Brianna Joy Crump’s Of Cages and Crowns hits basically every YA fantasy must. There’s a magical heroine, there’s war, a destiny and of course, an unlikely romance. But despite this, and the book being described as “The Hunger Games meets Shadow and Bone,” Of Cages and Crowns manages to stand apart in a genre that is filled to the brim with very good books which follow more or less the same formula.
Fangirlish had a chance to talk to Crump about the book, the inspiration behind it and what’s next for Monroe and one of the first things she told us was that, despite the description, her inspiration was more historical than fictional. “I was thinking of gladiators,” she shared, and though she admitted that The Hunger Games has become a reference, it wasn’t at all her intention to make it similar. “They’re not thrown in an arena all at once. They’re fighting one on one in the arena the way gladiators do,” Crump said, explaining that “the arena is very much described as a gladiator sort of arena because that’s what it is.”
Ironically, though there is a historical reference, the idea came from a different kind of “fighting”´– the kind we might see in pageants. “My cousins Lauren and Julia, they’re both in the Miss North Carolina pageants, and so they both do pageantry,” Crump told us, recalling how the first time she attended a big pageant it was like entering another universe. “They had buttons with the girl’s faces on them and sticks with cutouts of their faces and banners. It was like… serious business.”
A writer’s mind is a mysterious and wonderful place, so of course, Crump thought “this would be a lot more interesting if they had to literally kill each other for the crown.” She wrote it down on her phone and left it at that for a long time. But the idea wouldn’t leave her, and Of Cages and Crowns is the result of that moment, of that pageant. It’s also an attempt to take something that is inherently feminine, and that people might perceive as being easy because of it, and giving it a twist while also showcasing the amount of preparation that goes into it.
“I believe that there are many forms of strength, and I think that in today’s world, especially when it comes to women, we for some reason think there’s only one form of strength,” Crump explained, referring to the type of strength that is considered valid as the Webster’s Dictionary type of strong. But Crump truly wanted Monroe, her main character to “have trauma and her to just be a regular teenage girl who did not have to necessarily rise to life’s challenges.”
Not that Monroe doesn’t, eventually. But Crump really wanted to challenge the idea that you are supposed to go from point A to B easily or quickly. “I wanted to represent a lot of different types of strength in the book and not just the types of strengths that we necessarily see.” Because there’s this narrative in fiction that trauma automatically makes you strong, but Crump was clear that “you don’t need trauma to make yourself stronger. If trauma does make you stronger, that is great. We love that for you.” But it’s not necessary. And Monroe gets to have her moments where she feels sorry for herself, and when she very clearly states that what is happening to her is horrible.
She gets a month to train for a fight to the death, after all. That is objectively horrible. So, for Crump, it was about expressing that “rising to the challenge is great. We want people to do that. We want them to grow from the traumas that they’re going through. And if they do, that’s great. But also if they curl into a ball and have a couple of months, a couple of years of absolute depression, they earned it, right? That’s valid.”
It doesn’t make for such a great story long term, but it is pretty valid. But Monroe’s story isn’t anywhere near done, because Crump has two more books coming in this series. Plus, a novella, which can be found on Wattpad (and it’s free!). And two more books mean more of a chance for Crump to explore the enemies-to-lovers romance at the center of the series, even if she (and I), both hesitate to truly call it that.
“Where it starts, they’re not really on the same side because they can’t be … because that’s the world they live in. And you sort of know where you want them to go.” But there are very complicated things happening around them, and very complex family dynamics that need to be explored perhaps in tandem with the romance. As Crump puts it “all the things that are happening are sort of forcing the characters to go places they maybe don’t want to go.” But everyone knows that good romances aren’t about where the characters begin, but about the journey, they take …and we can’t wait to continue to follow this one.
Especially because Crump shared with us that she isn’t the type of writer who has it all planned out before she starts writing. “I never know about the book,” she told us, sharing specific scenes that she basically discovered as she was writing. “I tell myself the story,” she said in explanation, and isn’t there a certain magic in a story that sort of presents itself to a writer, almost like they’re just the conduit? We have to believe there is. We read the book, after all.
Of Cages and Crowns by Brianna Joy Crump is now available wherever books are sold. You can check out the synopsis for the book below:
For goddess-touched girls, there is only one destiny: the Culling
From the moment Monroe Benson is born with a mark on her hand and the ability to summon fire from her fingertips, her life will never be her own. She’s goddess-touched, which means she’s destined to participate in the Culling, an age-old competition to determine the next queen of Erydia. For most of her seventeen years, her family has managed to keep Monroe–and her powers–hidden. But now, as Queen Viera calls for the Culling to start, and war looms on the horizon, Monroe can no longer hide. She must face her destiny whether she wants to or not.
For the ten goddess-touched girls, all with different powers, the inevitably of this fight to the death has always ruled their lives. The tradition is both barbaric and cruel, but to make matters worse–Monroe isn’t prepared. She hasn’t trained her whole life for this day. She doesn’t want to be in the spotlight. She doesn’t want the crown.
While Monroe struggles with her fate, a rebellion is brewing in the castle and in the country. A group called the Culled are banding together; their goal–to topple the monarchy. And the more they rise, the more merciless Viera is with her kingdom, recruiting younger and younger people from poorer and poorer places to fight in a war no one wants to be waging.
When Monroe finds herself on the front lines of the rebellion’s inner circle, only one thing stands in her way: Cohen. The queen’s son and the man who will be king. The pair grows close, yet Cohen’s dedication to duty, to family, to tradition stands in stark contrast to the boy Monroe sees at night in the kitchens, secretly making the two of them a snack.
As the fight crescendos around them, and the death of innocents is a force to bear, the choices Monroe makes will reverberate through the kingdom . . . and her heart forever.