Sink Your Fangs Into Renée Ahdieh's Latest YA Fantasy

Posted by Marie on October 1, 2019
Renée Ahdieh
Renée Ahdieh, the bestselling author of The Wrath & the Dawn and the Flame in the Mist series, is back with a bite. Her young adult fantasies have drawn cultural inspiration from ancient Persia to feudal Japan. In her newest novel, The Beautiful, she'll be transporting readers to an alternate history where New Orleans is ruled by the dead. Read: vampires.

Below Ahdieh shares how her tours through the Big Easy influenced her latest book as well as how her heroine, Celine Rousseau, finds herself in the clutches of its glitzy underworld, La Cour des Lions, and the enigmatic figure Sébastien Saint Germain.


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Goodreads: Your book begins with this sumptuous first line: "New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead." What inspired this haunting new world of yours?

Renée Ahdieh: I've taken countless tours of New Orleans in the 15 times I've visited the city. It's my favorite haunt in the U.S. I love listening to history as it is shaped through the lenses of people who've lived in New Orleans for most of their lives.

One of my favorite tour guides—she gives the best tour of the cemeteries!—commented on how the city is shaped by the stories of the dead. It stuck with me!

GR: The Beautiful takes place in the 19th century. Tell us about your research and what captivated you about this era.

RA: Research is one of my favorite parts of a project. I love immersing myself in the clothes, the poetry, the food, and the cultural climate of bygone eras. I think one of the things that surprised me most was broadening my understanding of all the blended heritage that exists in New Orleans. It truly creates a city with traditions unlike any other. As a child of mixed race, I love seeing different cultures occupy the same space in unique ways.

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GR: Let's talk about your heroine, Celine Rousseau. What draws her to the city and particularly to La Cour des Lions?

RA: Celine is a girl with secrets. Like so many who journeyed to American soil during the Victorian era, she is trying to build a new life in this world. That hopefulness and resilience is what I love about Celine, but I also admire the way she learns to embrace all parts of herself.

To believe that difficulties in her past have not hindered her but only made her stronger. I think she sees kindred spirits in both New Orleans and the colorful personalities in La Cour des Lions.

GR: And what draws Celine to Sébastien Saint Germain?

RA: Bastien was such a delicious character to write. I envisioned a young man who has learned to mask his so-called flaws well, just as Celine has. But I see him as someone who wishes to protect himself, and in doing so, does not like to risk his heart.

Celine understands this, and I loved writing their frank discussions of love and attraction. It was refreshing to write characters who are not coy about their emotions.

GR: What did you love most about their scenes together?

RA: I love being able to show the things they are passionate about in their exchanges. Celine is a huge fan of Shakespeare, while Bastien has read a lot of classical Greek and Roman literature. He comments that he thinks her namesake is the goddess Selene, who drove a chariot across the sky to usher in the night. She drags darkness with her wherever she goes. I loved that. Especially because it has a deeper meaning as their relationship develops.

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GR: This fantasy has been described as a world where vampires hide in plain sight. What, in your opinion, makes vampires so alluring to write and read about?

RA: Beyond the fixation with immortality, I think the idea of undead creatures who drink the blood of the living has a strangely sensual quality to it. It's an intimate, grotesque way to prolong life. And, of course, vampires are dangerous. Danger draws us in like bees to nectar.

GR: How was tackling this novel different from The Wrath & the Dawn or the Flame in the Mist series?

RA: For me, I think really being able to understand the world of The Beautiful was wonderful. I've been able to spend so much time in New Orleans and really immerse myself in its unique culture. It feels closer in a way, not just because the history itself is more recent to my experience, comparatively speaking, but also because the city is within reach for me.

GR: Which books (vampire-related or otherwise!) would you recommend to our YA readers?

RA: I'm very excited about Roshani Chokshi's The Silvered Serpents, and I can't wait to read Holly Black's The Queen of Nothing. I'm also eagerly anticipating all the other paranormal books on the horizon. Give me all the vampire books! I never get tired of them.

GR: And finally, what books are currently up next on your nightstand?

RA: I read Gabby Rivera's Juliet Takes a Breath recently and loved it. I'm also reading Traci Chee's next book, We Are Not Free, which is fabulous. I'm saving the advanced reader copy of Erin Morgenstern's next book, The Starless Sea, as a treat to myself!



Renée Ahdieh's new novel, The Beautiful, is available in the U.S. on October 8. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

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