Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Pride Month is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where during the month of June, queer authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being queer, queer books, and their experiences of being a queer reader. Find the introduction post for Pride Month at The Quiet Pond here.
Ever since reading Peter Darling by Austin Chant (a trans m/m retelling of Peter Pan) back in 2017, I’ve fallen in love with queer retellings. The idea that a beloved classic story can beloved once more – and perhaps even more so – by queer readers is such a beautiful and hopeful idea to me. There’s something so powerful about reclaiming the predomiantly heteronormative space of fantasy stories and tell new ones that can be empowering, inclusive, and refreshing.
For this reason, I am incredibly excited to have Julia Ember visiting us at the Pond today for Pride Month! Julia is a queen of queer fantasies; she’s the author of The Seafarer’s Kiss, a f/f retelling of The Little Mermaid, and Unicorn Tracks, a f/f fantasy-story about girls who protect mystical creatures from poachers! Julia’s new book, Ruinsong, releases later this year and it’s a f/f retelling of Phantom of the Opera!
Julia visits the Pond today as a royal beluga whale wearing a tiara! I’m so excited to have Julia here at the Pond today. But, before I share with you all my interview with her and her sapphic book recommendations, I am pleased to introduce her upcoming book, Ruinsong!
Ruinsong by Julia Ember
Her voice was her prison…
Now it’s her weapon.
In a world where magic is sung, a powerful mage named Cadence has been forced to torture her country’s disgraced nobility at her ruthless queen’s bidding.
But when she is reunited with her childhood friend, a noblewoman with ties to the underground rebellion, she must finally make a choice: Take a stand to free their country from oppression, or follow in the queen’s footsteps and become a monster herself.
How cool does this book sound?! I love that it’s a Phantom of the Opera retelling, is unapologetically and beautifully sapphic, and features dark and vicious music magic. Quite frankly, this is the sort of retelling that you crave and ache for – and I’m so excited that we’ll get to read this in November this year!
Author Interview with Julia Ember
Xiaolong: Hello Julia! Warmest and biggest welcome to the Pond – thank you so much for visiting us today! We are so excited to have you! For our friends out there who may be only meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Julia: Hi, Xiaolong! Thank you so much for inviting me to be here!
I am the author of The Seafarer’s Kiss duology from Interlude Press and upcoming Ruinsong from Macmillan, as well as several novellas and short stories. I’m primarily a fantasy writer, with a particular love of crafting f/f retellings of classic stories. I recently moved to the Pacific Northwest from Scotland, where I live with my wife and our growing collection of pets.
Xiaolong: I’ve had the pleasure of reading your books and I love how you have provided readers with a range of unapologetically queer fantasy stories! What inspires your stories? Where do you get your story ideas from?
Julia: My most recent three published works have all been inspired by classic stories. Ruinsong is a high fantasy Phantom of the Opera retelling, that was also influenced more generally by my love of musical theatre, the Russian Revolution, my upbringing in London and my travels throughout France. The Seafarer’s Kiss duology is a Little Mermaid retelling, that also draws on my knowledge of Norse and Anglo-Saxon mythology and literature – which I studied in graduate school. I have a short story titled “Gilded Scales” coming out in the Short Stuff collection with Interlude this month, which is a fluffy retelling of Beowulf, wherein a monster hunter falls in love with a dragon shifter. As a queer writer, I think there is something a little subversive about reinterpreting the very allocishet male-focused, white Western story canon, and reimagining those familiar stories in a more inclusive light.
A lot of my inspiration also comes from places I’ve travelled or lived. My current WIP is set in Scotland, where I lived for almost eight years and met my wife. Even though I don’t live there anymore, Edinburgh remains a very magical city to me that is rich in history and folklore.
Xiaolong: I’m really excited about your upcoming book Ruinsong – it sounds wonderful and deliciously dark as well. For our friends who may only just be learning about it today, can you tell us a little bit more about the book and what readers can look forward to?
Julia: Ruinsong is a sapphic retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, set in a high fantasy world where magic is sung. It tells the story of Cadence, a mage who wants to be a healer, but who is instead forced to work for the country’s tyrannical queen as a torturer of the disgraced nobility. When she is reunited with her childhood best friend, a noblewoman with ties to the underground rebellion, she must decide whether to take the safe path and side with the queen, or take a stand to free their country from oppression.
Ruinsong is probably my most romance focused work to date. The friends-to-enemies-to-lovers romance that develops between Cadence and Remi is central to the story. Readers can expect a really soft sapphic love story, set in a really brutal fantasy world. Ruinsong’s very factionalized, opulent golden settting is totally different from the bleak and bloody artic of The Seafarer’s Kiss, and that was fun for me to write! Queen Elene, one of the villains of the story, was perhaps my favorite villain to write because she’s so conflicted. She wants people to believe that power is her divine right, even while she’s still working to make herself believe it. She sometimes treats Cadence like an instrument, necessary to maintaining her control, and does some horrible things to her. But at other times, she sees Cadence as the daughter she never had and tries to protect her from heartbreak.
Ruinsong is being published by Farrar, Straus Giroux BFYR (Macmillan Kids) in November!
Xiaolong: We may still have a ways to go, but I think it’s nice to stop for a second and see that we’re starting to get more and more queer literature – which is really exciting! What experiences or stories do you hope to see more of in queer literature?
Julia: I am always looking to read more queer dark fantasy! I’d love to see some sapphic retellings by POC, especially of stories from outside the Western Canon that I am unfamiliar with – I was really excited to read the Reclaimed Classics announcement in Publisher’s Weekly from Fiewel and Friends and am especially looking forward to CB Lee’s interpretation of Treasure Island and Bethany Morrow’s Little Women! I’d also love to read more queer adult fantasy, which I think is starting to take off, but not with as many titles as YA. I also hold out a secret hope for a surge of gay Equestrian rom-coms, but I might just have to finish my own.
Julia Recommends Five Sapphic Books!
1. The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska
Synopsis: Every year on St. Walpurga’s Eve, Caldella’s Witch Queen lures a boy back to her palace. An innocent life to be sacrificed on the full moon to keep the island city from sinking.
When Lina offers herself to the queen in exchange for her brother’s freedom, the two girls await the full moon together. But the queen is nothing like what Lina envisioned. Against their will, they find themselves falling for each other. As water floods Caldella’s streets and the dark tide demands its sacrifice, they must chose who to save: themselves, each other, or the island city relying on them both.
Why I’m looking forward to it: I adore evil queens, and angsty “I don’t want to fall for you but I am” pairs! I also love that this book seems to present a fantasy spin on climate change, where the true source of conflict comes from the rising water.
2. A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha
Synopsis: A f/f retelling of the Portuguese myth A Miracle of Roses, where the Princess of Aragorn enters a bargain with an Enchanted Moura so she can reverse the curse that makes all the food she touches turn into flowers.
Why I’m looking forward to it: Before I read this book’s announcement, I had never heard of the story of A Miracle of Roses, and I was instantly intrigued by it. I love stories about bargains and curses, especially when they go wrong! Diana Pinguicha is also an #ownvoices Portuguese writer, and I’m looking forward to vivid world-building and her grasp of cultural nuance.
3. From Darkness by Kate Hazel Hall
Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Ari Wyndham has a secret. Her best friend, Alex, drowned at Stonehaven beach when she was nine, and nobody knows that Ari still blames herself for Alex’s death. When Ari is bitten by a tiger snake, a summoner is sent from the underworld to collect her. The summoner is Alex, her deceased best friend, who has spent the past seven years escorting souls to the underworld. They recognize each other, and Alex chooses to save Ari, even though she knows there will be a terrible price to pay for this transgression.
Why I’m looking forward to reading it: Books set in the underworld are a personal favorite of mine. I loved A Promise of Shadows, The Wish List and The Devil’s Intern so much. This sounds angsty, and I love bargain tropes!
4. Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran
Synopsis: When teenage queen Lia inherits her corrupt uncle’s bankrupt kingdom, she brings a new spymaster into the fold … Xania, who takes the job to avenge her murdered father.
Faced with dangerous plots and hidden enemies, can Lia and Xania learn to rely on each another, as they discover that all is not fair in love and treason?
Why I’m looking forward to this: Seriously, from the day this was announced I have been obsessed with the idea of a romance between a queen and her spymaster. It was something I didn’t know I needed until I read it was coming, and since then I have been DESPERATE to get my hands on it. All the aesthetics Helen has made for this book have only increased my need.
5. Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Synopsis: It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.
At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all.
Why I’m excited to read it: I LOVE dystopian twists on fairytales. The synopsis for this book almost reads like The Selection meets Cinderella, but gay and with an inclusive cast. I am here for that a thousand times over.
About the Author
Julia Ember is an author of young adult fantasy fiction, best known for her creative retellings of classic works. Her books include The Seafarer’s Kiss duology, a Norse myth inspired retelling of The Little Mermaid, published by Interlude Press (Duet Books), and Ruinsong, a standalone high fantasy reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera, forthcoming from Macmillan Kids (FSG) in November 2020.
Ember’s work has been featured in USA Today, Bustle, Book Riot and Autostraddle, among many others. The Seafarer’s Kiss was named a “Best Queer Book of 2017” by Book Riot and was a finalist in the Speculative Fiction category of the Bisexual Book Awards. Julia has a lifelong appreciation for history and the classics, and holds an MLitt in Medieval Literature from the University of St. Andrews.
A world-traveler who has visited almost seventy countries, Julia currently lives in Seattle with her wife and their city menagerie of pets with literary names.
A big thank you to Julia for visiting us at the Pond for Pride Month! Once again, Ruinsong sounds absolutely twisty and delightful and I can’t wait to read it come November. I hope you all have come away from today’s post with more books to add to your to-read list – especially the f/f books that Julia recommended today!