If you're a fan of fairy tales and fantasy, listen up. Following two young adult series and her first middle grades novel,
Megan Shepherd's Grim Lovelies will bring background characters from your favorite childhood stories to life in a magical version of contemporary Paris. Grim Lovelies is the first installment in a YA duology you don't want to miss.
In a way, Shepherd is living her own fairy tale life. The author of The Cage and The Madman's Daughter YA series lives on a 125-year-old farm outside of Asheville, North Carolina, surrounded by her loving husband, scruffy dog, two cats, several chickens, and the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains. If you've never been to Western North Carolina, take it from someone who has: it's the perfect place to be if you love misty, chilly mornings and rolling mountains and valleys as far as the eye can see.
But Shepherd's upcoming book,
Grim Lovelies, isn't set in the countryside. Her new tale will transport readers to a version of modern-day Paris, where magic-users pull strings behind the scenes. From the press release by publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Set in contemporary Paris, a society of magic handlers called the Haute control everything from what jewelry catches our eye to where wars are fought. But this centuries-old system is about to be turned upside down: not by one of the city’s powerful witches, but by a witch’s maid. In a beautiful Parisian townhouse, Anouk sweeps the floors. Years ago her mistress enchanted animals into human servants,called beasties: a driver, a gardener, a thief, an assassin, and a maid — Anouk. When their mistress is murdered they only have three days before the spell fades and they turn back into animals forever,unless they can find a last desperate way to hold on to their humanity.
Here's what Bustle learned from talking to Megan Shepherd about
Megan Shepherd Wanted To Tell A Story That Hasn't Been Explored Before
Have you ever wondered how Cinderella's footmen felt after being mice, then human, then mice, and then — sometimes — human again? Questioning what happened to the footmen, and all of the other fairy tale background characters, led Shepherd to write
"I have a not-so-secret obsession with Disney movies, so there are glimpses of
The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Sleeping Beauty in Grim Lovelies, though it also draws on the original, darker elements of Grimm’s fairy tales. I’ve always been curious about lesser-known fairy tale characters, the ones other than princesses and witches. I was thinking about Cinderella in particular and the mice that are turned into footmen by the fairy godmother. They’re briefly given all the gifts of humanity, only to be forced to serve and then have their humanity taken away again at midnight, which feels rather heartless. This is a story that explores that darkness — and awakening."
'Grim Lovelies' Includes Activism In Its Takeaway Message
The events of the last several years have led to what many hope will be an activist uprising in the next few. Shepherd says part of
Grim Lovelies' message is about finding the impact you want to make.
"Like so many young adult novels,
Grim Lovelies is about finding out who you really are, accepting that, and seeing how you can make a positive impact in the world. (Or a negative impact — hey, I love a good villain!) I think that’s a universal message, particularly now. It encourages all of us to think seriously about our beliefs, stand up for what we feel is right, and to support the values and movements that speak to us."
Her Protagonist Is A YA Original
Vampires. Zombies. Witches. Young adult novels are full of fantastic beasts. So why didn't Shepherd make
Grim Lovelies about the witches who run Paris?
"Witches have been done to death! I do love a good witch story when an author breaks the mold and creates vivid and unusual characters, but in the case of
Grim Lovelies, I was more interested in exploring underdogs. Witches tend to start in a place of power, and I wanted to focus on powerless characters who forge their own paths."
'Grim Lovelies' Probes Into What Makes Each Of Us Human
Grim Lovelies isn't the first time Shepherd has toyed with the what-ifs involved in turning animals human. But in The Madman's Daughter series, her focus was on the implications for the people doing the turning, not those who are turned.
"In The Madman's Daughter series, I explored the idea of animals-made-human through Victorian-era science, and it let me show themes of abuse of power, playing God, and the dangers of knowledge. In
Grim Lovelies, I’m looking at the other side of that coin: not the creator’s perspective, but the creations’. What is it like to know you were once an animal? To fall in love with the human world and have it threatened? Plus, Grim Lovelies is set in modern-day Paris, and it was delightfully fun to write about a contemporary setting and modern (though magical) kids who like fast cars, chic fashion, and current tech."
Megan Shepherd Did Some "Torturous" Research For This Project
...but not really.
"I’ve been to Paris a few times, but only passing through for a day or two, so to capture the setting I spent many days at my desk looking at maps of the city, watching travel videos, and scrolling through thousands of images on Pinterest. I’m planning a research trip to France in the spring (Torture, I know. Being a writer is so tough) so that I can visit all the glamorous places I’ve been writing about, and use that personal experience to add more depth to the setting during the editing process."
She Plans To Re-Read Classic YA And Fantasy Novels In 2017
So what does Megan Shepherd plan to read this year?
"In 2016 I read almost entirely books that had been released in the last year or two, the most talked-about bestsellers and award winners (Right now I’m reading N.K. Jemisin’s brilliant
The Fifth Season.) So in 2017, I’ve decided to go back to classic young adult and fantasy literature and re-read some old favorites like Anne McCaffrey and Robin McKinley."
Grim Lovelies at your favorite bookstore in 2018.