Get the Look: Kristina Pérez’s Sweet Black Waves

When we spied the awesome Heidi Heilig—author of The Girl From Everywhere series—creating these amazing outfits to match some super fab YA book covers on Twitter, we asked her to do some exclusively for BN Teen! So now you can covet the look, and find out how to recreate it, too! 

Today we’ve got author Kristina Pérez’s debut fantasy, Sweet Black Waves.

Not you without me, not me without you.

Two proud kingdoms stand on opposite shores, with only a bloody history between them.

As best friend and lady-in-waiting to the princess, Branwen is guided by two principles: devotion to her homeland and hatred for the raiders who killed her parents. When she unknowingly saves the life of her enemy, he awakens her ancient healing magic and opens her heart. Branwen begins to dream of peace, but the princess she serves is not so easily convinced. Fighting for what’s right, even as her powers grow, will set Branwen against her best friend and the only man she’s ever loved.

Inspired by the legend of Tristan and Eseult, this is the story of the legend’s true heroine. For fans of Graceling and The Mists of Avalon, this is the first book of a lush fantasy trilogy about warring countries, family secrets, and forbidden romance.

This lush, romantic cover absolutely demanded a long flowing dress, plush velvet reminiscent of mossy Irish hills, and a rough cut gemstone earring. The collar necklace is a nod to the fox spirit that acts as a messenger between this world and the otherworld in Pérez’s gorgeous fantasy. 

Here’s how you can Get the Look! 

Kathleen Whitaker Rough Chrysoprase & Yellow Gold Drop Earrings, $2425 at Barney’s

Marco de Vincenzo Woven Velvet Sandals, $551 at L’Inde de Palais

Rebuilt Backless Cotton Lace Tea Dress,  $1,600 at 1st Dibs

Miu Miu Matelassé Velvet Shoulder Bag, $1750 at Nordstrom

Betsey Johnson Gold-Tone Multi-Stone Fox Hinged Collar Necklace, $85.50 at Macy’s

Heilig: Sweet Black Waves is inspired by the star crossed tale of Tristan and Iseult. SWOON! In your novel, Branwen is the hero. Tell me about your inspiration there.

Right, so I am just going to reveal my proud nerd colors from the outset. My PhD is in Medieval LiteratureArthurian literature in particular, and my first non-fiction book was about Morgan la Fey. Which is a longwinded way of saying that I love badass sorceresses.

When I was teaching the Old French versions of the Tristan legends as a grad student, I became fascinated by the character of Branwen. She is the lady’s maid to Princess Iseult of Ireland and she’s responsible for brewing the infamous love potion (together with Iseult’s mother). It’s also her fault that Tristan and Iseult accidentally drink the love potion that’s intended for Iseult and King Mark of Cornwall to ensure a happy marriage and political alliance between two warring kingdoms.

In other words, Branwen had one job and she fails pretty spectacularly. It’s Branwen who’s the catalyst for one of the most famous love stories in Western culture.

Because Branwen is my hero and this is her novel, my retelling deviates in some significant ways from the medieval legend. The tragic story that we’re all familiar with becomes the backdrop for Branwen’s growth into both a powerful magic-wielder and political operative. There are definitely some surprises in store!

Heilig: Branwen finds herself torn between the man she loves and her best friend, the princess. I love a good romance almost as much as I love a good friendship in YA. Can you talk more about the two BFFs? 

Branwen and Essy (the princess) are first cousins who have been raised together since Branwen was orphaned as a young child. Branwen is only two years older than Essy, but she has very much taken on the elder sister role when the novel opens. Where Branwen is sometimes too serious for her own good, Essy is a prankster. They complement each other and love each other fiercely.

The phrase that Branwen and Essy have used with each other since childhood is “Not you without me, not me without you.” This is actually a borrowing from Marie de France’s 12th century lai (poem) about Tristan and IseultNe vus sanz mei, ne mei sanz vus—but I chose to use it for Branwen and Essy because their sisterly love is the most important in both of their lives. The cousins have always been each other’s touchstone, each other’s North Star, and negotiating their friendship in the wake of Branwen’s first love isn’t going to be easy. Neither of them really knows who she is without the other.

The competing needs and desires of the two people Branwen loves most in the world is what propels her actions throughout the storyand her mistakes.

Heilig: You have a strong academic background. What parts of it did you bring to your YA debut?

With very few exceptions, as a medievalist, when I encounter representations of women, the ones that I’m confronted with are refracted through the prism of the male gaze. As a female medievalist, it’s impossible to truly find myself the past. What I find instead is a mirror for male fears and desires.

In my academic work, I use feminist theory to reclaim and analyze figures such as Morgan la Fey or Guinevere who have been reviled for challenging the norms of patriarchal society.

Writing my own versions of these legends, however, allows me to take this one step further. My female protagonists voice their own fears and desires. As an author, I’m able to create women and find myself in the spaces where we’ve been absent.

Heilig: Tell me more about this lush cover! What was the design process like?

It is gorgeous, isn’t it?! I’m so amazed by designers who can take my nebulous musings and ramblings about what I think the heart of the book is and turn it into an image that encapsulates those ideas.

I wanted a cover that showed Branwen’s strong connection with the land, both in terms of her magic and in her devotion to her kingdom, as well as her independent spirit. There was a lot of back and forth to get it right, a real team effort, and I’m overjoyed with the final result.

Heilig: There is so much regional history and mythology to draw from. Can you talk a little about that?

When I first decided to tell Branwen’s story, I reread all of the Old French versions of the Tristan legends as well as their Celtic antecedents. The earliest surviving source materials were written down by Christian clerics in Ireland between the 7th and 9th centuries, and in 12th century Wales.

I identified the most important recurring incidents throughout all of the versionsthe various episodes of Tristan and Iseult being remarkably consistent for medieval literatureand then thought about how they could be used to tell Branwen’s story. What part did she play in the original? How might those episodes look differently through her eyes?

The next question was in which time period did I want to set my retelling? The most famous versions of the Tristan legends were written in the 12th century about events that were meant to have taken place during the 5th and 6th centuriesat the same time as the supposed exploits of King Arthur and the Round Table. However, the 12th century troubadours weren’t too concerned with historical accuracy and what you get is an imagined version of post-Roman “Dark Ages” Britain with the chivalrous values of the later Middle Ages. A mash-up, if you will.

So, I decided to cheat. In my novel, Ireland has become Iveriu, and Cornwall has become Kernyv. Branwen’s world is a secondary fantasy world that contains elements of both post-Roman Britain and the later medieval period. I wanted to demonstrate the reality of the diversity of Roman Britain, for instance, by making Tristan biracial. I also wanted to keep the famous Champions Tournament where he wins the princess for his uncle, and which features in so many later romances.

I could talk about this forever but, basically, I’ve selected the aspects of history and mythology that I think best serve Branwen’s story. It’s time for her to take center stage. And I hope readers will agree!

Sweet Black Waves hits shelves on June 5, but is available for preorder now. 

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