Kiera Cass Says Goodbye (For Now) With Swoon-Worthy Romance A Thousand Heartbeats

Books Features Kiera Cass
Kiera Cass Says Goodbye (For Now) With Swoon-Worthy Romance A Thousand Heartbeats

No one in the world of young adult publishing writes romance quite like Kiera Cass. The author of the bestselling The Selection series and The Betrothed duology is known for her strong female characters, lush and fully realized settings, and, of course, swoony love stories full of twists and longing. And her latest novel, A Thousand Heartbeats is no different.

The story of a pair of star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of an impending war, the tale follows the dual POV story of Princess Annika of Kadier and Lennox, a mercenary from the exiled clan of Dahrain. Annika is a dutiful young woman who agrees to marry her overbearing cousin in the name of strengthing the throne and placating her father the king, who has become cold and distant in the wake of her mother’s disappearance. Lennox, for his part, believes that Kadier’s throne rightfully belongs to the Dahrainians and is willing to fight to reclaim what his people have lost. But when a series of potentially deadly events throw the two together repeatedly, they discover that their bond might just be strong enough to overcome the uncomfortable history of lies and family secrets that have kept their kingdoms at odds with one another for so long.

We got the chance to talk to Cass herself about what she says is her “last planned novel,” how A Thousand Heartbeats is different from her previous books, and her favorite romance tropes.


Paste Magazine: No one does YA fantasy romance like you, Kiera! (In my opinion, anyway, and apparently fandom’s as well!) How do you keep finding new ways to tackle familiar stories of star-crossed lovers and unexpected romance?

Kiera Cass: I think it’s okay to admit that the same situations happen over and over, both in fiction and in real life. The thing that makes them all unique is the way people approach them. My characters all feel very real and individual to me, and they rarely make decisions the same way I would, and they don’t come to the same conclusions as one another either. So it’s always interesting for me to follow the story as it unfolds, to see how they’re going to make mistakes, how they’re going to thrive. I hope that experience is just as exciting for the reader.

Paste: How does A Thousand Heartbeats compare to some of your other works, like The Betrothed or the Selection series? What sets this one apart for you?

Cass: I really do like playing with impossible situations and scenarios where the love story affects more than just the two people falling in love. Those things tend to come up a lot in my books. I also love seeing strong friendships or seeing friendships grow where they seem unlikely, and that comes up in A Thousand Heartbeats as well.

I think the big difference here is the way I’m telling the story. Having two different people tell the story and needing to arrange their timelines so they coincide neatly was a real challenge. But, for me, it was so rewarding, and I hope the readers enjoy seeing the same thing unfold through two different sets of eyes at once.

Paste: At one point you said your previous Betrothed series was evocative of Tudor England. Is there a similar comparison point for A Thousand Heartbeats?

Cass: Yes! While the world and kingdoms themselves are of my own invention, as far as fashion, technology, and general vibes, think Marie Antionette or Pirates of the Caribbean. Someone once commented that, because my stories all take place in different times, it could all be one universe, and I really love the idea that, going from The Betrothed up through The Selection, it could all just be one wild overlapping timeline. How do we get from one to the next? No idea. But that’s okay!

Paste: Tell me about doing a dual POV story for the first time—was it more challenging to try and shape the story from the perspective of both lead characters?

Cass: Yes! I knew this was going to be difficult for a myriad of reasons. One, I don’t spend a lot of time in my male character’s heads. Back in The Selection world, I did a novella for both Maxon and Aspen, but an entire book (and a rather long book at that) in a boy’s brain is a stretch for me. Second, Annika has a lot of little things happening in her world while Lennox is much more singularly focused. Still, his perspective on what’s happening is really valuable to the story, and I didn’t want to take any of that away from him. Lennox also has a really interesting sense of humor, and I loved watching it grow from the snide comments in his head at the beginning to the things he just blurts out toward the end.

Also, we tend to think of whoever is telling the story as the one in the right. They have every reason to believe they’ve been wronged, that the other person is to blame. It was interesting to feel that change every time the narrator switched.

Paste: Annika is such a great entry to your sort of overall catalog of strong fantasy heroines. Tell me about how you see her journey through this book.

Cass: Yeah, let’s talk about my ladies. America, Eadlyn, and Kahlen all had a certain level of seriousness about them. America grew up in poverty, Eadlyn was raised with a crown on her head, and Kahlen had to deal with the teeny tiny issue of murdering people… it’s a lot. But they’re all finding joy on their journeys, and I think that’s part of their charm and why people enjoy their stories. When Hollis came along, it was fun to swing the pendulum to the other side and have someone who really had no concept of being serious or responsible at all, and then watch her grow into that role so beautifully.

Enter Annika. She sort of encompasses it all at once. She’s had some very heavy things happen to her, but she refuses to lose her spark. You can see it on the first page, and you can see it on the last. She could easily let herself feel like a victim considering the things that have happened in her life, but she doesn’t. She has this quiet strength to her that I really admire.

Paste: One of the things I loved best about this story is that it doesn’t shy away from the brutality of war and the ugliness that can come with ruling a kingdom, while still leaving a place for kindness in (well, at least in some) of your characters. How did you balance all these competing elements of this story?

Cass: Honestly, I’m hoping I did an okay job with this. I knew that the backdrop for Annika and Lennox’s story wasn’t an easy one, and I knew they’d both have lasting scars before any of it even started. So I hoped to tell it gracefully. While I don’t have anything as big as a war in my background, I (and I think most people) can understand what it’s like to have something leave a mark on you.

In the last few years, I’ve been working through a lot of forgiveness, and that’s something that’s come up a lot in their story, too. I’ve said before that I don’t go into my books trying to teach a lesson or give a moral, but it does feel like sometimes I go in with a question, and I seem to try to answer it in 80,000 words or so. I’m not sure. But forgiveness seems to have been on my mind.

I don’t know that this answered the question!

Paste: I know A Thousand Heartbeats is meant to be a standalone story, and the book’s epilogue does leave everything in such a satisfying place overall. But could you ever see yourself revisiting this universe in some way?

Cass: I’ve learned to never say never when it comes to any of my characters or worlds. Right now, there’s nothing in my head, but that doesn’t mean something won’t come. I have more of The Siren, and there are things from The Selection world in my head, so you really never know!

Paste: As someone who writes a lot of romance, what’s your favorite romance trope to read?

Cass: Oh my goodness. I’m just realizing something like RIGHT NOW. Almost everything I write has a reluctant romance in it. Friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, etc. And I love to read that, too! Or like, the guy you completely wrote off but turns out to be more than you expected? I love it…

I just realized that’s me and my husband. I rejected him like 3 times before agreeing to date him. We’ve been married 18 years, have 2 amazing kids, and are having more fun together every year. So… art imitating life, I guess?

Paste: What’s next for you as a writer? Are you working on anything you can share with our readers?

Cass: So, for now, A Thousand Heartbeats is my last planned novel. Like I said before, I’ll never say never, but it’s time for a break. And if this is the last book I put into the world, I can step back happily.·

Paste: And, finally, the most important question: What are you reading and enjoying right now?

Cass: Ok, so I haven’t gotten to read anything non-academic for a while, but my break-is-coming TBR is the third book in the American Royals series by Katherine McGee, Seoulmates by Susan Lee, and Sorry I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys.

A Thousand Heartbeats 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.

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