Gillian Bronte Adams is a sword-wielding, horse-riding, wander-loving fantasy author, rarely found without a coffee in hand and rumored to pack books before clothes when she hits the road. Working in youth ministry left her with a passion for journeying alongside children and teens. (It also enhanced her love of coffee.) Now, she writes novels that follow outcast characters down broken roads, through epic battles, and onward to adventure. And at the end of a long day of typing, she can be found saddling her wild thing and riding off into the sunset, seeking adventures of her own.
In this interview, she discusses her latest book, Of Fire and Ash, which kicks off her new The Fireborn Epic Series.
FF: What inspired the story in your book, Of Fire and Ash?
I can point to two very distinct starting points, which is unusual for me. Most of my stories come in threads and pieces and sparks collected over the years, and while that is true in some sense for Of Fire and Ash, there are also two moments that stand out. Years ago, over the course of one afternoon, I dreamed up the three-book story of an aspiring queen who had to emerge from exile to unite her country to withstand its greatest peril. While I loved the concepts behind the plot and characters, the world itself felt bland, so I ended up shelving it. Several months later, while working as the Head Wrangler at a youth camp, spending my days on horseback teaching kids to ride, I found myself scribbling notes on a crumpled notebook page about firebreathing horses, horses that could vanish into shadow, others that could quake the earth with a stamp of their hooves. I was instantly captivated by these creatures and the incredible world they inhabited, until I realized I had no story to go with them. It was several more months before I thought to combine the two ideas, and the resulting epic story was so much more magnificent than I could have imagined and eventually grew into The Fireborn Epic.
FF: What can you tell us about the main characters in your book?
Of Fire and Ash follows three main characters—the disinherited daughter of a king, a reluctant rebel, and a novice priest. Outcast after a tragic accident claims the life of her brother, Ceridwen tal Desmond (who rides one of the firebreathing horses) returns home in defiance of her exile to deliver warning of an invasion. Meanwhile, Rafi Tetrani desires only to live out his days in peaceful obscurity far from the eyes of the empire, until an impulsive “good deed” draws their wrath upon his fishing village. The third and final main character, Jakim Ha’Nor, is a newly sworn Scroll of Aodh, who breaks his vows by lying his way onto a missionary journey that he hopes will take him home. All three of them are so unique and were so much fun to write!
FF: Which character surprised you the most?
Rafi proved surprisingly challenging at the start. I had initially written several chapters from his perspective years ago, when his character was very different. Far more serious. But when I sat down to reimagine his character, the person who emerged on the page was humorous, with a bit of a smirk that carries through his voice and tone. Only once I began the work of changing his chapters did I realize how much of a balancing act it was going to be to present Rafi the way I envisioned him without contradicting the overall impactful tone of the book. It was certainly a significant stretch for me as a writer, but I love the way his character turned out, and he’s been a fan favorite so far!
FF: Why do you think storytelling is such a powerful way to share truth?
We engage with stories differently than we do with a sermon or a teaching. Stories resonate with us on a deeper level than head knowledge, harmonizing with our experiences, our feelings, our longings, and our questions. When Gospel themes emerge in stories, we receive it as almost an echo of sound or a refraction of light, which causes us to consider it new ways and can allow it to sink in a bit deeper. Seeing truths in action is powerful too. You can tell me what it looks like to serve another, but when I see Sam Gamgee carry Frodo up the slope of Mount Doom, the struggle and burden and pain that he feels help me to grasp it. I think the same is true when it comes to themes of redemption and restoration and hope too.
FF: What can readers expect from the rest of this series?
Of Fire and Ash really brings together so many of my favorite things—horses, a rich fantasy world, epic and intense action, and deep characters who constantly press the action forward—which will all continue through the next two books in the series. Readers will get to see more of the world, more of beloved characters, more magical horse action, and more mysteries that unfold as the story builds toward the climax of the trilogy. It’s going to be a thrilling ride.
FF: What kind of research did you do for this book?
I have spent so many years around horses, whether working with them or riding for pleasure, so in some ways, it feels like my entire life has been research for this book. It’s such a joy to be able to draw upon those experiences to add depth and authenticity to the story. I also did quite a bit of specific research when I sat down to start writing, digging into the countless ways horses have contributed to society in so many cultures, over so any centuries. I totally geeked out over old cavalry manuals, read an ancient Greek treatise on horsemanship, and watched tons of YouTube videos on Mongolian archery. Not so much for research but for fun and inspiration, I watched as many movies with mounted warfare and epic cavalry charges as I could find! Beyond simply researching mounted warfare, I got to look up facts about so many random things from spear fighting to pearl diving to volcanoes. It was all immensely fun!
FF: What do you want readers to take away after reading your book?
One of the deeper themes that winds throughout the book has to do with identity. In one way or another, each of the three main characters is wrestling to latch onto some sense of their purpose, identity, or worth. Because each of their journeys and struggles is unique, it allows readers to consider these concepts from a number of different angles. So I hope that readers walk away emboldened and encouraged with a renewed understanding of their inherent worth.
FF: What are the biggest challenges for you as an author writing in your specific genre?
Epic fantasy is definitely a unique genre. While some readers appreciate the enormous scope and breadth of an epic fantasy story, others find it intimidating. Big books, enormous worlds, lots of characters—it can feel like a lot to step into. Young adult books on the other hand tend to be shorter, very character driven, with tight pacing and a sparser writing style. So, in writing an epic fantasy novel for young adult readers, I wanted to steal the best from both worlds and walk that tightrope between telling a truly big and beautiful fantasy story while keeping it as tight and close-knit and action-oriented as possible! It was definitely a challenge but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I wouldn’t trade genres for the world!
FF: What authors or books have inspired you as an author?
So many books. I couldn’t begin to list them all. But Tolkien has always been and always will be my first love. No matter how many times I read his books, there is always something new and beautiful and deep to discover. Brandon Sanderson is another of my favorite authors, and the way he tells stories of such depth and emotion and impact while building the most elaborate worlds and filling them with such realistic characters leaves me a bit in awe. I adore the way Pierce Brown writes such intense action. He has such a vivid imagination and his books leave you breathless because you never know what’s going to happen next. Maggie Stiefvater writes prose that is so unexpected and fascinating, and she is a master at capturing and conveying what makes a character unique, so I love trying to learn from her books too. And in The Fiddler’s Gun and The Fiddler’s Green, A.S. Peterson showed me how to write stories that don’t shrink away from pain but recognize the beauty that can come through and beyond it.
FF: How has your faith or world view impacted the way you tell stories?
Stories truly are the language of my heart. God spoke to my heart through a story when I was seven years old, which is what brought me to faith, and to this day, He continues to use stories to shape, mold, encourage, and comfort me. So when I write, it’s with that understanding of the power of stories and a desire to create something that could speak to or embolden or comfort another. The stories I’m drawn to tell are the ones that venture out into the hard, dark, and broken places and explore how the light breaks through. How restoration comes. How springs of water emerge in the midst of the desert (Isaiah 43:19). How God is the only one who can make all things new and there is no place beyond His reach. Sometimes those themes are buried deep in my stories, and sometimes it takes a while for them to emerge, but as I think about the stories I have told and hope to one day tell, that wondrous mystery truly is what is at the heart of them.
Of Fire and Ash
The Fireborn Epic Series #1
Gillian Bronte Adams
Genres: YA/Teen, Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Release Date: December 7, 2021
She rides a fireborn, a steed of fire and ash, trained for destruction.
Ceridwen tal Desmond dreams of ruling like her father over the nation of Soldonia, where warriors ride to battle on magical steeds—soaring on storm winds, vanishing in shadow, quaking the earth, and summoning the sea. After a tragic accident claims her twin brother, she is exiled and sworn to atonement by spending her life—or death—for her people.
But when invaders spill onto Soldonia’s shores and traitors seize upon the chaos to murder her father, Ceridwen claims the crown to keep the nation from splintering. Combatting overwhelming odds and looming civil war, she begins to wonder if the greatest threat to the kingdom may, in fact, be her.
With fire before her and ash in her wake, how can she hope to unite instead of destroy?
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