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Ann Sei Lin on Rebel Skies and her favourite fantasy books for teens and tweens

Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin. Book cover and author photo.

 

We are thrilled to be sharing a brilliant fantasy debut with our Macaw subscribers this month. Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin is the first in a trilogy set in a world of flying ships, sky cities and powerful paper spirits. We absolutely love the futuristic, Japanese-inspired setting, the dramatic storyline and complex characters. Here Ann tells us more about what inspired the book and which fantasy books for older readers she recommends you read next.

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What inspired you to write Rebel Skies?

My go-to explanation is that I got a really bad paper cut one day and was convinced I’d die! (Seriously, no amount of paper should be able to make someone bleed like that!)

The longer (and more honest) answer is that I had all these interests and passions inside me that I needed to get out in some form or another. I love origami and so I wanted to build a world and characters that revolved around it. There’s just something so fascinating about paper as a medium that really ignited my imagination.

I’m also deeply interested in the idea of how you make peace with a flawed world. The characters of Rebel Skies are all born into less than ideal situations, and want to change some aspect of the world. I think we all have things about our own world that we wish we could change. How do we fight for that change? And if we can’t change things how do we find the peace to accept it? Is it right to just accept it? Those are questions that really inspired me to write Rebel Skies.

We love the setting! Can you tell us a bit more about what influenced it?

There were two major things that influenced the setting. The first was my love of Meiji-era Japan and the second was a fascination for the lesser known parts of Asian mysticism.

When I was younger, I absolutely devoured all the books by Meiji-era writers that I could get my hands on. The early modern period of Japanese history is full of engrossing facts and tales. I love the huge technological and societal shifts that mark this fascinating period of history. When it came to creating the setting of Rebel Skies I took the dial up to eleven with airships and cities in the sky.

The second major influence was the use of paper in Asian culture. Paper has always been a powerful tool in folklore and mysticism. It has been used to seal demons and perform exorcisms, bring good luck, and ward away evil. In fact, paper charms are still sold across Asia to this day! As a self-proclaimed paper nerd, I really wanted to share this lesser known part of Asian culture with others.

Are any of the characters based on real people, historical or otherwise?

I think there’s always a bit of real life that seeps into the world and characters whenever you’re writing. Although the characters of Rebel Skies are completely fictional, they’ve got a little bit of all the people I’ve met in them. Each character is a kaleidoscope of strengths and flaws that I’ve seen in myself and in other people. I don’t think I could model a character on just one person, especially not someone I know, so it’s probably better this way!

Do you think being a Crafter is ultimately a blessing or a curse?

That’s a tough question! Being a Crafter means being shunned by most of society. However, it also means being able to use paper in so many fascinating ways. As a self-proclaimed, paper-obsessed nerd, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. If I could make a giant paper bird to carry me through the skies, I don’t think I would care about being shunned – I’d have a giant paper bird!

Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Kurara?

Oh, there’s a lot in store for Kurara! Now that she’s sort of succeeded in her first goal, she’s setting her sights on learning more about what shikigami are and who she is, where she comes from, and what secrets lie hidden in her past. In addition to running from the princess and the empire, she might discover that some things are better left buried!

Why did you choose to write books for this age group?

I’ve always wanted to write for younger readers. When I think of all the books that influenced me, all the books that left a deep impression on my mind, I always think of the books I read as a kid. I love the imagination and passion that goes into children’s books. There’s also a great sense of satisfaction seeing younger readers come up to you and gush about how much they like your book!

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I’ll write anywhere with a desk and decent access to tea! My favourite place is my work space at home. I’ve spent hours setting it up so that I have perfect arms-reach access to all the books I need, a notebook and pens for scribbling things down, and the wifi router for when a small raincloud makes the internet stop working. My desk is right next to the kitchen too for easy tea access.

Which other fantasy books would you recommend our subscribers read next?

There are so many great fantasy books that I’d love to recommend, but I’ll do my best to limit myself to just three.

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim is a wonderful take on Mulan, but instead of fighting in a war the main character disguises herself as a man to become an imperial tailor. It’s fun, it’s romantic, and heart-breaking!

The Girl with No Soul by Morgan Owen is a really fascinating and atmospheric dystopian fantasy that will make you fall in love with classic YA again.

The Twelve Kingdoms by Fuyumi Ono is a book I credit for getting me into Asian Fantasy in the first place. This lush fantasy based on Buddhist mythology is a masterclass in world-building.

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