Interview: Kristen Ciccarelli

Deadly Dragons and the Girls That Slay Them

Dangerous dragons and the bad ass girl that slays them are the subject of one of this year’s most buzzed about young adult fiction releases, The Last Namsara.

Set for release on October 3 by HarperTeens, the debut novel by Kitchener based author Kristen Ciccarelli is scheduled to be published in 14 countries and translated into nine languages.

Waterloo Region residents will get the first glimpse at The Last Namsara’s book launch at Kitchener Public Library on October 4. The free event (registration required) will feature a short reading, a Q&A session, a book signing and draws for a dragon mug handmade by Ciccarelli.

Growing up on her grandfather’s grape farm in the Niagara Peninsula, Ciccarelli spent her childhood running in the woods with her cousins and indulging books by young adult giants like Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, Philip Pullman and Garth Nix. A desire to reconnect with that upbringing had a profound influence on The Last Namsara.

“I spent a good chunk of my life being ashamed of the things I love most, namely: creativity, imagination, and stories. So when I sat down to write The Last Namsara, I wanted to explore a world where those things really are shameful,” she explains.

“I wanted to write a book where stories are dangerous things that get people hurt. And I wanted my main character to be good at wielding these dangerous stories, and deeply ashamed of herself as a result.”

The Last Namsara follows Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard. As a child, she makes a grave error that nearly destroys the kingdom and kills her mother. To make amends, she is now sworn to protect her home where she is reviled. A fierce dragon slayer, she lives a lonely life that has her feeling “more weapon than girl.”

As the kingdom teeters on the brink of a civil war, Asha is given two choices – marry the cruel command Jarek to unite the kingdom’s biggest families or bring the head of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard.

“One early teen reader described Asha as hard on the outside but soft on the inside, and that is definitely true. She’s an anti-heroine, so she’s not exactly what you’d call a ‘nice’ character,” Ciccarelli says.

“I would call her ambitious, impulsive, loyal, and deeply wounded. My hope is that the more time you spend with her, the more you see through her hard armour to the soft, vulnerable, lonely girl underneath.”

Much like Game of Thrones, another celebrated fantasy series that famously boasts dragons, The Last Namsara takes place in an expansive world. Set in the walled city of Firgaard, which straddles a desert and mountain range, Ciccarelli admits “world building is probably the hardest part for me and the last thing I really layer into a story.”

“I actually use a lot of cookbooks to help me,” she adds. “Cookbooks give you lots of details and not just about food. They tell you what kind of plants grow locally, what kind of animals are native to an area, how people gather to eat, what the sights and sounds of the local markets are. There’s a surprising amount of narrative in cookbooks. Plus, I’m a visual person, so the photographs help too.”

The world that Ciccarelli created was so expansive that The Last Namsara is the first of the three-part Iskari series. The Caged Queen is scheduled for a fall 2018 release and the series finale set for release the following year.

“I always wanted The Last Namsara to stand alone,” Ciccarelli explains. “But it’s a big world and as I wrote it, I got attached to two of the supporting characters: Roa and Safire. The more I wrote them, the more I wondered what their stories were and the more I wanted to write those stories.”

“So before I signed with my agent, I told her I wanted to sell The Last Namsara as a series and I wanted the next two books to be told from the point of view of Roa and Safire respectively. My agent, being the amazing badass she is, got ‘er done, as they say.”

With The Last Namsara’s release eminent, Ciccarelli describes the feeling as “scary, exciting, stressful and a little surreal.” She’s on a tight schedule with The Caged Queen’s manuscript due and an upcoming book tour that will take her across America and the UK to events like New York Comic Con.

However, Ciccarelli glad that she’s able to celebrate The Last Namsara first in her adopted hometown, which she praises for influencing her writing.

“Being a bookseller for Words Worth gave me insight into a side of publishing that most authors don’t get to see, which has been immensely helpful as an author now,” she says.

“As for living in Waterloo Region, I regularly walk the Millrace Trail in St. Jacobs when I’m trying to work through plot problems, and there’s a little cabin on the back of an Old Order Mennonite farm that I retreat to when I’m on deadline and needing to escape the world.”

Oct 4, 7-9pm, free entry (with registration). Kitchener Public Library, 85 Queen Street N, Kitchener. Registration.
The Last Namsara is available for pre-order through Words Worth Books.