Kat Howard Interview Concerning An Unkindess of Magicians


Cover detail from An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard.


They have been in our stories long before we were writing them down — and we have continued to tell those stories, no matter the century and no matter the setting.

Kat Howard is one of those new storytellers. In An Unkindness of Magicians, Howard has managed to reinvent one of the oldest fantasy tropes around, making magicians new and fresh in a modern New York City. Great magic system. A wonderfully complex character in Sydney. But best of all, an author who has a command of language that is beautiful with every sentence.

And when Neil Gaiman calls Howard a “fine writer,” I pay attention. You should too. I decided to send Howard a few questions about her book, how she came to write it, and where it all could possibly be leading. Because with magicians, you never know.

Read our interview below!

Unbound Worlds: An Unkindness of Magicians is in fine bookstores tomorrow! Tell Unbound Worlds readers about this marvelous novel and its main character, Sydney?

Kat Howard: I like to say that An Unkindness of Magicians is like if Gossip Girl met Ellen Kushner’s Riverside and we added magic. There’s murder, deception, betrayal, sacrifice, grace, and love all set against the background of a society-wide magic battle to determine power and status. And Sydney? Sydney is the most powerful magician to ever participate in the Turning.

UW: How did you go about developing the magicians and their magical world in An Unkindness of Magicians? Did it develop as you wrote or did you spend time on the magical system first and then begin writing?

KH: I very much started with the characters – with Sydney in particular. I tend to change a lot in revisions, but the opening scene has been the opening scene since the beginning of my very first draft. So once I had her, and they way she related to the other characters, and the particular problem I was writing about (spoilers!), then I thought about how the magic system would fit into and complicate that story.

UW: There have been a number of great magicians-centered books over the last few years — and even some publishing this month. What is it about magicians in fantasy novels? And how did you go about making your magicians different?

KH: I can’t really speak to why other writers might be interested in writing about magicians, but for me, it came down to a couple of things. First, magic is cool. I’ve always loved the idea of magic, and it’s one of those things that I still wish were real. But the power to do cool things, whatever kind of magic is practiced, is a kind of power. And I’ve always been very interested in how people relate to power – how they use it, what aspects of their personalities are magnified or decreased by it. So as I wrote, I wasn’t really worried about making my magicians different – for me, writing the magic in this book (the duels in particular), was fun, but my goal wasn’t to create a magic system that had never been seen before. My goal was to make magic as power and the way it manifests recognizable enough that readers would understand why the characters in An Unkindness of Magicians act the way they do.

UW: An Unkindness of Magicians takes place in NYC. Do other cities around the world have similar conclaves of magicians? Could we see them in sequels?

KH: Ha! You are very good at asking questions with spoilery answers. Are you sure you’re not a magician? There is a character in Unkindness who addresses this very issue.

UW: You’ve written a number of award-nominated short stories and other novels. What are you working on right now? What comes next after An Unkindness of Magicians? Titles?

KH: My next book will be a short fiction collection, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, out next year from Saga. It will have some previously published work, as well as some new things, including a new novella, “Once, Future.” It’s a gender-flipped Arthurian riff, and I’m very excited for people to read it. And I am also working on a new novel that I hope to be able to tell you about soon.

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard is out in fine bookstores tomorrow.

Trust Neil Gaiman!