I love high/epic fantasy for many reasons. Setting, magic, and character matter most.
Thankfully, author Sarah Beth Durst writes both beautifully in her fantasy series Queens of Renthia, the final trilogy book The Queen of Sorrow now published.
The first book The Queen of Blood and its sequels have a marvelous magical setting featuring the beauty and power of nature. Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow. And while these spirits are the epitome of nature’s beauty, they also hate humanity and want to see it dead. I enjoyed The Queen of Blood so much—for its setting, magic, and characters—that I immediately invited Durst to write a short story for my anthology Unfettered II, not an easy invitation to come by. She didn’t disappoint.
I’m not the only one who loves Durst’s work. Terry Brooks enjoys it as well. He has an eye for great storytelling and he knows it when he sees it. “A truly wonderful fantasy novel which doubles as an allegory for our own earthly struggle between Man and Nature,” Terry Brooks blurbed. “Filled with fresh ideas and excitement, told with verve and heart. This book deserves a wide readership, and I think it will find one.”
To celebrate the release of The Queen of Sorrow and the completion of the trilogy, I have interviewed Durst below.
Unbound Worlds: The Queen of Sorrow is in fine bookstores now. It finishes your trilogy. First, tell us about the world of the Queens of Renthia?
Sarah Beth Durst: When I was around 11 or 12 and had read everything fantasy in the kids’ section of the library, my mom brought me upstairs to the Fantasy/Science Fiction shelves in the adult section and filled my arms with books: The Sword of Shannara, Dragonflight, Pawn of Prophecy, The Summer Tree, Arrows of the Queen… I read and reread those books and dreamed of writing my own epic fantasy, with adventure and deadly magic and my own brand of badass women. To know that my epic trilogy is now complete and out in the world is a wonderful and thrilling feeling.
Renthia is a world of extreme beauty: sky-piercing mountains, endless glaciers, and towering trees with cities nestled in their branches, all thanks to an overabundance of nature spirits. But the spirits who created all this glorious beauty aren’t sweet, frolicking pixies. These spirits want to kill all humans, and only certain women — the queens — have the power to control them.
It started with The Queen of Blood, continued with The Reluctant Queen, and now concludes with The Queen of Sorrow.
UW: The characters you’ve created leap off the page. How much thought did you give to them before writing? And do you have a favorite to write?
SBD: I tend to discover my characters through the process of writing them. I treat it a bit like an audition process, actually. I drag them onto the stage/page and have them talk. If they catch my interest, they stay. If not, the next actor comes on.
Some characters waltz onto the page fully-formed. Garnah, for example. I’d have to say that she was the most fun character to write. She’s a master poisoner who has no morals but wants her son to love her despite her massive, murderous flaws.
UW: How does it feel to have the trilogy finished and now published? Excited it’s done? Sad it’s over? In between?
SBD: I’m always sad when I finish writing a book—you spend so much time living with your fictional characters that they take up residence in your heart, and it’s hard to leave them. But I love that the books are out in the world and that other people can now zipline through the forests of Aratay and run alongside the wolf Bayn…
Also, though The Queen of Sorrow concludes the trilogy, I’m not saying goodbye to Renthia just yet. I am working on a standalone novel set in Renthia on the islands of Belene. New characters and new story. Lots of sea monsters. I’m loving writing it!
UW: Author Terry Brooks loves this series and he mentions it often. What do you find similar between his work and your work?
SBD: Very honored and thrilled by that! I’ve loved his books for eons—and they just keep getting better and better, which I admire.
I think my books and his books share a similar spirit of adventure and hope. I believe a fantasy book should transport you out of your life and take you on a journey that makes you laugh, cry, and cheer—and then it should bring you back again, safe and sound, maybe slightly changed. I think that when you close a fantasy book, you should feel like the world is a little more magical than it was before and that you are a little stronger than you were before.
UW: What’s next for Sarah Beth Durst? Whatcha working on?
SBD: I am working on two books right now. The Deepest Blue is a standalone Renthia novel set on the islands of Belene—it’s about an oyster diver whose wedding day is interrupted by a storm of wild spirits. And I’m finishing up Spark, my next kids’ book, which is about a girl and her lightning dragon in a world where storm beasts control the weather, and the government hides a terrible secret. Both will be out in 2019, and I’m really excited about them!
UW: Thanks for your time, Sarah!
SBD: Thanks so much for interviewing me!
The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth Durst is in fine bookstores now!