Local author publishes debut queer fantasy novel
By Srianthi Perera
Alexandra Overy’s queer fantasy debut, “These Feathered Flames,” draws from “The Firebird”, an enchanting Russian folktale.
The Firebird represents a treasure that is rare and difficult to possess. Overy, who watched the ballet version when she was 14, builds on the special powers of this mythical creature to enhance her novel.
“I remember really clearly how the Firebird was depicted as a very much feminine figure, and how all the men in the story wanted to either kill it or control it,” she said. “I wanted to write a version where the Firebird got her own agency and power.”
The young adult book, characterized by vibrant, imagery-rich writing, also draws on Overy’s sistership.
“I’m very close with my own sister and sibling relationships often come up in my writing, and for this book I really wanted to make it the central relationship,” Overy added.
“These Feathered Flames” follows twin heirs who are born in imagined Tóurin with fates decided at birth. While Izaveta remains at court to learn the skills she would need as the future queen, Asya is taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensures magic remained balanced in the realm and takes payment, often in blood.
Before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned. After this unexpected development, the sisters are thrust into their roles and must figure out how to navigate these roles, who they can trust and uncover the truth of the killer.
“These Feathered Flames” is part of a duology, and Overy plans to release the second half, “This Cursed Crown”, next year. What are her wishes for the two books?
“I wish for it to feel like a satisfying, complete story with strong fairy tale influences and sisters very much at the center,” Overy said. “I also hope that it can provide an escape for teen and young adult readers. As a teen, reading was very much my escape from the real world and my refuge, so I hope I can provide that for teens today — in particular queer teens, who I hope can see themselves in this story.”
Overy grew up in England and relocated to Los Angeles at age 21 to study history. She went on to complete a Masters of Fine Arts degree in screenwriting last year at UCLA.
What does she miss from her former life?
“I sometimes miss the rain, which I never expected,” Overy said. “Other than that, I mostly miss the people, especially this past year as I haven’t been able to visit. I don’t like to make absolutes, but for now I’m very settled in L.A., especially as I’m pursuing screenwriting as well. But who knows what might happen!”
All she can say with certainty is that in 2023, she’s also publishing “The Gingerbread Witch,” a middle grade title centered on “Hansel and Gretel” that will kick off a series of Grimm’s Fairy Tale retellings.
The Gingerbread Witch is Overy’s foray into writing for readers ages 9 to 12. After Hansel and Gretel push the witch into the oven, the witch’s young apprentice must find a way to resurrect her or risk all the witch’s creations turning back into gingerbread — including the apprentice herself.
“It was so much fun to get to explore in that arena and write the kind of book I loved at that age,” Overy said.
As a child, Overy was a compulsive reader and habitually scoured her school library for material. Her mom allowed her to buy a book each time they were out shopping.
“Some of my favorites were Cornelia Funke (especially ‘The Thief Lord’) and the ‘Artemis Fowl’ series,” Overy said. “I also loved ‘His Dark Materials’, especially the idea of daemons. I’ve always loved books like that that take you out of the real world and give you some escape — as well as morally grey characters. They were definitely very influential on my own writing.”
Her favorite British authors include Enid Blyton, especially the ‘Malory Towers’ series and ‘The Famous Five’ books. “My dad read me a lot of those when I was little so they have a very special place in my heart,” Overy said.
Overy likes to plan her stories in detail, sometimes delaying to start writing because she’s so involved in the nitty-gritty.
“I like having a map to follow when starting a new draft, it always makes it feel less intimidating,” Overy shared. “Although I sometimes deviate, I find it really helps get me going to have those plans in place. I’d say the biggest challenge is that I can sometimes get stuck on plotting.”
Writing helps to satisfy Overy’s creative side.
“I’ve always had so many stories in my head and there’s something so magical in getting to write those down and then share them,” Overy said. “With publishing a book, it’s amazing seeing that book go and live in other people’s imaginations too.”
Overy’s engrossing fantasy tale has earned many accolades including the Goodreads Most Anticipated YA Books of 2021 and Amazon Editor’s Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Pick.
“It was important for me when writing ‘These Feathered Flames’ to create a world without homophobia as, historically, there was no reason for it to exist in this magical world,” Overy said. “I wanted a story where two girls could fall in love and face off against evil, but not have to question their own identities. Again, this would’ve meant a lot to me as a teen and I hope it will provide a refuge for other queer teens today.”
“These Feathered Flames” is published by Inkyard Press/HarperCollins. The hardcover retails for $15.57 and is available on amazon.com.