Nevin Holness on King of Dead Things and fantasy books for teens

King of Dead Things by Nevin Holness. Book cover and author photo.

The second book we have shared with our Macaw subscribers this month is an intriguing, highly original novel with a vivid urban setting, a quirky cast of characters and a storyline that combines dark fantasy with a vibrant celebration of the Black diaspora. We asked author Nevin Holness to tell us more about what inspired the book and her favourite fantasy novels for teens.

What inspired you to write King of Dead Things?

Growing up, I loved to read but there weren’t a lot of books at the time where the main characters looked or sounded like me. I think it’s really important that marginalised people – Black people specifically – have stories where we see ourselves on magical adventures, doing extraordinary things, and saving the day. I wrote King of Dead Things so that hopefully young readers would be able to see some of themselves in Eli and Malcolm.

We love the setting – did writing the book make you look differently at London?

Thank you! I was really conscious of how London was portrayed. It was important to me that this story celebrates London’s Caribbean community, which has been such an influential part of the city’s history and culture. Also, it’s my home, so I knew I would get a whole lot of angry texts if I represented it wrong!

To what extent do you agree that where you come from influences your identity?

Where we grow up, our heritage, our community, our family – whether we like it or not, it all leaves little, invisible fingerprints that sculpt us. That question of “where do you come from” always feels complex when you’re from a Black diaspora, but it’s one of the main themes of the book: who are you when that part of you is taken away? I don’t think there’s an answer to it, but it’s a fun question to explore.

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

The second book will dive further into Eli’s history and start to unravel some of mystery surrounding his past. Plus, there will be a lot more magic and adventure.

What do you hope young readers will take away from the story and how it unfolds?

A lot of the story is about exploring your identity and accepting who you are, which can sometimes be an uncomfortable part of growing up. I hope that young readers are able to recognise even just a tiny part of themselves in Eli or Malcolm, because sometimes just knowing that you’re not the only person who has felt something can make it a lot easier to endure.

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

The books that we read as teenagers can be some of the most formative to us. I fell in love with reading as a teenager, and it was the books that I read during those early years that I always seem to revisit when I’m having a bad day.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I’m not particularly precious about where I write (especially as a good chunk of this book was written on the notes app on my phone whilst on the tube!) but with that said, I do have a soft spot for The British Library because I love to people watch.

Which other dark fantasy novels for tweens and teens would you recommend our subscribers read next?

It’s not fantasy, but I’m currently reading Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay, which is a historical coming-of-age story, and it’s fantastic! So Let Them Burn by Kamilah Cole is another Young Adult Jamaican fantasy novel coming out this year. I’ll also always recommend Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn series.

Copies of our King of Dead Things pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!

This post includes affiliate links to our page, meaning we receive a small percentage of the sale should you purchase through them. Additionally, a percentage from all sales on the platform goes directly to local UK bookshops which is an initiative we're delighted to support!


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