Welcome to Once Upon a Retelling! I'm a huge fan of retellings, and I'm really interested in hearing about authors' own love of the original stories, and what inspired them to retell those stories. And so Once Upon a Retelling was born, a feature in which I interview authors about their versions of well-loved tales.
Today, I'm really excited to have Kristina Pérez stopping by the blog today to talk to us about her debut YA novel, Sweet Black Waves, a high fantasy retelling of the legend of Tristan and Eseult.
Can you tell us a little about Sweet Black Waves? What kind of a retelling of Tristan and Eseult is it?
Sweet Black Waves is a retelling from the point of view of Branwen, who is traditionally Princess Eseult’s lady’s maid. In my version, Branwen is also the cousin and best friend of the princess as well as a healer who is developing magic of her own. My retelling is also a second world fantasy in which Ireland has become Iveriu and Cornwall has become Kernyv. I made this decision in order to give myself more flexibility with the source material and to make it fully Branwen’s story.
Why Tristan and Eseult? What drew you to this legend? And what inspired you to retell it?
My PhD is in medieval literature and while I was teaching the Old French versions of the legend as a graduate student, I became fascinated with the figure of Branwen. She is the catalyst for much of the tragedy that ensues but she remains a rather two-dimensional character. It was her story that I felt compelled to tell.
What do you bring to the Tristan and Eseult story with Sweet Black Waves?
Hopefully, I’ve given a fresh take on the star-crossed lovers motif by more fully exploring the consequences on the characters around them. Mine also has a distinctly feminist bent.
How does Sweet Black Waves differ from other retellings of Tristan and Eseult out there?
Most of the retellings that I’m aware of are told from the perspective of the lovers. I only know of one retelling from Branwen’s point of view, The White Raven by Diana L. Paxson, which a friend told me about after I had sold Sweet Black Waves! I haven’t read it yet because I don’t want to be influenced by it, but it’s on my to-be-read pile for after I complete the trilogy. Besides the point of view, my retelling is very female centric and the primary relationship is really the sisterly bond between Branwen and Eseult. The original Tristan legends are already exceptional in medieval literature for the agency of the female characters and the importance of their relationships with each other, and I wanted to push that even further.
Were there any difficulties in tackling a retelling of a story already known, over writing an original story? Anything that was easier?
The way I approached retelling the legend was to reread all of the most well-known medieval versions and to see which events/incidents recurred the most often––obviously, I knew there would be a Champions Tournament and a love potion!––and to use that as a loom onto which I could weave Branwen’s story. I also looked back to the Celtic source material that informed the more famous French and German versions for inspiration, which led me to make a few significant changes to the story that readers might not expect.
What do you hope readers get from Sweet Black Waves?
As a writer, first and foremost, I hope that readers get swept away by the story and root for my heroine––even when she makes questionable choices! As an academic, I hope that readers will be intrigued enough by my retelling to explore the original medieval legends if they’re not already familiar with them.
What do you think makes a good retelling?
A new perspective that doffs its cap to the original but becomes its own unique story.
Are there any retellings you would recommend, either of Tristan and Eseult, or in general?
There have been a number of wonderful YA retellings in the past couple of years. I adored Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and I’m very excited for Anna-Marie McLemore’s Blanca & Roja as well as Sarah Henning’s Sea Witch, which are both out later this summer.
Thank you, Kristina, for such a great interview! I don't know a huge amount about the original story of Tristan and Eseult, but Sweet Black Waves sounds right up my street! I'm so looking forward to reading it!
Be sure to visit Kristina's website, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and check out Sweet Black Waves, which is out now! You'll also find Kristina at the YA Lit Con on Friday 27th July at the World Building 101 workshop, the Tale As Old As Time retelling panel, and at a book signing!
Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Pérez
Not you without me, not me without you.
Two proud kingdoms stand on opposite shores, with only a bloody history between them.
As best friend and lady-in-waiting to the princess, Branwen is guided by two principles: devotion to her homeland and hatred for the raiders who killed her parents. When she unknowingly saves the life of her enemy, he awakens her ancient healing magic and opens her heart. Branwen begins to dream of peace, but the princess she serves is not so easily convinced. Fighting for what's right, even as her powers grow beyond her control, will set Branwen against both her best friend and the only man she's ever loved.
Inspired by the star-crossed tale of Tristan and Eseult, this is the story of the legend’s true heroine: Branwen. For fans of Graceling and The Mists of Avalon, this is the first book of a lush fantasy trilogy about warring countries, family secrets, and forbidden romance. From Goodreads.
If you enjoyed this post, check out the other interviews in the Once Upon a Retelling series.
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