We had the chance to read The Shattered Lands and interview the wonderful author Brenna Nation. If you want to learn more about the book, queer relationships, our mutual love for fan fiction, and Taylor Swift-inspired books, read on.
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Brenna Nation is an author and English graduate of The University of Maryland. She published her first book, The Shattered Lands, earlier this year, and we had the chance to read it. When she’s not writing, she can be found petting her dogs, getting tattoos, searching for the spiciest food in the room, or crying to Taylor Swift songs while she drives around aimlessly. Don’t we all?
If you want to learn more about Brenna and follow her writing journey, you can find her on TikTok at @brennanation.
The Shattered Lands Book
The book revolves around Sapphire, an 18-year-old orphan, raised in the land of Witrotean, a world where dark creatures roam the night, and hunger and poverty rule the days. Sapphire has been plagued with dark visions and sombre thoughts, one day she finds herself transported to the kingdom of Eriobis a place of powerful magic, secrets, and terrible conflict. 18 years prior, the princess of Eriobis and sole heir to the throne disappeared, it seems that finally, she has returned. During her quest for answers, Sapphire will become increasingly fascinated with the shadow witches, the outcasts of Eriobis. In order to discover who she truly is, she’ll have to trust one of them, Ashes, a fiery and mysterious witch. Is Sapphire really the lost princess? Will she uncover all the secrets of Eriobis, will she find power and fulfil her destiny? You’ll have to pick up a copy and find out for yourselves.
Interview with Brenna Nation
Why did you choose to have your main character on a self-discovery quest?
Originally, it wasn’t part of the plan. I wanted to write a fantasy novel with strong sapphic representation. It was my only goal. But as I wrote, I found a kinship with Sapphire through her growth and anxiety. She started as this really unsure character but grew to trust herself and rely on herself as the story developed.
I think it’s important for young readers to see queer characters self-discover and find themselves in their sexuality but also in everything else. And when I finished I realized it was vital for Sapphire’s story to not only be one of magic and love but also of self-acceptance.
Often in fiction, adolescent witches and their relationship with power symbolize a certain struggle with adulthood and womanhood. What did you want to say through Sapphire’s struggles with power?
That it’s okay to falter. Sapphire takes one step forward and three steps back plenty of times. She becomes overwhelmed after moments of intense bravery. She messes up after mastering something. It’s all a process and a give and take. And that’s basically the message I wanted to send with Sapphire. Growing up, knowing yourself, and loving yourself is not a linear process and there will be very good and very bad times. But in the end they all piece together to form the person you are, and I think that’s a wonderful thing to remember.
“She would not pray for forgiveness. She would not apologize for curiosity”. Was that a message for your young readers?
It was. It’s the message I personally needed to hear when I was younger. I spent too many years feeling like I needed to apologize for the way I felt. Too many years begging the universe for forgiveness for being gay. No one told me it was okay. I hope that younger readers walk away with a sense of self-assurance that it’s okay to feel what you feel, and you don’t owe anyone an apology for being who you are.
Sapphire is not the “perfect” heroine. Some may question her actions and her morals. Do you think it’s important to write flawed main characters?
Sapphire isn’t the perfect heroine at all, and I think that makes her perfect to me. She makes mistakes, missteps, and misspeaks. She struggles with her anxiety. She makes bad choices – and I think it sends such an important message that you don’t need to do everything right to have a story worth telling. Especially as a queer person. I think a lot of the time, I personally felt the need to get everything right when I was younger because I felt guilty for liking girls. But as queer people, we don’t have to be perfect. We are allowed room for growth and mistakes, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Through the shadow witches, you bring toward the idea of prejudice, how it can shape historical discourse? Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
When I wrote this book, the idea that as I grew up, I took what I was told as the unchallenged truth struck me. Now that I’m older, I’ve realized that the history we learn is only told through one lens. And sometimes some of the most important parts of history are never told at all. These days I always try to keep that in the back of my mind and that heavily influenced this story and I think you see both Ashes and Sapphire processing that in their own way.
Why did you choose to have Sapphire not question her sexuality? For her not to struggle with it, as we often see, and not to be judged by her peers for it?
I think books that involve a character questioning themselves and figuring themselves out are wonderful. But I also think we’re allowed to have books where their queerness is just another piece of them. Sapphire is powerful, smart, anxious, kind, and angry, and she also is sapphic. It’s just another layer of her character.
As far as not being judged, I hope younger readers can experience this story and have hope that, if they don’t already have it, there are communities and places that will accept who they are.
In one of your TikToks you mention that Sapphire is bisexual, was it important to have that representation?
It was. I’ve gotten to know so many bisexual women over the last few years who feel their queerness is erased and discounted. I wanted a character on the page that was a permanent reminder that they’re valid and important and queer no matter what.
Growing up, I had to rely on fan fiction to satisfy my need for representation, I scoured through AO3 looking for queer stories. Do you think having queer books published, marketed and distributed in stores can make self-acceptance easier for young readers?
Hello fellow AO3 lover. Same. I spent most of my years wrapped up in an array of tags but enemies-to-lovers was always involved.
With that said, I think that queer representation in literature is incredibly important. I remember being 15 years old, searching for books about WLW and finding maybe 3, all with sad endings. And I’d leave empty-handed from the bookstore, wondering if there would ever come a time when I’d see a love like mine between the pages. I am so grateful that the younger generation has so many more wonderful stories to lose themselves in.
Why did you choose the enemies-to-lovers trope? And can you tell us about the relationship between Sapphire and Ashes, how would you describe it?
Enemies-to-lovers is fun. I’ve loved it my entire life. It’s exciting and confusing and you never truly know where it’s going to land which is why I went that route.
As far as Sapphire and Ashes go, that is a tough one. You have Sapphire who is trying to adjust to the new world around her. She so desperately wants someone in her corner that she can trust. That’s where Ashes comes in. And while it may be hard to believe, Ashes in an incredibly insecure, scared character herself despite her tough exterior. She’s been raised knowing her role, knowing what was required of her. And she’s never gotten a chance to really follow her own heart.
Until Sapphire arrives. And while Sapphire is a part of her “purpose,” you can see through small glimpses that Ashes so badly wants to give Sapphire what she deserves. Both of their hands are tied, just in different ways.
Needless to say, if I had to describe the relationship in a few words it would be: a complicated love story that was written in the stars 1,000 years ago.
I saw your TikTok about writing sapphic books based on Taylor Swift’s songs, and I’ve never been more excited. Can you tell me a little more about that?
Miss Swift inspires every book I write, and it feels like pure magic. I put on her music and see worlds unfold. From Evermore to Lover, to 1989 – there are so many ideas stacked up in my head. Her lyrics demand visualization for me and every time I find a story is born in my heart through the stories she creates on her albums.
This was your first book. Can you tell us a little bit about the process?
It was…a lot. This is the first book I’ve ever written, and I started it in Covid when I was locked inside. I didn’t know what I was doing but luckily had a few friends to guide me along the way. I’m not a planner so I just let the characters lead me. And to be honest, as it all unfolded, the plot shocked me because I had no idea what direction it was headed in.
But really it was the power of a good playlist, a very big dream, and a good support system.
I learned SO much from this book that helped me as I continue to write my new stories and I’m forever thankful for that.
Some readers followed the entire process on TikTok. Is it important for you to stay connected with them?
I am incredibly grateful for the support I’ve found while I’ve gone on this journey. From time to time, it gets a bit overwhelming, but at the end of the day, I’ve found such a spectacular community full of loving human beings. I’m forever thankful that they took a chance on me and offered me patience when I had nothing to offer.
They helped my wildest dreams come true. And I really hope we stay connected for the years to come.
We hope you enjoyed our interview with Brenna Nation, we sure did. If you want to discover queer books and writers, check out our other articles in the books section!
Team Nonchalant x
Last Updated on 20th July 2023 by Nonchalant Magazine