If you’ve visited the world of Elfhame through Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series, you probably wanted to go back immediately. It’s the kind of world that pulls you in. Though you had to wait a little while, you can now return with The Stolen Heir. Black’s newest book jumps eight years into the future of Elfhame. It’s not a Folk of the Air book, but it does include characters from that series. Suren, the queen of the Court of Teeth, has been through a few things. She has fled to the human world, on the run from the storm hag and her family. Oak, heir to Elfhame, saves her. Thus begins an uncertain alliance, one that began when Oak and Suren were once betrothed.
We talked with author Holly Black over email about returning to the world of Faerie, about Suren’s struggles, Oak, and what the next book in this duology has in store.
Nerdist: Readers are excited to return to the world of Elfhame. I read you knew you’d go back to the world after you finished The Queen of Nothing. What was it like for you to return to Faerie?
Holly Black: While I was away, I wrote my first adult novel, Book of Night, and the whole time when I was inventing new characters and a new magic system I told myself that everything would be easier when I came back to Elfhame. I knew Oak! I had lots of ideas about Suren! I had written an outline that I turned in when I proposed the duology to my editor, Alvina, and it seemed like it might be the sort of outline that withstood the actual writing process.
It turned out that none of those things were true. I love Faerie, but this was not the easy romp of a book that I promised myself it would be. I’ve never written a character quite like Suren before. In some ways, she is a much gentler person than most of my protagonists. And in other ways, she is more ferocious. And their road trip through Faerie let me introduce new characters and new possibilities. It also made me think about the future of Elfhame.
Oak is older, and as the story progresses, Suren and the reader are never positive about his intentions and motives. How did Oak’s immediate family’s traits and where/how he grew up affect how you developed him?
Black: Oak is beloved and protected by his fierce family, but he’s also been a pawn in a huge conflict within Elfhame and the High Courts since before he was born. With Jude for a sister, it stands to reason he’s learned spy craft and the sword. Madoc is, of course, a master strategist and excellent with a blade, and even after he was exiled to the mortal world, he’s been in Oak’s life. Not only that, there are rumors that Oak’s birth mother, Liriope, had certain powers of persuasion. All that adds up to a charming boy whose motivations are hidden behind his clever fox eyes.
Suren exists in a kind of in-between place between humans and faerie. Having a foot in each world seems to take a toll. How did you approach her connection to her human unfamily?
Black: With Wren, I am both echoing and reversing some of Jude’s story—Jude was taken from her family of origin, whereas Wren was taken by them. Jude saw both the wonder and horror of Faerie, while Wren saw only horror. And so she wants to return to the mortal world, but is too afraid of being rejected, or that they will be hurt, so she is in a kind of stasis when we meet her.
I often write about people who find themselves straddling two worlds. Thematically, it is often set up as a binary choice—one world or another. Over the course of the narrative, they have to learn to reject the choice itself.
Suren looks for external validation—even when she knows that’s what she’s doing. It means she, maybe unintentionally, tries to see the best in Oak at every turn in their quest but she’s also ready to believe others when they say Oak’s manipulating her. How did you explore this seeming tug-of-war within Suren?
Black: Suren has been through a lot! The love of her family was taken from her by magic, and she was whisked off to be neglected, abused, and terrorized by Lord Jarel and Lady Nore in the Court of Teeth. It’s no wonder she has no idea who or what to believe in—she was thrown into the world of Faerie with even less protection than Jude and Taryn, who were themselves terrified. Suren is constantly on guard. She doesn’t know any other way to be. And she is well aware that her greatest vulnerability is her desire to be loved.
The Stolen Heir’s antagonists get under your skin in the best kind of creepy way. What kind of inspiration do you look to when creating foes in faerie?
Black: I always look to the folklore when I can. That was particularly the case with Bogdana, where I got to draw on stories of hags and their powers.
But with Lady Nore, I wanted to write about someone who was awful in a way that bent reality a little. She enjoys cruelty. She’s genuinely horrible, but in a way that I felt had some real-world resonances. When I was writing the book, I read a little about children who’d been killed by parents (a haunting topic and so upsetting that I would do pretty much whatever my own kid wanted for weeks on end). Although in certain places I was drawing from us “mortals,” the behaviors I was reading about truly seemed inhuman.
What can you tell me about the next installment of the duology?
Black: The next book carries on from where this one ends, but it’s told from Oak’s perspective. When I decided to write a duology, I wanted to do something fun with the format. This allows me to not only move the story forward, but also give previously withheld information about the events of the first book, the backstory, and hidden motivations of the Folk.
Also, a lot of readers asked about seeing Jude and Cardan, and they definitely will in Book 2.
The Stolen Heir is available now wherever you buy books.