Forging Silver Into Stars: Brigid Kemmerer’s Return to Her Cursebreakers World Deftly Explores Trauma and HealingBooks Features Brigid Kemmerer
Forging Silver Into Stars marks bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer’s return to the world of her bestselling Cursebreakers trilogy, and the end result is one of her best books yet, a deftly plotted, deeply nuanced magical adventure about trauma, healing, and finding common ground amid differing perspectives.
Unlike A Curse So Dark and Lonely and its sequels, which was a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast focused primarily on an upper-class of magically cursed royals and royal adjacent types, Forging Silver Into Stars sets its fast-paced sequel predominantly among those who are much more concerned with the economics of survival than with politics.
Four years have passed since the enemy realms of Emberfall and Syhl Shallow were joined by the wedding of Emberfall’s magesmith king and Syhl Shallow’s queen, but tensions between the two kingdoms remain high. Magic is now legal in Syhl Shallow, but many of its residents are still mistrustful of its power, especially after a disastrous magical accident that resulted in many deaths early on in Grey and Lia Mara’s reign. Secretive rebel factions—known as the Truthbringers—work against the royals in both countries, preying on citizens’ prejudices and fears about magic users and plotting everything from economic destruction to potential regicide.
But in the remote Syhl Shallow town of Briarlock, its residents don’t have much time for the problems of kings. Teenage friends Jax and Callyn spend most of their time trying to earn coin enough to feed their families and both are (initially at least) uncomfortable about the very idea of magic.
Blacksmith Jax lost his foot in an accident and works night and day to pay the debts of his abusive, alcoholic father while, while Callyn struggles to keep her family’s bakery open and her little sister safe. (Both her parents were killed by magic—her mother in the war against Emberball that closed the final Cursebreakers book, and her father in the first Uprising against Grey’s reign.) When two nobles offer them money to pass messages for the Truthbringers, neither is really in any position to refuse the easy coin.
But when Tycho, the King’s Courier, arrives in their small village, both Jax and Callyn themselves torn between duty and family, as well as questioning what they truly believe about the world around them.
We got the chance to chat with Kemmerer herself about her latest novel, what it was like to return to the worlds of Emberfall and Syhl Shallow, and why this particular story has meant so much to her personally.
Warning: The following conversation contains discussion of abuse and sexual trauma. If you or someone you know has experienced something similar in your own life, please know that you are not alone and that help is out there. Organizations like RAINN and The Trevor Project are just a phone call or text message away and provide confidential, judgment-free support.
Paste Magazine: What made you want to return to the world of your Cursebreakers trilogy?
Brigid Kemmerer: To answer that, I need to start with the original inspiration for the Cursebreakers trilogy itself: the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast.” I always wondered what was happening in the kingdom outside the castle. We always heard about the prince being turned into a beast, but the rest of the royal family was gone. What happened to the people? Who was governing? Would other kingdoms try to take over?
When I wrote A Curse So Dark and Lonely, I immediately took Harper (the “beauty”) out of the castle and put her among the people to see if she could help them. But once I created the kingdom of Emberfall and the neighboring queendom of Syhl Shallow, I realized I had worlds I was going to want to keep visiting again and again—and I hoped readers would, too.
Paste: How would you compare Forging Silver into Stars to the first series in this universe? What do you think sets this sequel series apart?
Kemmerer: All of my stories are very character-driven, and I love showing multiple perspectives so I can really dig into all sides of a story. In this day and age, we always see issues being framed as a very stark THIS vs THAT, where if you don’t believe in one thing, you’re automatically assumed to be wholeheartedly opposed to it. But in reality, nothing is ever that stark. Most issues can (and should) be examined with nuance.
One of the greatest things about writing fantasy is that readers can really dig into real-world issues in a fun and escapist way. What I started with the Cursebreaker series (where characters challenge magic and face adventure while exploring themes like family obligation, grief, personal responsibility, found family, and first love) I took to another level in Forging Silver into Stars, where readers will find more adventure and magic and swordplay—but underneath all the fun, readers will find Tycho, Jax, and Callyn are dealing with themes tackling consent, sexual trauma, abuse, and class differences.
Paste: I’m really intrigued by the way that the worlds of both Emberfall and Syhl Shallow have changed since the events of the first series. Talk to me a bit about how these kingdoms have evolved?
Kemmerer: Forging Silver into Stars is set four years after the first series, which was a deliberate choice. I wanted enough time to pass so that citizens of both countries would be used to the new people in power—and also enough time for unease and distrust to begin brewing to a point where individuals would start taking action.
We have a new king and a new queen in power, and they are trying to ally two countries who’ve been at war. What happens when the will of the people contrasts with the desires of those leading them? Even if the rulers say they want peace?
Paste: Given that we get two major new POV characters in Callyn and Jax, how did you decide Tycho would be the character that carried over from the first series? What aspect of his story were you most interested in further exploring?
Kemmerer: Sometimes characters surprise me when I put them on the page, and out of the fifteen books I’ve written, I think Tycho startled me the most.
You see, when I first planned out his character, I didn’t expect him to survive the events of A Heart So Fierce and Broken, the second book in the Cursebreaker series. Tycho was going to die, and his death was going to be an inciting moment in Grey’s character arc. (I’m being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers.)
But the instant I started writing about Tycho, the very moment I put him on the page, I absolutely loved him. He was so trusting of Grey. So devoted, despite what he’d endured as a boy. So loyal and steadfast. I knew he was special. I knew I’d want to tell his side of the story one day. And I’m so glad that readers loved him as much as I did.
Paste: Let’s talk about Jax and Tycho’s relationship. They’re adorable! How do you see their romance as different from Grey and Lia Mara’s or Rhen and Harper’s beyond the (admittedly, very important) LGBT representation it provides?
Kemmerer: Tycho and Jax both have a tremendous amount of trauma in their lives, and I knew I was going to have to handle their relationship very delicately.
As with any characters I write, I did a tremendous amount of research before putting Jax and Tycho on paper, but these two hit a bit closer to home. (Like most women, I’ve experienced sexual assault in my past.) Tycho was sexually assaulted as a boy (readers should be aware that this is never graphically described, but allusions are made in the text of both the Cursebreakers series and in Forging Silver into Stars ), and Jax is physically and emotionally abused by his father.
They’re quite wary of each other in the beginning, and their relationship develops very slowly as they come to trust each other. The book received two starred trade reviews (one from Kirkus, and one from Publishers Weekly), and both mentioned the handling of a romantic relationship following trauma and abuse. Both reviews made me cry, because it was so important to me to make sure that readers who might have experienced something similar would be able to see themselves and that readers who haven’t would be able to find empathy for anyone in their lives who has.
Paste: The role of magic in both Emberfall and Syhl Shallow has always been an important aspect of this story—and I really appreciated the fear of those who weren’t as comfortable with it, like Callyn or many of the Truthbringers, it wasn’t trivialized or immediately positioned as wrong. After all, Grey IS dangerous on occasion and has lost control before, and not all of those who are afraid of magic are domestic terrorists. Was this sort of even-handedness important to you?
Kemmerer: Yes! Again, it’s all about nuance. There’s a reason why books and movies from the villain’s point of view always portray them as the hero. I think the Netflix show “Cobra Kai” handled this kind of storytelling really well. We all know Johnny was the villain in Karate Kid—until we hear adult Johnny talking about this new kid showing up, trying to steal his girlfriend, and playing pranks on him for no reason.
Paste: I was shocked by how fascinating I found the new/changed relationship between Tycho and Rhen. How did that dynamic evolve?
Kemmerer: That took me by surprise too! (Again, I love it when this happens.)
When Tycho and Rhen started talking, I suddenly realized that they both had a lot of shared trauma, too. Tycho and Grey were close, but their relationship was always slightly unbalanced, like mentor and student, older brother and little brother. Rhen and Tycho never had a relationship like that, so when their walls came down and they were able to talk about their fears, I think it opened a door for something new and different to grow.
Paste: Since neither Rhen nor Grey or Harper or Lia Mara are POV characters this time around can you tell us where you saw their…headspace/dynamics heading into this new series?
Kemmerer: I really worked closely with my editor on how much to include the primary characters from the first series. Obviously Rhen and Grey are going to appear a lot, because Tycho’s job is quite literally to carry confidential messages between them.
But I wanted to make sure that the story was still a new story. And all those characters are four(ish) years older now, with slightly changed roles and new perspectives. I was a very different person at 24-25 from the person I was at 20, and I wasn’t ruling a country. All of our OG characters make choices they feel are right in the moment—and all of our new characters have different feelings about those choices once they’re made.
Paste: I must admit I kind of liked Callyn and Alek as a thing! (I’m as shocked as anyone honestly.) But that final POV chapter certainly hints that their relationship is about to become more adversarial. What can you tell me about what’s next for them?
Kemmerer: Ahh! I don’t want to spoil anything. But I love Alek’s character. He was so much fun to write. I joked to a friend that if he were in our world, he’s totally the kind of guy who would have been one of the college kids who cluelessly assumed the average American income is $800,000. And yes, it’ll be adversarial, but sometimes that’s even better…
Paste: Can you tease a bit about what the sequel will involve now that Grey’s family is safe and everyone has essentially left Briarlock behind?
Kemmerer: Wait, did I say everyone is safe…? No one is safe in my books. Ever.
Forging Silver Into Stars is available now.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.