Bones of Faerie in 60 Seconds

Janni Lee Simner, author of Bones of Faerie [Tor.com review], told Tor.com that she started writing the book well over a decade ago.

“I wrote the opening two pages, fell in love with them, and had no idea what happened next,” Simner said in an interview. “So I stopped writing Bones and went off to work on other things. That opening haunted me, though, and every few years I kept going back to it, wrote a few more pages, and stopped again. Eventually I decided I just wasn’t good enough a writer to tell the story I wanted to tell yet. So I kept working on other projects and improving my craft until I did feel ready—as well as too impatient to put off knowing the rest of the story any longer.”

Bones of Faerie is a post-apocalyptic young adult fantasy set almost 20 years after a catastrophic war between the human and faerie realms destroyed most of the world. “Nothing has been seen or heard from Faerie since, but the world is filled with the deadly magic the War left behind: trees that seek out human blood, glowing stones that burn with cold fire, forests whose shadows can swallow a person whole,” Simner said. “The few humans who survived the War know to search for magic and cast it out wherever they find it. The story’s protagonist, Liza, pretty much accepts this—until her father sets her infant sister out on a hillside to die for showing signs of magic. Liza’s mother disappears soon after, and then Liza discovers signs of magic in herself. Terrified she might hurt others with her magic, Liza flees the town she’s known all her life, into the deadly forest that surrounds it.”

Liza then goes in search of her missing mother. “That search leads her into Faerie itself—and toward uncovering truths about herself, her magic, the missing faerie folk, and her mother,” Simner said.

Liza was born after the War, so she’s never known a world without magic. “[She’s never known] a world where trees are safe and their shadows aren’t frightening, or where just surviving isn’t a struggle,” Simner said. “When she catches a faint whiff of car oil, she thinks, ‘Sometimes I tried to imagine a world where that smell was stronger than leaf mold and tree sap, but I always failed.’ Yet our world haunts the world Liza knows, not only in the memories of the adults around her, but also in other small things: the crackle of old plastic, a mug labeled Disneyland, a quarter from back in the days when money still mattered. So she’s always trying to make sense of our world as well as her own.”

Given the world she’s living in, she’s also terrified much of the time. “[But she tries] not to let it show, because her father has taught her that any sign of fear is weakness,” Simner said. “She’s always believed him about that, just as she’s believed him when he told her that neither strangers nor magic can ever be trusted.”

The setting of the book was informed by Simner’s experiences living in various places in real-life. “I started writing this story when I still lived in the Midwest—St. Louis—but I moved to Tucson not long after, and wrote the book here,” she said. “In Southern Arizona, the desert plants really do know how to bite, even without magic—the dandelions (or plants that look like dandelions even if they technically aren’t) have thorns, and I once had a section of a cholla seemingly jump from the cactus it was attached to onto my pants leg, spines digging through jeans and socks and skin. (In spite of these things, or maybe because of them, I love living here.) When I got down to building the world of Bones of Faerie, in a way I combined the Midwest where I had lived and where the story took place with the desert that’s now my home in order to create the world’s deadly forests.”

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