Emily Lloyd-Jones, aka queen of ethereal fantasy and soft-boys, has returned with The Drowned Woods! We sat down with Emily to ask her about her latest novel, why she chose to return to the world of The Bone Houses for another standalone, and ultimately who her favorite animal companion is!
For those who may not know, The Drowned Woods is set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a completely new cast of characters. And while there are nods between the two books, you can read them both independently. What was it like returning to a world you’d already explored? Was it difficult navigating the terrain with new characters? And what made you want to return?
It felt like coming home! I spent a lot of time on The Bone Houses, creating that world and drawing inspiration from Welsh folklore. I even spent some time in Wales to do research and make sure all of my sensory details were correct. And after all of that time and effort, I knew I wasn’t quite done with that world. Not yet. After all, Welsh mythology is chock full of adventures and drama.
But I knew Ryn and Ellis’s stories were both complete. So instead, I turned my attention to the past—and to a different setting. Rather than mountains, I would draw my inspiration from the coastline.
You are the absolute queen of the soft boy. From Ellis in The Bone Houses, to James in The Hearts We Sold, and now to my new fave Fane from The Drowned Woods, your soft boys are just so loveable, and the romance in your books is unparalleled! What is your secret?
It’s no secret that one of my favorite relationship set-ups is the stubborn, terrifyingly capable lady and the soft boy that loves them. (Bonus points if the soft boy is also capable!) I think I’m drawn to that dynamic because most of my favorite ships are based in mutual respect and understanding. I love characters who look different on the outside, but have the same foundations within.
Fane and Mer are both very much driven by the loss of their families. Mer, at her core, is seeking the kind of safety she hasn’t found since she was taken from her childhood home. And Fane is trying to escape the deal with the otherfolk that he made in a childish attempt to avenge his own family. So both of them, while very different people, understand one another very well.
Magic system time! The magic in this book is so wonderfully ethereal and partially based in Welsh mythology, particularly the mysterious fae aka the otherfolk who are so central to the story and yet are largely unseen. Where did the idea for divining come from? Was that also inspired by Welsh folklore?
A few years ago, I was pondering magic systems (as writers tend to do!) For me, a good magic system has a clearly defined cost and reward.
I’m also one of those people who will forget to eat or drink when I’m focused on a task. As I was working on this, I ended up with a headache, so I get up and get some water… and as I was pouring myself a glass, I wondered if dehydration could be the cost of magic. What kind of magic, I thought. Obviously, it had to be water magic. And from there, I decided if controlling water would cost water within the magic user, I could extend that to other elements, as well. Metal diviners could be iron deficient, wind diviners could accidentally suffocate themselves, and fire diviners could become too cold. It felt like a simple, balanced magic system that wouldn’t require too much explanation. But it was still flexible enough for me to play with it—after all, you can do a lot with water!
We need to talk about the thieves’ guild and Ifanna! The guild was such a lovely detail within the world and Ifanna was one of my favorite characters – she’s so cheeky and clever! Where did her character and her places within the guild come from? What was it like developing her?
Ifanna was one of those characters that strolled onto the page, fully-formed, and never really changed! I knew I needed a third main character balance out Fane and Mer. And I needed one who wasn’t so angst-ridden! Having a thief among a crew of criminals made sense, so I decided to give her the backstory of being part of the thieves’ guild. Because now she wasn’t just a thief—she was a thief with responsibilities. With a reputation. With people she wanted to impress. And it made sense that Mer would have known her in the past, given Mer’s own criminal tendencies. Which was how I devised their history together.
Ifanna was always a lot of fun to write. She is unapologetic, confident in her abilities, and so very full of snark.
Now one of the fan faves from The Bone Houses was of course the bone goat. Well, The Drowned Woods has a new animal companion, the adorable and wily Trefor! He is a corgi and, in my humble opinion, would be bffs with the bone goat. The real question is – which is your favorite?
I could not choose! It’s like being asked to pick a favorite ice cream flavor. They’re all good—it just depends on my mood. I love the Bone Goat because she’s stubborn and intelligent and loyal, and I love Trefor because he’s the goodest of good dogs. Also I imagine he had his own adventures in the heist crew’s house while Mer and Fane were off recruiting Ifanna. Trefor was probably stealing everyone’s boots.
What are some books you’ve been reading recently or would recommend?
I just finished reading the final book in the Kingdoms of Sand and Sky trilogy by Sarah Henning! If you’re looking for swashbuckling adventures and a touch of Princess Bride, I would highly recommend. I’m also reading Ravenfall by Kalyn Josephson, which is a charmingly dark and magical middle grade. And I just picked up You, Me & and Our Heartstrings by Melissa See.
What are you working on now? Any exciting ideas you can share?
I just put the final touches on Unspoken Magic, the sequel to my middle grade book, Unseen Magic. Both books also feature a magical forest and some of my favorite animal companions. (There’s a baby bigfoot! And a raven who refuses to fetch things on command!) So fans of Trefor might be interested in picking those up.
Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.
The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing…but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.
The Drowned Woods—set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a whole new, unforgettable cast of characters—is part heist novel, part dark fairy tale.