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We Are Bound by Stars

Kesia Lupo

In her stunning debut, WE ARE BLOOD AND THUNDER, KESIA LUPO introduced us to the world of Valorian, which is where we return for her second, stand-alone novel, WE ARE BOUND BY STARS, which is published by Bloomsbury in July.

Meet Livio, the heir to Scarossa, and Beatrice, one of the fabled triplet mask-makers for the rulers of Scarossa; both are bound by the stars to their inherited roles, and both are rebelling against the expectations on them.

But the citizens of Scarossa, too, want change, and both Livio and Beatrice must decide where their loyalties lie.

We asked author KESIA LUPO to tell us more about WE ARE BOUND BY STARS:

Q: Can you tell us a little about how you started writing for young people?

A: Although I've written stories since childhood, I didn't take writing seriously until after uni. In a panic about what to do with my life, I followed my passion and decided to do a Creative Writing MA while working part-time as an admin temp.

I loved the course, but as well as developing my writing it introduced me to the wider publishing world - and afterwards, alongside submitting my own work for representation, I started to pursue editorial work experience.

My careers in publishing and writing have developed side-by-side: I signed with my agent while I was an assistant at Pan Macmillan, and gained a publishing contract two years later, after I had started as junior editor at Chicken House.

Now, I'm senior editor and have two books under my belt. Although time can be a real issue, I think being a writer has made me a better editor - and vice versa too. I am so fortunate to have found two jobs I really love!

Q: Why did you decide to return to the world you created in We Are Blood and Thunder for your latest novel, We Are Bound By Stars?

A: The world I developed for We Are Blood and Thunder was way bigger than the story; I felt there was loads more to explore. Thunder is set between two cities, which to me both feel very Northern European in different ways. Stars, meanwhile, is set in a desert city-island, loosely inspired by Sicily.

Q: Do your stories start with the characters, or the world you are creating?

A: The world! I developed the story for We Are Blood and Thunder through a series of lists of names and places, map sketches, ideas for gods, ideas for a magic system... out of all of this paraphernalia (a lot of which was discarded!) a story slowly grew... and finally, in the writing of it, my characters took shape.

Q: Can you introduce us to We Are Bound By Stars? Do you see it as a stand-alone novel?

A: We Are Bound by Stars is a dual narrative fantasy adventure about magic, fate and free will. Livio is the grandson of Scarossa's old, formidable Contessa. Beatrice, meanwhile, is one of the triplet mask-makers in the Contessa's service.

Both characters rebel against the bonds of their destinies - but when a twist of fate unites them, it is up to them to stop a deadly revolution threatening to destroy the city.

Assassins, sand-wolves and a new form of magic are rising... But are our characters anything more than puppets in someone else's game? Or can they take control and change their fortunes?

The story can be read as a companion to We Are Blood and Thunder - you will find gentle links between the stories. But it is definitely a standalone book, no prior knowledge of the world is required!

Q: Why did you decide to have a different set of characters and setting for this story, even though The Wishes islands, on which this story is set, inhabit the same world?

A: I felt We Are Blood and Thunder was a fully rounded story, it didn't need a sequel. However, the world still held more promise for me and there was a lot more I wanted to explore.

At the end of We Are Blood and Thunder, one of the important characters dies - I took this as a starting point to explore the ramifications of that death for their family. That family is Livio's. So the stories are connected - but using the new set of characters was really refreshing. It allowed me to explore the world and its magic from an entirely new angle and to introduce more layers and intrigue.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your two main characters who between them narrate the story, and why you chose to tell the story this way?

A: As the grandson of the Contessa, Livio is from a very privileged background - even so, he's suffered a lot of hardship. When he was a baby, his mother disappeared. Early in his childhood, his father died. He's been raised by his formidable Grandmother. He's a mage, like nearly everyone in his family - but unfortunately he's not very good at magic. He'd rather read or explore the city - and he does this at night, escaping into a second, fantasy life as commoner.

Beatrice is one of the triplet mask-makers. In this city, triplets are claimed into the service of the Contessa at birth. Despite their humble origins, Beatrice and her sisters live in relative comfort in the Palazzo grounds, but in return they're forced into the considerable constraints of the mask-maker's life. Dressed in perpetual black, they're shunned by the majority of the population and closely guarded. Beatrice longs for freedom...

I chose a dual narrative partly because I felt this worked well in Thunder. Dual narratives help keep the pace up as you're always jumping between points of view and you're propelled to find out what's happening to the other storyline. Livio and Beatrice are very different but they have one thing in common: they don't want to live the life they've been assigned. For me, they complement each other as characters.

Q: Beatrice, a mask-maker, is one of triplets. Why did you decide to make her a triplet, and for the sisters' relationship to be an important part of the story?

A: I have two half-sisters myself - we didn't grow up together (I was effectively an only child) but perhaps as a result I've always been fascinated by the sister bond. In a way, I feel like Beatrice feels in the book - despite the obvious bond between us, I was always the odd one out. I was intrigued by the idea that all of the dynamics could be amplified for identical siblings - how each sister has to work hard to define how she is different, yet yearns to stay connected.

Q: The romance in the story is focused around the other main character, the prince of Scarossa, Livio, and events soon take over the focus of the story. Why did you decide romance wouldn't be a more central part of We Are Bound By Stars?

A: Of the two novels, We Are Bound by Stars has a stronger romantic subplot, but I was keen to play with expectations. I think we've come to expect romance in YA fantasy so a lot of people, on reading the blurb and title, might assume that Beatrice and Livio end up together ... but friendship, family and especially the characters' self-understanding play a much more central role in the end. That's an important message, too.

Q: One of the big themes of the story is inheritance, and how the characters respond to the expectations of their family and society. Why did you want to explore this idea, and is it something that you had to grapple with as a teenager?

A: I think we all have to grapple with inheritance in one way or another - and yes, this often happens when we are young adults. When I was in my late teens, I found out that my dad wasn't genetically my father and, for a while, that completely shattered my sense of identity.

It amplified the sense that all teenagers have of trying to figure out who they are, of looking in the mirror and feeling that they don't yet know the person staring back. And this ties in to all the big decisions you have to make as a teenager - what path do I follow? The one my parents want me to follow? The one I'm expected to follow? Or something else? What do I want? Will I be able to achieve my dreams? All of this was in my mind as I wrote the novel.

Q: The magic in this world is captured in special masks, which can bring the wearer enhanced powers. Have masks always caught your imagination, or did something else spark this idea?

A: I wrote a short story a long time ago about a young, female mask-maker living an oppressive existence - it was historical, set during the Jacobean era when masques were popular and masks were used in courtly morality plays, representing virtues and vices. There is a magnetism to this idea that drew me back - but this time in a fantasy context.

Q: Will you be returning to the world of Valorian?

A: At the moment, I've no plans to return to Valorian - the two novels feel like they complete what I wanted to say about this fantasy setting. So I'm working on something totally different at the moment, again for YA readers. I can't say too much as it's early days, but it sits somewhere in the horror and murder mystery genres ... with a hint of science fiction ...

Q: What are you writing now and has lockdown helped or hindered your writing time?

A: In the Beforetimes I would write in cafes, first thing in the morning. Lockdown has completely disrupted my routine! For three months I wrote absolutely nothing, but in the last week or two I've started to slowly find some motivation. I have a little office (a folding table and chair) in my bedroom and that's where I work - I write there whenever I can.

Q: What have you been doing to escape from work, and what are you most looking forward to doing once it's over?

A: I've started running! You won't understand how totally crazy this is for me. I hate running and exercise generally. But as it's one of the few ways to be outside during lockdown, I've started to enjoy it... who even am I?!

Once all this is over, I can't wait to go out for a meal, or even for a coffee, and listen to the hum of other people's conversations, the hustle and bustle, feel the sense of the world moving on around me... I miss that. And author events, of course!

Q: Are there any upcoming YA books you could recommend to our members?

A: I've been terrible at reading during lockdown - it's been really hard to focus. One book I can certainly recommend, though, is Kat Dunn's Dangerous Remedy (Head of Zeus). It's a marvelous historical fantasy adventure set during the French revolution - you can get hold of the ebook now, but the hardcover will be publishing on 6 August.

I'm also hugely excited to read The Guilded Ones by Namina Forna (Usborne) - out in April 2021 - it sounds totally amazing and should definitely be on your radar!

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