Before I even finished Crier’s War I knew I had to reach out to Nina to see if I could do an interview. And I was lucky enough to receive this gem! But then I was sick enough not to be able to post it until today. Please don’t let that deter you from this amazing book, author, AND interview! Full disclosure, a lot of this is world building focused because I’m a geek.
After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.
Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.
Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.
Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.
Crier’s War is so inventive and clever. Where did the inspiration come from and did anything from that original seed of an idea change drastically on its journey to the page?
The seed of this story, the thing that made me want to write it, was always the idea of watching a character “become” human, become the truest version of themselves. I’ve always had such a weakness for cold, hardened characters who make friends and turn into big marshmallows, or—as is the case with Crier—characters who were raised in an environment that should have made them cold but instead they turn out to be warm, empathetic, gentle. They defy circumstance and upbringing. So that was always the core of it, but originally the androids looked much different. I hadn’t yet decided on alchemy as the primary thread of magick, so they were much more classically, futuristically sci-fi, and I was thinking about going much more steampunk with the whole thing. But in the end I just really wanted it to feel like a fairy tale, so that’s how the Automae were born. Oh—speaking of “Automae,” they were originally called Enhancements or the Enhanced.
Can you explain the concept of the pillars for new readers and share how you came up with this idea and the world building within Crier’s War?
Yes! The Four Pillars are sort of a hybrid of the four alchemical elements (water, fire, earth, air; the things you’re manipulating to create the Philosopher’s Stone) and the deeply wack Hippocratic theory of the Four Temperaments (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic), which was like the world’s first Which Hogwarts House Are You? test. It’s just this very flawed idea that something as complex as the human psyche or soul or whatever you want to call it could possibly be reduced to four categories, four primary sources. The Makers decided that the four human temperaments are Intuition, Passion, Intellect, and Organics. Then they decided Intuition and Passion—gut feeling, emotion—were inferior and made humans weak, so for the Automae they switched ‘em out with Reason and Calculation. Like, playing into this idea that objectivity is inherently superior to subjectivity, intellectualism superior to emotionalism, etc. It’s all very “I know we’re ‘debating’ a human rights issue that affects you and not me, but why are you getting so upset? I’m calm. So clearly I’m right and also better than you.”
The conflict between the humans the Made is really fascinating, can you give a little sneak peek into it, for new readers, and talk about inspirations when creating this specific element?
Basically the societal distinction in this world is humans vs. magickal android overlords. The Automae were originally created by human nobles, the topmost layer of the upper crust, to act as entertainment—like lovely living dolls that can sing for you or whatever. But then, in a twist nobody could have predicted, the Automae were like, “Wait a second. We have superhuman strength. Why are you in charge of us?” and revolted against the nobles, overthrowing the government and putting themselves in charge, establishing themselves as the ruling class and subjugating all humans. This world is interesting to me because like—the average human had nothing to do with any of this. They didn’t create the Automae, but when the Automae kicked off the War of Kinds, the average humans were the ones who suffered most. The human nobles told them “You’re going to fight my war for me”; the Automae raided and burned their villages. They’re caught in the middle. They’re oppressed by the superhuman Automae now, but it’s not like the prior human monarchy was a utopian ideal. That’s the narrative I found most compelling, the thing I wanted to explore.
Crier’s War is a story about the namesake, Crier, but also about Ayla. Can you talk about which character you’d be more like and why?
I think these days I’m a Crier. Nerdy, bookish, often idealistic, writer of essays and haver of political opinions. I’m not a baseline angry person, but then, I’m not a sixteen-year-old who suffered an unimaginable trauma at a very young age—and while Ayla’s driving force is her anger, she’s also passionate, clever, fiercely protective of her loved ones. She’s understandably bitter, furious, distrusting, secretive. She hates cops. She’s awesome. Man, can I just be a mix of both?
How was the process writing the sequel and did you lean anything about your writing process with the sequel?
It was a lot easier in some ways, because I was writing toward The End of the story instead of the middle. I also already had the first book under my belt, so I felt more confident really settling in and exploring the story, the themes, taking my time with the characters’ emotional arcs. For some reason I was just much more relaxed about it than I was with the first book, maybe because the pressure of The First Book was off. I’m hoping I retain some of that chillness for all the books to come…. we’ll see.
What top three songs remind you of Crier and Ayla?
Pink in the Night – Mitski
I Wish I Was The Moon – Neko Case
Raise Hell – Dorothy
Do you have any other favorite f/f or queer fantasy books?
Lili here, I feel it needs saying that I went ahead and linked you to my reviews of these stunners. Nina didn’t and does not necessarily endorse my opinions so don’t blame her for my links!
Yes! Here’s 5 recs, both F/F and general queer fantasy:
- GIDEON THE NINTH by Tamsyn Muir
- WILDER GIRLS by Rory Powers
- THE GRIEF KEEPER by Alexandra Villasante
- THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
- THE BLACK VEINS by Aisha Monet
About the Author
Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.