Ash Princess Author Laura Sebastian on How She Developed Her Fantasy World

Author photo: Dan Wright Photography

Laura Sebastian’s Ash Princess centers on the vengeful rise of deposed royal Theodosia, mockingly called the “Ash Princess” following the murder of her Fire Queen mother and the loss of her ancestral lands. Long a powerless prisoner of the cruel Kaiser, she has suppressed herself in the interest of survival…until the Kaiser pushes her too far. Armed now with a boiling rage, she sets out, at last, to reclaim her power and salvage her kingdom.

Here, Sebastian discusses her character-driven approach to novel writing.

Full disclosure: worldbuilding is never at the forefront of my mind when I begin a new project. Oftentimes, there’s not much there in the first draft, or even the second. I sketch it first in shadowy lines, then I clean it up, then I add color and depth. I wish I could say it’s something that comes easily to me, but it just doesn’t.

Every writer approaches things differently, but I tend to lead with characters and let the rest fill in around them. What kind of a world would have created this person? How did it shape them into who they are at the start of the story? How will it change them over the course of the book? How will they change their world?

When I started Ash Princess, I knew I wanted to play with the damsel in distress trope and in order to do that, the damsel at the heart of the story, Theo, had to be in some serious distress. The world that had raised her could not be a kind one. The people who conquered her country would have to be warriors, hard and merciless down to their bones, the kind who would have no true mercy, even on a child.

The Kalovaxians are very much inspired by Vikings and by the tribes of ancient Germany—both groups of people with a plentiful history of ruthlessness. People who took the homes of others by force and left a trail of destruction in their wake. People who slaughtered and pillaged and did not ask permission or forgiveness for anything they did. Once I made this connection, a lot of pieces fell into place organically: their love of ships, the berserkers, the title of the Kaiser that fit the character so much better than “king” ever could.

So who were the Astreans before the Kalovaxians came to their shores? I knew I wanted them to be a matriarchal society and that the country would have to have been isolated to have kept their magic secret for so long, but beyond that, I found myself looking at Ancient Greece and Byzantine Rome. The light silk chitons they wear, their love of the arts, the domed palace inspired by Hagia Sofia—I actually named Theodosia after Empress Theodora, one of my favorite historical figures and possibly the original Cinderella story.

From there, I wanted to make the cultures as much of a foil for one another as possible. Where the Kalovaxians are war-hungry, the Astreans were peaceful. Kalovaxia is a patriarchy and Astrea is a matriarchy. The Kalovaxian language is hard-edged and guttural, but the Astrean language is more closely aligned with Latin and other romance languages. They are two extremes with no shared ground between them.

Which brought me back to my main character, a girl who lived in one world until she was six, then was forced into another for the next ten years of her life. A girl who was, essentially, raised in both worlds and still has a foot in each. Who does that make her? How does that change the way she views the world? How does it affect what she wants and how she goes about getting it?

With those questions on my mind, I had a layered main character, I had the world that shaped her, and I had both internal and external conflicts. All of those things came together and suddenly, I had a story.

Ash Princess is on sale now.

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