Ava Reid‘s debut, A Study in Drowning, is out today — and if you need some convincing about why you should give this book a try, we’ve got all the information right here for you.
Reid, the award-winning author of adult fantasies “Juniper & Thorn” and “The Wolf and the Woodsman,” makes her YA debut with “A Study in Drowning,” a dark academia enemies-to-lovers tale that still manages to be wholly surprising, even with that description giving away the tropes.
But if you need more, we’ve got that for you.
Here’s the book’s synopsis:
Effy Sayre has always believed in fairy tales. Haunted by visions of the Fairy King since childhood, she’s had no choice. Her tattered copy of Angharad—Emrys Myrddin’s epic about a mortal girl who falls in love with the Fairy King, then destroys him—is the only thing keeping her afloat. So when Myrddin’s family announces a contest to redesign the late author’s estate, Effy feels certain it’s her destiny.
But musty, decrepit Hiraeth Manor is an impossible task, and its residents are far from welcoming. Including Preston Héloury, a stodgy young literature scholar determined to expose Myrddin as a fraud. As the two rivals piece together clues about Myrddin’s legacy, dark forces, both mortal and magical, conspire against them—and the truth may bring them both to ruin.
Part historical fantasy, part rivals-to-lovers romance, part Gothic mystery, and all haunting, dreamlike atmosphere, Ava Reid’s powerful YA debut will lure in readers who loved The Atlas Six, House of Salt and Sorrows, or Girl, Serpent, Thorn.
Here’s a Q&A with author Ava Reid:
This is your debut young adult novel, what themes are consistent in “A Study in Drowning” that can also be found in your previous adult novels “Juniper & Thorn” and “The Wolf and the Woodsman?”
I am always very interested in the deconstruction of fairy tales, the relationship between folklore and nationalism, and the role of stories in shaping identity on both the personal and political level. If The Wolf and the Woodsman is about the pain of being excluded from the narrative, and Juniper & Thorn is about the pain of being forced into a narrative against your will, then A Study in Drowning is about crafting an intricate, epic narrative of your own, in order to protect yourself from the pain of life’s daily, banal cruelties.
How did the anti-Stratfordian theory inspire you to write “A Study in Drowning?”
Anti-Stratfordian theory is the hypothesis that William Shakespeare was not the author of the works attributed to him, and that perhaps he did not even exist at all. Though this theory is widely discredited in modern academia, historically, it was given great weight by many influential figures, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and more. It was a fraught and complex issue: people dug up graves and invented whole cipher machines to try and prove it; many of the arguments against Shakespeare were rooted in classism and monarchism. As an ardent fan of Shakespeare, I wanted to create a literary figure that mirrored Shakespeare’s role in Western cultural imagination–he is more than a man; he is almost mythic, and if he were indeed discovered to be a fraud, it would be a devastating blow to English national identity, to the scholars who have dedicated themselves to his life and work, and to all of the people who have felt understood and impassioned by his writing.
Why do you feel so passionately about representing a nuanced range of victimhood, particularly in young adult novels?
My experiences in publishing Juniper & Thorn have taught me how deeply and mercilessly stigmatized the topic of child sexual abuse is in literature, that even in an adult horror novel replete with cannibalism, body horror, and other ghoulish acts of violence, the depiction of sexual abuse was what ignited outrage and controversy. It’s upsetting to see the world of literature–where we are supposed to take risks, start conversations, and experience catharsis–have such a puritanical and close-minded reaction to this topic. In YA in particular, we acknowledge how important it is for young, marginalized readers to see themselves and their experiences reflected in books. The vulnerable, courageous teenager survivors of sexual abuse deserve to see themselves reflected with humanity and nuance. Exploring the complex range of victimhood allows us to expand our empathy, and to continue creating meaningful, cathartic, boundary-pushing art.
How do politics and history play a role in your writing, especially when it comes to worldbuilding and character development?
All of my books are set in times and places that have real historical analogues–for A Study in Drowning, it’s mid-century England and Wales, where the role of women in society was changing rapidly and dramatically, and institutional sexism began to assert itself in new, often sharper ways. The rigid class system was also, to some extent, breaking down. Effy belongs to a generation who were the first women to attend university–all upper class women, of course, and Effy very much has class privilege, although she is still enormously disadvantaged on the basis of her sex. Also apparent is the enduring legacy of English colonialism, and Wales still chafing under its rule. This was incredibly fertile ground for exploring issues of gender equality, classism, cultural imperialism, and how all of this looks when refracted through the lens of academia.
What is your perspective on academic culture and how did that perspective inform the plot of “A Study in Drowning?”
My partner is an academic (a classicist), and over the course of our relationship, I’ve lived at Columbia, Cambridge, and, currently, Stanford as he works on his various degrees. Because of this, I’ve occupied a strange position in academia–proximate but not fully embraced. My undergraduate experience was also very unique: I attended Barnard, which is the women’s college of Columbia University–until 1983, it was the only way for women to get an Ivy League education in New York City. Even now, when things are ostensibly equitable, within the larger university Barnard students are both openly and subtly denigrated, seen as less competent and less worthy. Additionally, I chose a degree and a specialty that is male-dominated. Ultimately this all coalesced into a feeling of belittlement and perennial outsider status, which is very much how Effy experiences academia, as well.
What is next for you in your writing career?
Up next is my newest adult book, Lady Makbeth. It’s a historical fantasy novel pitched as Circe meets Wolf Hall, a reimagining of Shakespeare’s play where Lady Macbeth is given a voice, a past, and a power that transforms the story men have written for her. It’s out next summer, August 2024.
Ava Reid’s YA fantasy debut, A Study in Drowning is available today, wherever books are sold.