Sabaa Tahir is the author of Ember in the Ashes and its sequel A Torch Against the Night: Two novels that pit its characters against the forces of a despotic empire. Tahir and I caught up at San Diego Comic Con for a conversation about young adult readers and truth in fantasy fiction.
UNBOUND WORLDS: You’re here at San Diego Comic Con supporting your new book A Torch Against the Night. Are you meeting a lot of people who have stumbled into your world and become huge fans? That must be very different from your first Comic Con experience.
SABAA TAHIR: Yes, it’s very different, because now I’m meeting people who have been following the story and are excited about the sequel. They know the characters and know the world, and can now ask me questions about it. It’s different from last year because they book had just come out and it was the first in a series. Not the many people had necessarily read the book at Comic Con last year. They were going to read it.
UW: It must be rewarding to have people ask questions and involve themselves in your creation. Has anyone asked you anything that you might not have thought about—something that might have stirred some creative energy?
ST: I haven’t had anything that has really been surprising. Most of the questions that I’ve had have been ones I wanted people to ask, but I have gotten some stuff about the language and how it was created that I didn’t expect. I didn’t think that people would pay that much attention to it. That’s been really cool.
UW: Were you always a history and fantasy person? There are so many influences in these books.
ST: Absolutely a fantasy person. I love ancient Roman history but I’ve been a fantasy fan since I was a little kid from fairy tales, and when I got older I started reading Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Ursula LeGuin, and Anne McCaffrey. Those were my fantasy inspirations as a kid, and as I started getting older I got into adult literary fiction and it all mixed together in my mind, I think. Then there was Young Adult fiction. YA just grabbed my heart the way fantasy had, and I ended up feeling at home with writing it.
UW: Do you feel any responsibility to your young adult readers: the hope that they have the same kind of fantasy experiences you did?
ST: It’s an honor when they do, but any responsibility I feel is toward telling an honest story. Clearly, this is a fantasy world, but speaking honestly about people and their emotions, and the trials they have: what it is to miss your family. Those are real-world things that anyone can relate to. I feel a responsibility to write about them as honesty as I can.
UW: Can you tell us a little bit about the sequel for people who haven’t managed to dive in yet?
ST: The sequel is called A Torch Against the Night. It’s out on August 30th, and it follows the main characters from the last book, Laia and Elias, as they cross the countryside for a deadly and likely unsuccessful mission. It also follows another character who was not a point of view character in the last book. Her name is Helene: She is one of the main characters’ best friends, and is pitted against them.
UW: What would you like most for people to gather from this book?
ST: The one thing that I would love for people to take away is the idea that hope is stronger than hate, and that it’s stronger than fear. I think that it’s a more relevant message than ever.