We originally started to think about Swan Lake in terms of heroes and villains. In the ballet it's very black and white (literally). Odette and Siegfried are good, Rothbart and Odile are bad. We were intrigued by Odile's role and character - what if she wasn't a villain, what might her motivations be for working against Siegfried? - so that was the starting point.

We were trying to work out a backstory for the familiar characters. Of course, the story took on a life of its own and developed in ways were weren't expecting when we set out, but we knew we wanted to keep the key motif of humans shapeshifting into swans. We've kept some of the names from the ballet too, though Odile became Aderyn (Welsh for bird) to keep the main character more distinct from her cousin Odette.

Q: Why did you decide to move into high fantasy for this series, when your first series has a very real setting? Which do you enjoy writing more?

A: We wanted to do something different, and to see what we could come up with if we let our imaginations have free rein. And we loved it! It was brilliant to be able to shape an entire world complete with geography, climate, religion, politics and everything else that forms a society. Although The Witch's Kiss trilogy has a very special place in our hearts, we did love all the world building we were able to do in A Throne of Swans. So we're both keen to do more high fantasy going forwards.

Q: How long did it take to develop the world of Solanum? Are there any parts of this world that stand out for you?

A: It took a while, though we did it incrementally as we were writing the story, filling in details as we went along. We love the variety of noble families and the bird forms they take, and we were pleased with the descriptions of Farne and Deaufleur; Lower Farne in particular enabled us to use some of the information we'd picked up studying history.

We also enjoyed thinking about the difference that a ruling class of shapeshifters would make to things like architecture. For example, castles and noble houses have landing platforms and main entrances on the first floor not ground floor, and - because the nobles fly, rather than travel by more usual forms of transport - the roads and other infrastructure used by the flightless are not very well maintained.

Q: Why is the distinction between those who can fly (the nobles) and the non-fliers so extreme; they can't even touch each other?

A: Partly we wanted to underline the social inequality and the distinction (even more extreme in the past, but sadly not yet done away with) between a vastly wealthy, politically powerful minority and the ordinary, powerless majority.

But it was also designed to emphasis the isolation of people like Aderyn and Aron - another of our main characters who is also unable to transform - who are excluded (or run the risk of exclusion) from their peer group. There's no other place in their society for them to easily exist.

Q: Why did you decide to write the novel in the first person, through Aderyn, the protector of Atratys, and what stands out for you about her journey so far?

A: It wasn't a deliberate plan so much as seeing what worked. We tried various combinations of voice and tense when we were planning the book, and the first person voice was the one that just clicked.

The key to Aderyn's journey so far is in the epigram at the start of the novel. She feels a sense of inevitability, that she has no choice but to try to find and punish her mother's murderers.

But she grows during the course of the novel; when she understands the full implications of the path she's taken, she's brave enough to take steps to set things right.

Q: What next for Aderyn? Can you give us a glimpse into how the series will develop?

A: So, without any spoilers: in A Crown of Talons we'll see Aderyn trying to come to terms with her new position, dealing with the fallout from the events at the end of A Throne of Swans, fighting for a better future for all of Solanum and hoping against hope that her own future isn't as bleak as it looks.

And then of course there's the situation with Lucien, who starts off as her (rather unwilling) clerk in the first book... It's complicated to say the least!

Q: If you could, like the nobles in your book, magically transform into a bird, what would it be? And where would you fly to (in the real world!)?

A: Kate: I'd like to be an owl, I think. I love the idea of swooping silently across the fields at dusk, though I'd also want to be vegetarian, which might be problematic! As to where I'd go: anywhere north. Scandinavia or Iceland, for example. I'd love to fly by the light of the aurora!

Liz: I'd like to be an eagle. They are such strong creatures, although beautiful and elegant at the same time.

Q: Back in the real world, what are your favourite ways to relax when you're not writing?

A: Kate: I go to a ballet class once a week and it's the most relaxing thing I do; I have to concentrate really hard so I literally can't worry about anything else. Other than that, I play the harp. Not very well, and only for my own entertainment, but I do enjoy it!

Liz: my kids are still quite young so when I get free time it's usually a bath and a good book. I also love walking and try to drag the family on mini expeditions as much as I can.

Q: Do you read much other YA fantasy - do you have any recommendations for our members?

A: Kate: Fantasy (of any sort - YA, adult and middle grade) is my favourite thing to read, though I'm a bit of a slow reader when I'm writing. Two of my favourite YA fantasy reads this year have been Perfectly Preventable Deaths (Deirdre Sullivan) and A Song of Sorrow (Mel Salisbury). I also absolutely adored Sanctuary, an adult witchy crime thriller by Vic James.

Liz: I love pretty much all YA fantasy, but in particular The Folk Of The Air series by Holly Black and Vic James' Dark Gifts trilogy. Outside that I love anything by Terry Pratchett.

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