Shana Abé is a bestselling author normally found in the Romance section, but whose latest books are fantasy (or at least fairy tale) crossovers. She’s also a personal favorite of mine–verify on our favorites page, if you doubt–and has just finished up her fabulous historical-fiction shapeshifter series that started with 2006’s The Smoke Thief and continued through five books to last month’s The Time Weaver. I was beyond pleased when she agreed to an interview and completed my trifecta of conversations with my favorite writers.
Here I’ve got her talking about the inspiration behind her magical series, where she might go next with a spin-off, how she approaches writing her stories, and more. In case you’re not familiar with all the books we’ve tried to attribute what we’re talking about to a specific title, so, fan of hers or not, come listen in!
Elena Nola: I want to talk mostly about your current series, but before we jump into that I wanted to start with its genesis, which means going back to your last book before the series, The Last Mermaid. It seemed to me that you were playing with the fairy tale motif somewhat in those three novellas…did that have an influence on the creation of the drákon, or the way you chose to tell their story?
Shana Abé: The truth is, I had a wonderful time creating a world where mermaids could exist, and I wanted to explore that creative freedom even more deeply. As a child I was entranced with fairy tales—the consequences of both light and dark magics, the notion of destiny and all manner of mystical possibilities—so I suppose it’s become a natural part of my voice as an author.
The truly fairy tale part of the series is told in the prologues and epilogues (and a few other random chapters) of each book. They have a different rhythm and feel than the main text, I think, because I made them deliberately more narrative. I wanted to conjure a mesmerizing, magical feeling for the opening and closing of each story.
What was the inspiration behind the drákon scenario in the first place?
After I had finished The Last Mermaid, I knew I wanted to write about shapeshifters of some sort. I’d just done mermaids, and the obvious next choice was vampires or werewolves, but I felt there were already so many good authors out there tackling them that I didn’t want to enter that field. I needed something different. I wanted to have a clan of secretive shapeshifters whose very lives depended upon hiding their true identities from humans.
One day I was outside watching the skies above my house. A pair of hawks were soaring above me, so graceful and deadly. Something clicked. I thought, “Ah ha! Dragons!” Because in my mind, dragons could fly like that—plus, I could make them sexy. 😉
Was The Smoke Thief written to be a stand-alone novel?
Kind of! I started with just this one simple idea: shapeshifting dragon people, hiding away from humanity but still enmeshed in humanity. Then Rue came to me, the rebel drákon heroine who escaped the confines of her tribe’s rules to become an eighteenth-century master thief. Then Kit, the dragon hero who had to catch her. Then Zane, Rue’s utterly intriguing criminal apprentice, who happened to be just a young human boy.
By the end of The Smoke Thief, I knew that Zane had his own story coming, and that I had to create a heroine as strong and unique as he was for him, and that she had to be a drákon. So that’s where Lia came in…and it just kept going from there.
At what point did you realize you had a series on your hands?
I think I realized it had to be a series during The Dream Thief, but I thought perhaps it was just going to be a trilogy. But the folks at Bantam Books were so excited about the entire concept that we decided there would be more than just three books.
How much of the story arc for the series did you have in place from the point when you realized it was a series? Did you find that you had written yourself into any corners based on what was set up in earlier books? When did you realize Honor/Réz was the ultimate villain, and what her Gift must be?
I am very much an intuitive kind of writer, and by that I mean I’m not a stickler for following detailed plans. I typically don’t know what’s going to happen from scene to scene. Somehow this seems to work. I try not to overthink it! The series grew in a very organic kind of way. The only thing I really regretted was smashing up the evil diamond at the end of The Dream Thief, because I realized almost right away that it was too valuable to just eliminate! But it still worked in the subsequent books by having it in splinters.
I wish I could say I knew all along how Honor would turn out, but actually all I knew when I first wrote about her, about the middle of Queen of Dragons, was that she would have her own story, and it had to be distinctive. By the end of Queen of Dragons, though, I realized who she had to be.
Now that all 5 books in the (initial) drakón series are out, have you been surprised at the stories your fans pick out as their favorites? Has there been a kind of consensus, or has each story gotten a pretty equivalent number of “I love THAT one” nods from fans?
You know, it’s kind of all over the board, seriously. When I began the series I wasn’t thinking about the natural human inclination to rank favorites of similar things, but it’s totally what has happened. I’m just glad that people like the series overall, and if they do have a favorite, that’s cool too.
Moving through time is a theme that you seem drawn to, since it showed up both in the final drakón book and the mermaid stories. Why does that idea fascinate you?
Time can be dissected on so many levels. It isn’t fixed, although it feels as though it is. It isn’t tangible or visible, although its effects are. No one, not even our most brilliant minds, has entirely figured it out. Certainly I haven’t! But wouldn’t it be cool to be able to manipulate it personally, to visit your past and your future at will, and perhaps to change your own fate or that of your loved ones for the better?
That would be a pretty hard temptation to resist. 🙂
Another theme in several of your books is the ability to cut through time or space to connect two people, with Lia Dreaming her future(s) with Zane, Honor Weaving into her future to see how things turn out, and Zoe Seeing ghosts and Rhys’s disembodied spirit in reflections. Why is that such a powerful idea for you?
I truly believe there is more to our world, more to ourselves as sentient beings, than what simply appears skimming across the glassy surface of our lives. You might call it spirituality or faith or superstition; all those words encompass the belief that we are beyond mortal. We are creatures connected in unseen and often surprising ways. I love that thought.
Several of your drákon heroines were Gifted in unusual ways, ways that they had never known were possible. Do you think they were really the first drákon ladies to have those talents, or that the others who had them kept them hidden?—to me it seems a very female sort of revenge on that patriarchal council, to have these amazing Gifts and never tell the men, lol. But perhaps these talents only developed after the females lost the ability to Turn?
LOL! Female sort of revenge! I like that!
It makes excellent evolutionary sense that once one ability is taken away, others may be heightened to compensate for that loss. But what I really needed was to mix things up a bit while staying true to my initial assertion that it was very, very rare for a female drákon in the timeline of the series to have the ability to Turn into smoke or dragon. It’s what made Rue so extraordinary, and her daughter Lia as well. Also Princess Maricara, who was of an entirely different tribe of drákon, and the only female among them with this Gift.
However, it wouldn’t make sense to just keep producing a heroine for every book with this supposedly rare Gift. So Zoe (The Treasure Keeper) and Honor (The Time Weaver) got something entirely different. It kept things fresh.
Do you think you’d ever go into the past from where you started, and do, say, a medieval drákon story?
It’s a lovely thought, but when I moved away from medievals I really felt I’d explored that universe as much as I could. Still, adding actual dragons to the mix would shake things up! So never say never, LOL.
You’ve got a teasing little comment on your website that you might have an idea for another series in mind. To me the logical point is the time where Honor and Sandu ended up. Yes, no?
How far along in the creative process are you…still just developing characters and scenarios or actually underway? Do you think you’ll be writing another series proper with a long arc that takes several books to resolve, or using more of a “loose series” as many romance authors do—that is, taking intriguing minor character(s) from one book and giving them their own separate story?
I’m very much underway with this new story. I’m probably about halfway through. For this particular series, I think it’s going to be a combination of a long arc and something more loose. At this point I’m planning to bring back the same characters for new situations. That may change. As I’ve mentioned, I’m a very fluid, intuitive kind of writer, and oftentimes I’m surprised at where things end up. 🙂
Do you think you might change the style/tone of your writing for books set in that different time period? It would almost be a Steampunk sort of landscape, and that would lend itself well to more adventurous sorts of stories (in a more light-hearted sense of adventure).
Possibly! I honestly don’t know that I can change my tone that much, or if I should. It might sound forced, or just plain bad! I love what I’m writing now, and I think the storyline itself is sufficiently different, but my voice is my voice, for better or worse.
Ah, your voice…something else I want to ask about! Do you feel like it’s changed much since you started out? I confess I haven’t read anything earlier than the mermaid book to judge for myself, but that one seemed to me to be written in a style in between a more traditional romance narrative voice and the way you write in the drákon books, which is more…elegant, ornate, poetic than a typical historical romance voice. Regardless of when you developed your style, did you have a conscious sort of intention with it, with what you wanted it to be and evoke?
I think you’ve touched upon a truth I hadn’t deeply considered before. When I said “my voice is my voice,” I suppose mostly what I meant is that I write the way I write without attempting to overanalyze my particular style, because I feel that would be counterproductive for me. But there’s no question that it’s evolved over time and with experience. I think that’s natural. The Last Mermaid was rather a bridge between my old genre (historical medieval romances) and the new. I’ve found it’s much more fun to abandon traditional notions of the way I used to think a romance should read, vs. the way I want now it to.
I did deliberately add the more poetic, lyrical voice to the legend part of the drákon series, because I thought it framed the main story so nicely. I had explored that style somewhat in The Truelove Bride (one of my very first books and amazingly still in print!) by creating a Scottish legend about a wicked fairy in love with a mortal woman that was central to the plotline. I remember at the time marveling at how beautifully it had worked. But back then paranormal romance just wasn’t selling well, so I went back to straight historicals.
I can only hope that whatever my “voice” truly is, it continues to improve as I write. That would be lovely, LOL.
Speaking of writing, I always like to ask writers about their actual writing process. Do you work from an outline, or let the story develop as you write? Do you find yourself developing ideas in the same way or does it vary from book to book?
I work from an outline because publishers usually require that. I try to make my outlines as detailed as possible, but in reality, they are not excruciatingly detailed. I like the freedom of making things up as I go.
And honestly, inspiration varies from book to book. You’re probably not surprised to hear that from me, LOL. It could be an intensely charismatic character (Zane), a paradoxical situation (secretive dragons), a great plot question (Rhys from The Treasure Keeper: is he alive or is he dead?) or sometimes just a single line that haunts me (“Wilt thou have me?” from my first book, A Rose in Winter), and I whip up a tale around each. It changes all the time. My imagination is pretty much always turned on High.
What made you decide to start writing in the first place?
My other great talent is singing in the shower, and no one will pay me for that. LOL!
Seriously, I’ve just always loved to write. I’ve loved creating fantasy worlds with words. Even as a child, I used to write horrible plays and force my siblings to act in them. From the moment I learned I could, I can’t remember a time I did not write.
You started writing historical romance, and have moved to a sort of fantasy-romance hybrid. Do you think you’ll ever abandon the romance completely? If not, what draws you so strongly to writing romance?
Like a lot of people, I like happy endings. It’s that simple. I can appreciate the literary sting of a bittersweet tale, or even just a flat-out bitter one, and frankly I think I weave a lot of that bittersweet into my own stories. It makes them richer. But real life has enough melancholy. I want my characters to end well, to be fulfilled. I want them to love, and love forever, because I believe in that.
And I think it’s not at all counterintuitive to apply that philosophy to a fantasy tale. I’m writing fantasy romance not because I don’t like “ordinary” romance, but because I’m having so much fun with the fantasy part.
I don’t truly know what my writing future holds in terms of genres. But that’s where I sit right now. 🙂
Abé’s drakón (read: dragon) series is for people who read both fantasy and romance. While the series does have an overarching plot of the drakón vs. their human hunters, the main focus of each book is the individual relationship developing between the hero and the heroine. The books are thus correctly shelved in the romance section of most bookstores. The drakón are shapeshifters who can move between human, smoke, and dragon. They are an insular clan living in wide-open secrecy in rural England.
The books are set during the mid- to late-1700s and conform to many standards of historical romance–basically, they are paranormal historical romances. A couple key points to understanding the drakón as a people and as characters: the females are for the most part unable to Turn out of their human form. Gemstones and precious metals sing to the drakón and, in a high enough volume, can sometimes control them, drive them mad, or simply cause them to lose themselves in the song. The tribe is ruled by an Alpha, who is somewhat answerable to the council who enforce the tribe’s restrictive laws; none of the tribe is allowed to leave their shire without permission, with death as the standard punishment for “running.
The Treasure Keeper is the 4th book of a planned 5 for the series. The first book in the series (The Smoke Thief) reads as a stand-alone novel. The second book (The Dream Thief) starts the real plot of the series, when the youngest daughter of the couple from the first book sets off on a quest to find the Dreaming Diamond which can enslave the drakón, and finds a lost clan of other dragons in Eastern Europe. The third book (Queen of Dragons) is about her oldest brother and his courtship of the foreign princess. That book introduces the human hunters who seek to destroy the drakón, and at the end of the book the middle brother, Rhys, is captured by the hunters.
This book follows Rhys and the woman who ultimately comes to his rescue.
Zoe Lane is unlike the other drakón–she has unusual, unheard-of Gifts. She cannot Turn, but she can become invisible, and she can read minds. She sneaks out of the clan’s shire to search for her fiancé, the third (and most recent) emissary to the foreign clan to go missing. She goes to his last known location, Paris, and begins her search for someone, anyone, who knows what happened to him. What she finds instead is the ghost of Rhys Langford, who haunts her in mirrors and windows. As they spend more time “together,” Zoe and Rhys both begin to regret his untimely death and the loss of what might have developed between them. Until Zoe’s fiancé reappears, unharmed and with news that the human hunters are based in Paris and holding a drakón prisoner…a drakón who just might be Rhys Langford.
The biggest revelation of the book is yet to come, however–the identity of the human hunters’ leader: one of the drakón‘s own.
I really liked this twist on the human hunters. I have read a few paranormal romance series that have ridiculously well-informed human hunters who, because their ominous threat looms for no other reason than hatred, fear, and good research, seem more plot device than an organic danger in that world. But in this case, with an embittered Other forming the society of hunters, the group seems more dynamic and more realistic. I’m definitely looking forward to the final book in the series, to see how events play out.
In the meantime, thoughts on this most current book. The Treasure Keeper is probably now my second-favorite in the series. They’re all good, but The Dream Thief is heartbreakingly beautiful, and this one is, at least for me, a clear cut above the first and third books. Mostly, I think, because the attraction between Zoe and Rhys seems so inevitable and therefore so…natural. (For me the third book’s pairing seem kind of forced, which is why this aspect is such a plus.) They didn’t have a love-at-first-sight sort of romance–how could they, having grown up in the same village–but neither was it unrelentingly antagonistic until they fell into bed, as happens in too many romance novels. The sex was hot without being overblown, as per Abé’s MO from the other books.
The writing was also up to Abé’s established standards–and she is a fabulous writer. She blends dreamy visions of the past with hypnotic, chilling warnings for the future in the voice of the series’ narrator/commentor. The bulk of this book (as with the others) is told through as-Zoe/Rhys-sees-the-world narration, but the interludes offer an enigmatic counterpoint. The more common prose was in the same vein as with the other drakón books, but it had a rougher edge that reflected the fact that neither Zoe nor Rhys was as refined as most of the other main characters have been.
My only criticisms are minor. First, it seems foolish that neither Zoe nor Rhys considered that he was not a ghost prior to the rescue attempt. Second (and this did not bother me but for some romance readers it might be a problem), for a romance novel, this book doesn’t actually have much romance or sexiness until near the end. Finally, and more pertinently because this did nag me a bit, Zoe doesn’t actually make the choice to marry Rhys instead of her fiancé; the fiancé dies. I prefer the conscious choice and the responsibility for the decision to circumstances arranging it, but he was also killed before she had the chance to really think it all through.
These are very minor issues though. I just wanted to mention them because they are the only things which keep me from putting it on par with The Dream Thief, which in my opinion is pretty much perfect. But The Treasure Keeper is a close second in this series, which I would strongly recommend to anyone who would enjoy a cross-over romance/fantasy series full of beautiful language, strong characters, and fated love.
The Time Weaver is the fifth and final book of Shana Abé’s drakon series, which is a historical fantasy-romance about, yes, glittering dragon people. It follows Honor Carlisle, the only drakon Gifted with the ability to weave time, and her quest–aided or hampered by her adoptive mother who Dreams the future–to change the path of her destiny. Not the part where she ends up with Alexsandru, the dark drakon prince of her dreams in every time she’s ever weaved herself into, but the part where everything and everyone she loves end up destroyed while she can only watch it happen.
This book is at once for the series veteran and the newcomer. Abé has managed to maintain a discrete identity for each book in this series, and despite this being the last book and to some extent set up by all the others, it really does stand alone (much more so than books 3 and 4 do), because the characters who are featured here are on the other side of all the events we have seen before. Most of which aren’t even mentioned, because they were not directly related to the events shown here, but even those that are repeated scenes are from a new point of view. So if you like the sound of the book but don’t want to commit to reading 4 others first, you don’t need to.
This aspect is an impressive feat both in terms of scene-setting and for Abé’s resistance to over-explaining the backstories of minor characters (AKA summarizing the other books). Too often in a romance series, that is exactly what the author does; you can tell when a minor character who appears on or sometimes even off page has his or her own book. Not so here. The only couple who appears here, who you might wonder about having their own book (they do; book 2) is Lia and Zane, but that wondering is undermined by their situation in this book: they clearly didn’t get happily-ever-after, just happily-for-a-while.
I have ambivalent feelings about this book, and I think whether I liked it depends on how I am viewing it–as the ending to one of my favorite series of all time (like), as a standalone historical fantasy (like), as a standalone romance novel–distinct simply from love story, let me be clear (dislike). It’s a good ending for the story Abé set up in previous books, and it’s a good story about fate and free will and self-fulfilling prophecies and the ripple effects of every choice that we make. Where it kind of breaks down, at least for me, is as a romance novel. I just didn’t quite feel enough of a connection between Honor and Sandu, and I felt like basically their entire process of falling in love happened because they were both told by their future selves that they would love each other. I never really saw quite when it happened in their “natural time.” (Zane and Lia’s book, I thought, did an amazing job of setting up a pre-destined and pre-seen love but yet still making them work out all the kinks to get to that point, so it’s not that I think such a feat is impossible or that Abé hasn’t accomplished it before. Perhaps the fact that she has was the problem I had here.) Also, even if you’re less concerned about why two people fall in love because you’re a romantic and you can accept that “they’re just meant for each other so they do,” the level of sensuality was lower than in previous books, and the way they became lovers was, frankly, a bit kinky. I didn’t find the scene sexy, I found it awkward and disturbing, which you never really want to feel when you’re reading a romance novel.
But the story was damn good. Abé did an amazing job of taking the snippet of Honor’s life we learn at the end of the fourth book–that she is the person responsible for the band of hunters trying to kill the drakon who appear in the second book and are the villains through the fourth book–and fitting it to the part of her life that we watch unfold. And the terrible future that is coming and that explains why Honor becomes the founder of the drakon’s biggest enemies makes complete sense. It actually kind of turns the heroes of books 3 and 4 around and makes them and their MO seem antagonistic to the point villainy to these characters and therefore to the reader. Impressive orchestration of points of view, for sure.
Also impressive? The fact that Abé chose to write in a self-denying style this time around. The writing was good—eminently readable, perfect narrative flow and pacing—but it was not the same style that she used in the other books (particularly 2 and 4). The sections of the book from Honor’s point of view were told first-person (presumably to keep track of her “natural time” experiences better) and thus the bulk of the book was. So Abé did not write much of the ridiculously amazing lyrical poetry in prose form that I have praised before, and as much as I missed that style, I love her for not using it. Because Honor as a character would not have used it. Most people don’t think poetically, especially when they are 16, as she was in the beginning chapters. I mean, no one says things like “Imagine…a land dripping with moss and dew, streams flowing like glass across peat and smooth dark rocks. Wild roses weep petals into the streams, sending them down and down hills into lakes that glitter sapphire and gold beneath the sun,” unless they’re trying to be poetic. Honor wasn’t a poet. I don’t know whether Abé was looking for a break from that style or struggled with her choice not to use it, but I’m glad she didn’t, because Honor as a character would not think that way, so Abé’s authorial choice not to seemed more like brilliant characterization than anything else.
As a fan of this series since the beginning–I picked up the first book in hardcover the month it came out, entirely by accident…or should I just call it Fate?–I loved this final piece of the story. Whatever The Time Weaver‘s failings as a standalone romance novel, it was in all a satisfying conclusion for someone who’s been with the story since the beginning, and a great intro to the world if you’re new. And if ever there is an end that’s really a beginning, this book is it. I can see a new but connected series easily springing from it, and that prevents me from being too sad over the fact that this amazing series has fianlly come to an end.
Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.