Rebecca Kim Wells is joining us today to talk about her novel, Briar Girls. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Cruel Prince meets A Curse So Dark and Lonely in this epic reimagining of “The Sleeping Beauty” that follows a teen girl on a quest to wake a sleeping princess in an enchanted forest, while searching for the truth behind her own deadly curse.
Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…
Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler—and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.
Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to—about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.
What’s Rebecca’s favorite bit?
REBECCA KIM WELLS
My favorite bit of Briar Girls is the dragons. They are my favorite secondary characters I’ve ever written, and it’s not even a close contest.
I didn’t expect to include dragons in this story. I had already written a duology all about dragons (Shatter the Sky is sometimes known around the internet as the angry bisexual dragon book), so I thought I was covered. Besides, Briar Girls is a moody, dark fairy tale reimagining set in a deadly, possibly sentient forest. That is already a whole bucket of fantasy elements!
But as I was meandering down the path of a subplot, I found myself in need of an obstacle for my heroine Lena to face. And as I sat pondering what she might encounter, the word dragons leapt from my fingers to the keyboard to the computer screen without so much as a by your leave.
(This is actually my favorite thing about writing in general, by the way. That you can plan and plan and still completely surprise yourself when a word leaps off the pen onto the page unintentionally, despite the fact that all these words are coming from your brain in the first place. And I’ve learned to follow these serendipitous occurrences where they lead—somehow it’s almost always the things that I didn’t plan for that help spark my stories into vibrant life.)
So, dragons. But what kind? They would have to be very different from those that appeared in my previous work (noble, relatively conventional dragons, if a dragon can ever truly be called conventional). My thoughts immediately went to one of my childhood favorites—Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede. In the book the princess Cimorene wants to escape an unwanted betrothal and, taking the advice of a talking frog, follows a mysterious path to an unimpressive hovel. She knocks three times, snaps her fingers, and enters the hovel to discover a group of peculiar individuals who might help her—or eat her. It’s only when a magical light appears that she realizes she’s been conversing with dragons. (If you haven’t read this book, finish reading this post and then go pick it up!)
What I love is the juxtaposition of dragons against a rundown hut, and the way Wrede subverts the reader’s expectation of dragons as majestic creatures by portraying them bickering and discussing whether they might eat Cimorene as casually as they might discuss the weather. Impressive and dangerous, yes. Noble? Not necessarily. And the fact that the dragons are hanging out domestically in a hut? Everything about this scene delights me no matter how many times I reread it.
Briar Girls is an intense, dark book, and as I wrote most of it in 2020, I was bogged down not only by the emotions of the story but also the emotions of the world around me. In the moments when it felt tremendously difficult to keep engaging, I held onto the idea that my work was fueled by rage and sorrow—but it needed delight just as much.
So I amused myself greatly deciding how the dragons of Briar Girls would be odd and amoral and dangerous in unexpected ways. I placed my dragons in a matter-of-fact house of their own—a little nod to Dealing with Dragons—just because it delighted me to do so. I slipped the feel of some of the henchmen’s banter from The Nightmare Before Christmas into the scene where the dragons discuss how they should punish Lena for her missteps. And I decided that the dragons do not eat flesh and blood, oh no. Their preferred meals are something more ethereal—and more sinister. These dragons are not challenged or threatened by humans—in fact, they care about them only as far as they find a human amusing. And the moment they stop being entertained… That is where the real danger lies.
Rebecca Kim Wells writes books full of magic and fury (and often dragons). Her debut novel Shatter the Sky was a New England Book Award Finalist, an ALA Rainbow Book List selection, an Indies Introduce selection, and a Kids’ Indie Next Pick. She is also the author of Storm the Earth and Briar Girls.