In an effort to build a space for queer people like myself, every Tuesday I’ll be posting interviews, opinion pieces, listicals, reviews, and more focused on the LGBT community. Welcome to Queerly Not Straight! Enjoy and leave a comment below if you have a suggestion for what I should cover next.
It Ends in Fire by Andrew Shvarts is basically what happens when Harry Potter has a queer love child with a spy thriller with all the diversity your little heart can handle. And honestly, it’s fantastic. From the very start you’re thrown into a world that feels fresh, vibrant, and that grabs a hold of your heart because of the love you end up having for the female lead, her love interest, and those who make up the Blackwater Academy in the world created by Shvarts.
We got a chance to speak with Shvarts about It Ends in Fire and what it took to create such a complicated, yet enthralling world that leaves you wanting more from every character involved, from the smallest character to the very smart, cunning, and queer lead. And here’s what he had to say!
Fangirlish: What gave birth to It Ends in Fire?
Andrew Shvarts: So at any given moment, I have a zillion ideas whirling around in my head, and then a Eureka! moment where I realize how to connect a few of the pieces. I’ve wanted for a long time to write a story about a spy in a magic school, someone who lied to get in and is surviving through cunning and deception. But I didn’t actually have a story to go with this idea until I was rambling to a friend about my how much I hate the Sorting Hat, and how I think the only justification for a system like that is if the school is explicitly trying to cultivate division and hierarchy. And as I said that, a lightbulb went off over my head as I connected these two ideas, and It Ends in Fire was born.
Fangirlish: Why was it important to have a queer female protagonist and representation across the board?
Andrew Shvarts: For me, a big part of writing fantasy is the joy of creating worlds with different cultural frameworks than our own, of exploring the fantasy of worlds without our prejudices and discriminations. My own experience of sexuality has been fluid, evolving and changing, and I wanted to write a book that reflected that, a world where that was universally understood and accepted.
Fangirlish: The world building you did was extraordinary. What challenges did you face while bringing it to life and what HAD to be included?
Andrew Shvarts: I think the biggest challenge in writing a magic school book was the shadow of That Other Magic School Series hanging over it, the tension of knowing readers would inevitably draw comparisons and the question of how to challenge the established tropes of the genre without the book being perceived as derivative. I went back and forth, for example, on whether or not to include the division of students into themed orders, and I went with it, in the end, because I wanted to frame that kind of tracking system as an inherently divisive and flawed idea, rooted in a reductive view of people as unchanging and singular.
In terms of what had to be included, I had a real blast with the magic system and especially the Null, the spectral ashy realm that Wizards slip into to cast. I’ve always loved magic that is frightening and dangerous, systems where it feels like at any moment the Wizard might well be swallowed and destroyed by the very forces they’re meddling with. With the Null (and its frightening shadowy figures lurking just beyond), I really had fun trying to capture that.
Fangirlish: To you, what was the most important aspect when it came to the romance in this book?
Andrew Shvarts: My favorite romances are the ones that are about the yearning, about the buildup of desire and connection that grows and grows before that sudden moment where the dam breaks. With It Ends in Fire, I felt like I got to do that twice, in two very different ways, which was great.
Also, both big romantic moments come right on the heels of murders. Which is the most fun way to write it.
Fangirlish: If given the chance, how would this world develop after It Ends in Fire?
I’ve had a lot of ideas on how to expand the world. I’d love to dive into the bigger politics of it, especially what happens in the aftermath of the ending and how the global balance shifts. I also had a really fun idea on the horrific dark secret origin of magic (hint… that Godsblood in the tattoos has to come from somewhere).
Queerly Not Straight posts every Tuesday with opinion pieces, listicals, reviews, and more focused on the LGBT community.