Adalyn Grace: Author talks fantasy with teeth

We speak to All the Stars and Teeth and All the Tides of Fate author Adalyn Grace as Amora’s adventures come to an end…

adalyn grace all the stars and teeth

All the way back in 2020 we were introduced to Amora Montara in Adalyn Grace’s All the Stars And Teeth. As princess of the island kingdom Visidia she must give a demonstration of her dangerous soul magic. However, when it goes awry, she is forced to flee the only home she’s ever known.

Striking up a deal with mysterious pirate Bastian to help her sail across the kingdom to prove she’s fit for rule, Amora’s journey was filled with more wonder – and peril – than she ever anticipated. By the time her journey was complete, she had discovered dark magics, mythical sea creatures, mermaids and a secret that will change her life forever…

Now Amora, Bastian, our favourite mermaid Vataea, shape-shifting Shanty and loyal friend Ferrick are back in the sequel All the Tides of Fate and we speak to author Adalyn Grace about what to expect…

Where did things start for you with All the Stars and Teeth and All the Tides of Fate?

It actually started with Amora. I just had this vision for a character. All I saw was a girl standing on a ship. She wanted to go somewhere and she was with her dad. I knew that I wanted her to be somebody who is very fierce. I had inspiration from Game Of Thrones; a mixture of Sansa and Arya Stark, because I was very annoyed that they were constantly pitted against each other like ‘oh which one’s cooler? Like Arya’s cooler because she gets a sword and Sansa’s not cool because she likes boys and politics’. I really wanted somebody who was the embodiment of both of those traits, somebody who loves dating, loves courting, but also loves being in the thick of action and swordfights and adventure. So the initial inspiration for the book was very much just Amora. I had no idea what the plot was going to be, what the world was going to be like. I knew that there was going to be water because I saw her on a ship, but everything basically just burned from Amora as a character.

What is it about writing fantasy that appeals?

That’s what I have always leaned towards reading, and that’s what I’ve always leaned towards with my ideas and writing. I think I have in all of my years of existence had one contemporary idea for an adult book! Everything else has always been fantasy or had some sort of fantastical element.

For me, I’ve always chased magic. I’ve always wanted magic in my life. I remember when I was growing up I read the Cirque du Freak series [by Darren Shan] and the character goes to this circus and it ends up being super magical and changes his life forever. I remember I went to see a performance and I was waiting for that magic. I said ‘where is it? Where is the magic?’ and I was so disappointed when it just ended and nothing else happened. I just always chase the fantastical and the mythical and the magic in life. I feel like it’s fun to get to explore the world where we get that because I’ve always wanted it and I feel very sad that that has not happened to me yet. I’m holding out hope!

How do you find fantasy writing? On the one hand, it’s easier because you get to let your imagination really fly but on the other hand, you tend to have to create whole new worlds…

I’ve talked to a lot of authors about this because we are always curious: who has the harder job? I think it’s both ways. With contemporary, you have to be so focused on your character. It has to be flawless with character, emotions, connections and the execution. Otherwise, you don’t pull the reader in. With fantasy we kind of get to cheat a little bit because we get to be like ‘look at this whole big pretty world over here. Look at all this magic that we’re playing with. Oooohhh distraction, shiny’, so we get that but also we do have a lot of rules. We have a lot of ‘okay, here’s how the magic system has to work’. Especially with All the Stars and Teeth; we have seven different magics and seven different islands. So it’s very much me sitting down going ‘okay, so how does this work? What do they wear? What kind of jobs do they have? What kind of food would the people at this island eat?’ There’s so much that goes into that as well. 

I don’t know, I think they’re both really, really challenging. I like writing fantasy better because I get to have the big world. I feel more creative rather than having to be very exact, like ‘oh in the year 2017, what kind of phones did teenagers have?’ [haha] – I don’t have to do that, which is amazing!

I’m such a cheater too, with All the Stars and Teeth, I didn’t want a huge crew. I didn’t want that many characters, so I was like ‘oh cool magic ship’!.

Visidia has seven islands and each island’s inhabitants use different magic – did you map the world of Teeth and Fate before you began writing?

I did it before because I had to really limit myself on the islands. My publisher was like ‘why did you do that? Why did you do seven islands and seven magics?!’ and I was like ‘I don’t know I liked them!’. I had so many more ideas, but I narrowed it down and I literally took a notebook and a pen and worked out ‘what kind of magics do I like? What do I think is interesting and beyond that, what do I think I can make unique? What do I think I can put a unique spin on?’. 

So I ended up narrowing it down to the seven that way and then from there I did an initial draft and then went back and really focused on the islands. Like ‘okay, now here is how they operate. Here’s how the magic system works. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s what they wear…’.

Each island also has different politics, had you also already decided on how each island would be run?

After drafting and discovering the world [I did]. I knew what I wanted them to vaguely be. But then once we’re there with the Amora, exploring the islands, you start to really see more of it. You start to learn more about the island. So I feel like that very much came through after I was discovering the world and then kind of going back.

The people of Visidia do, at times, use their magic for very dark purposes, why did you decide to include this darker element?

I definitely wanted to explore the darker side and Bastian has a line in the book that says: “Every town has its underbelly. You just have to know where to look.” I feel like that’s so true and just kind of society in general. A lot of things can be shiny on the surface and then you look a little deeper, and ‘oh wait, a second, there’s a lot more here that I didn’t expect’.

The story [in Teeth and Fate] is actually fairly dark and the magic is fairly dark, especially the main character’s magic. I wanted the world to feel very shimmery and shiny on the surface in order to take away from that. Not everything has to be dark and depressing, it’s like ‘yeah there is a darkness here, but this world is kind of cool and I’m kind of interested in it because it’s very shimmery and I want to change my hair colour easily, nice!’. So I wanted that overlay of shimmer and shine on top of this gritty reality.

Amora’s soul magic in particular is very dark…

She has the darkest magic in the entire book. I thought it was really interesting. Another reason [for it] is just I wanted to challenge her and I also wanted to challenge reader expectations. Going back to the Sansa and Arya thing, we’re trained as a society to criticise females and female-identifying characters a lot heavier than we are with male-identifying characters. 

Amora makes some really bad decisions, but she always is doing what she believes is right and she’s always doing what she thinks will protect her people. So the moment where she loses control of herself and those powers come out of her in a really bad way, is the moment where she starts seeing how people actually react to her. I wanted to do something different and dark, especially with a female character. I probably wouldn’t have done a male character like this – I just don’t find it as interesting because they just get away with so much more! 

Where do we find Amora in this second book?

She’s inherited a situation that she never asked for, never knew about and is now responsible for fixing. It is a massive situation. She’s also having to do it while in this role where people are expecting so much of her and expecting a different version of her. So she is doubting herself. She is doubting the world around her. She trusted this one person for a very long time, who completely lied to her. So now she has a really difficult time trusting anybody else. So she wants to do everything herself. But also how do you do that when you can’t trust yourself? So she’s in a very dark place. She’s lost people and she is suffering from PTSD. She’s just trying to figure out herself and how to fix this world and how to be the person that her people need her to be or expect her to be and how to navigate that.

There are plenty of mythical creatures in Teeth and Fate, was that always an element you wanted in the books?

I just knew I wanted a mermaid. I didn’t know much about her until we met her. I knew I didn’t want a soft sweet mermaid because that has never made sense to me. The idea of them being vicious, not having the humanity that we think of… She lives in a different world, she is a completely different person. She’s not human and we have to remember that she doesn’t have the same humanity, the same morals that a human would. So I wanted her to be a little bit grittier, a little bit darker. 

She’s one of the most fun characters to write though because she’s so sassy. She has these sharp one-liners that are so much fun to write and she lives on a different moral compass. So something that I would have had Amora do that might make her seem harsh to readers, you kind of get away with more when you have a mermaid because, again, different moral compass. It’s really cool when she does that, it’s like ‘oh yeah, she’s not human. Yeah, eat that heart…’. It’s great!

What mythical creatures did you want in the books that you were unable to fit in?

I never tried to have any others in the book. I knew I wanted a sort of Kraken-like character, but something different, like a giant gross disgusting leech. I was looking at mythical creatures online and the art of it. I saw that one and I was like ‘oh, that’s what it is, that is disgusting’ so I had to have that. 

Then in book two, there’s another sort of mythical creature. There is this serpent character and I always knew that I wanted to have that as well. I sort of introduced the idea [already]. If you look at the map in book one, there is a serpent on the island of Valuka on the map. So I always knew that I wanted to go back there and have that. 

I do really love the idea of water horses. I have always been fascinated by water horses and I wanted one in All the Tides of Fate but my editor said no because there is a scene where it reminded her too much of Elsa in Frozen 2 when Elsa is riding that water horse like into the night! I was like ‘oh yeah, you’re right, we can’t have the water horse!’.

We see a lot more of shape-shifting Shanty in this second book, was it always the plan to give her a more substantial role?

It wasn’t always the plan [but] I knew that in book two we needed to introduce some other characters on to the crew. It made sense to me given the state that Amora is in and given what Shanty can do, it fits very naturally. Shanty is a businesswoman, she is very money-motivated. She is very hungry to grow and get that coin. She’s just so much fun to write. She’s human, she lives on a human moral compass, but it’s slightly skewed because for her if she saw somebody that she considered a bad human, she would have no problem just stabbing them! Her and Vataea together are so much fun to me, I enjoy them a lot. 

So Shanty wasn’t always intentional, but the Barracuda Lounge that we see in All the Stars and Teeth was so cool. It was one of my favourite parts to write and I was like ‘I have to go back to this character. How can I introduce that and not go back to her? She’s so much fun!’.

Another element we see more of in Fate are the islands of Visidia, what was it like exploring more of the world you built?

I wanted to show new islands [in Fate], but I also wanted to show the state of the world and how much it’s changing. So I knew that we had to go back and revisit some of the other islands and see how they have changed. That was super fun to get to do because it is entirely different. There are parts of the first book that you get to see develop and change and grow into something else. It’s really cool… at least, I think it’s really cool! 

I don’t get to show one of the seven islands in these two books and it drives me nuts. I wish that I got to show all of them, but timing-wise and pacing-wise it just didn’t work out for the purpose of the plot. But I think that the ones that we see are the right ones and I had a lot of fun with them. I think that they are all really interesting, and I hope that readers feel that too.

Do you have a favourite island?

Okay, I’ve thought about this before and I think I would go to the island Mornute so I can go to the Barracuda Lounge. I think if I had a magic too that would be what I would want, the enchantment magic because I hate getting ready in the mornings! I could just snap my fingers and have pastel pink hair, perfect makeup and be wearing a sparkly gorgeous outfit! How amazing would that be and how much time would that save?!

Will we be seeing any more stories set in this world?

Amora’s story is finished. I think that the world is so big and there are so many interesting characters that I would certainly be open to going back and exploring. I do have ideas for some of those characters that I think would be really fun to explore, so we’ll see what happens. 

It’s funny because what a lot of people don’t know about publishing is that you can have a standalone idea or you can have a three-book or four-book idea, and then when you present that, especially as a debut author, to your editor, they can be like ‘actually, I see this as one book. Actually. I see this as four books. Actually, I see this as two books.’ So you kind of have to navigate that. 

When we were doing the deal for All the Stars and Teeth in the beginning, we came to the conclusion to do two books. I think originally I pitched it as three but I think the whole story, as it is now, is the right story. I think we were able to really get that all in the two books. I was worried about it at first because there’s so much that Amora has to do… At the end of the first book, she inherits this issue that I mentioned earlier. She loses people, there are curses, there are all these things going on. I was really worried about that and going into book two I was like ‘how am I supposed to do all of this?’ but I feel like we got it and I feel like it’s right. 

So I’m really happy with it being two books and I feel like Amora’s story is concluded in a way that I am happy with, but the world leaves so much unexplored…

What’s next for you?

The one I’m working on right now is called Belladonna, it is a gothic-infused romantic murder mystery about a girl who can see spirits. She’s an orphan who is basically shepherded away to live at her uncle’s mansion and she is visited by the ghost of her late aunt who tells her that she did not die of natural causes. She was murdered and the murderer is in the mansion. [The main character] Signa has to figure out who killed her before they kill somebody else. She has to team up with Death in order to do it because she can talk to Death…

So we’re going to have another badass female lead…?

She’s a lot more analytical [than Amora]. I mean, Amora is analytical and she’s a planner, but Signa sees everything as a puzzle that she has to put together, so they are very different characters. Signa is also a little bit softer. This is set in the Victorian era and Signa wants to debut into society. She wants that life but everywhere she goes Death follows her and people die around her so she has never been able to have that. She hates [Death] at first and just wants him to go away so she can debut into society. It’s a very different story, but it’s very dark, very gritty and I’m having so much fun with it!

All The Stars and Teeth and All the Tides of Fate by Adalyn Grace are out now