In The Dream Runners, Shveta Thakrar introduces readers to a vibrant, lush, and often terrifying world inspired by Hindu mythology. It’s a world the author first began to build in her novel Star Daughter. The Dream Runners expands on that universe and introduces readers to the world of the Nagalok, where human children wiped of all their memories collect mortal dreams for the serpentine and immortal naga court. It’s a unique and immersive YA fantasy that will engage readers young and old. To celebrate the book’s release we quizzed Thakrar about the origin of the story, naga mythology, and the moment she can’t wait for readers to discover.
Nerdist: Could you tell me about the origin of The Dream Runners?
Shveta Thakrar: Sure! The time came to think about my second book, which my editor had already bought sight unseen, so a friend and I started batting ideas around. I knew I wanted to combine selling dreams and changelings, and she suggested doing that using nobles and something like faerie courts. Later, thinking about how to incorporate Hindu mythology, I returned to my trunked novel for inspiration: I’d worked the mythological war between the garudas and the nagas into it, along with my original characters Princess Asha and Sameer, and I realized I could cannibalize that foundation while writing a completely different story. (Sameer, who was a protagonist back then, became a tertiary character in The Dream Runners.)
Once I decided the nagas were spiriting away human children to harvest dreams for them, it all began to come together. It occurred to me that this new tale could fit into the Hindu mythological universe I’d already established in Star Daughter and be linked by the Night Market, so of course I had to add that in, too.
What were the challenges of building the immersive world of Nagalok?
Trying to figure out how to incorporate how mythology and Hindu scripture actually describe it while allowing myself the space to make up things like dream running and jewel-fruit. I also included characters from the actual mythology while adding my own.
The same for composing the folktales at the beginning of each section of the book. They’re completely my own, but I wanted them to feel like they could be part of the real mythology—like I was writing the next chapter of the great epic.
I adored learning about the Naga folklore. Could you tell me more about that aspect and weaving it in?
I’ve known about nagas since I was a kid, but I never saw them in any of the fantasy books I read, and that seemed like a shame. The war between them and their cousins, the garudas, is so rich and extensive and basically cries out to be the background for something like court politics and scheming! So I did some more research and looked for places in the narrative where I could braid in those bits of information I’d collected, like the lavender sand of Bhogavati’s shores or the history of how the enmity between the two species came to be. (Including that latter piece as a play Venkat was watching felt like the perfect way to convey it to readers without having to info-dump.)
The final cover is stunning. How did it feel to see Tanvi and Venkat brought to life in such beautiful fashion?
I have been so lucky with my covers so far! In both cases, I got to have extensive input, and each time, Charlie Bowater and Corina Lupp have stolen my breath with what they came up with. Every time I see the cover of The Dream Runners, I’m blown away. My magical Indian kids get to shine so beautifully! I think it also does a great job of encapsulating the story itself, the mood and atmosphere, the writing style, and what might happen in the plot.
Is there a moment you’re most excited for readers to discover when they read The Dream Runners?
Off the top of my head, the climax! Figuring that out was fun. The visit to the Night Market. Tanvi playing dandiya-raas at garba.
Is there something you’re hoping that readers take away from the book when they pick it up?
Two things: that we can always choose compassion, and that it’s always in our power to decide which stories we tell—and how we tell them. Just because something has been universally accepted by society over time doesn’t mean we can’t be the ones to replace it with something better.
Featured Image: Harper Teen