Like her earlier titles, Stephanie Burgis's new MG fantasy adventure The Raven Heir (Bloomsbury Children's Books) brings the magical into everyday life, inspired by the mountains and castles that surround her home in Wales, where she lives with her husband, their two sons and their tabby cat. Her other books include the Dragon with a Chocolate Heart trilogy.
Read a chapter from The Raven Heir
The Raven Heir (Bloomsbury Children's Books)
Inspired by the history in the Welsh mountains and its mountains and castles, Stephanie Burgis's The Raven Heir is a fabulous fantasy that draws on the Wars of the Roses, magic and nature to deliver an action-packed adventure with bags of heart. We asked author Stephanie Burgis to tell us more!
Q&A with Stephanie Burgis
1. Which fantasy author or book first sparked your love of reading fantasy, and what encouraged you to write your own?
I've been a fantasy fan ever since my dad first read me The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at a ridiculously early age, and I started devouring Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip books by the time I was 11 - but I only started writing my own fantasy novels as a teen after reading Emma Bull's The War for the Oaks (an adult contemporary fantasy novel). I'd known since I was 7 that I wanted to be a writer, but I'd written all over the place until then, from poetry to gothic novels and more. From the time I was 14, though, I was hooked - I've been a fantasy author ever since.
2. Who are your go-to fantasy authors for children?
Oh, so many! Just for a start, I adore all of Amy Wilson's fantasy novels (Snow Globe might be my very favourite, but they're all fantastic!) as well as Zetta Elliott's Dragons in a Bag series, Louie Stowell's Otherland, Marti Dumas's Jupiter Storm series, Maria Kuzniar's The Ship of Shadows series, and Sophie Kirtley's The Wild Way Home.
3. Was there one thing that sparked the idea for The Raven Heir?
The Raven Heir brought together my love of history (and my most recent fascination with the Wars of the Roses in particular) with my love of Shakespeare AND my love of shapeshifting stories. Also, for years I'd been turning over the idea of a sorceress hiding in an enchanted medieval forest. When it finally occurred to me that she could be the mother of my heroine (rather than the heroine herself), a real story I loved for the whole family came together at last.
4. During your research of the Wars of the Roses, what surprised you most?
Honestly, I was most surprised at first by the fact that there was - from my perspective - no greater purpose to the wars than sheer greed and power-grabbing on both sides. SO MANY people were killed over such a long period of time only so that a few aristocratic families could wrestle again and again over the throne and all the power that came with it. Other terrible, long wars in history have at least had higher-minded excuses for the conflicts (no matter how little we may think of those excuses now); this one was just blatantly about POWER. It was such a terrible, tragic waste of life.
I was also taken aback by just how many of the "rightful heirs to the throne" on both sides were just children being used as pawns by their family. Children were being scooped out of bed in the middle of the night, thrown into disguises, and then sent off on horseback across the country through the night to escape kidnapping or death because of the families they'd been born into. That was a major inspiration for The Raven Heir, as I imagined myself into the position of those kids - officially the rightful rulers but unofficially (and much more truthfully) powerless chess pieces in their families' power games.
5. How did you go about creating the fantasy world of Corvenne?
I based it very roughly on the medieval UK during the time of the Wars of the Roses (with a LOT of specific inspiration from my local Welsh castles, mountains, and woods), but then I added magic to the mix! So, a very similar war over the throne has been raging for decades in Corvenne, but the land itself is also magically involved in this conflict, and enchantresses and magicians can be hired by the dukes and duchesses to assist their armies.
6. What were your rules for Corvenne's magic?
There are two parts to my answer to this question! :)
First of all, there used to be a theory in our own European history that the happiness and health of any land depended on the quality of its ruler. That was why bad harvests, famines, etc., could sometimes threaten the security of a king's rule, because they were signs that the land was clearly being ruled by the wrong person, not the "true" and divinely chosen king.
Obviously, I don't believe that to be true in real life - but in this very medieval fantasy setting, I wanted to explore what it would mean, magically, if it actually WAS true. What would it mean for a "true" ruler to be chosen by the land? Which qualities would make any particular person the true, chosen ruler in that situation? And how could the land itself be an active character in any story?
Secondly, because Corvenne is based very roughly on the medieval UK, I made a rule for myself that Cordelia could only shapeshift into creatures that really did prowl around British woods at some point in our history (even if, in our real world, they were hunted to extinction centuries ago).
7. What was it like writing about triplets and their special bond?
I am really close to my two younger brothers, so sibling relationships have always been extremely important to me, and I always love writing them! I had a lot of fun with the loving but also INTENSELY challenging dynamic among the triplets in this family as well as the very different kind of relationship that Cordelia has with their older half-brother.
8. If you could have any of the triplets' magic, which one would you choose?
I'd absolutely love to be a shapeshifter like Cordelia. When my kids were younger, a typical family game was to ask "If you could turn into any animal in the world today, which would it be?" When I was writing this book, I had so much fun answering that question again and again as Cordelia chooses different shapes for different situations!
9. You have some fabulous villains - who did you most enjoy creating?
I love writing villains - they're so much fun! - but without giving away any spoilers, there was one villain in The Raven Heir who was particularly fun to write because she turned so many preconceptions on their heads.
10. What next for Corvenne and Cordelia, Giles and Rosalind?
The Raven Throne is Book 2 in this duology, and I'm working on my edits to it now. :)
11. Where and when do you do your best writing?
Pre-pandemic, I always loved writing in busy coffee shops. Nowadays, I love working at the picnic table in our small (but beautifully wild) garden whenever the weather here in Wales allows it.
12. Where are you most likely to be found when it's time to relax?
Curled up on a lounge chair in our garden, happily reading and drinking a big cup of coffee while my kids play in the paddling pool nearby.