Why Renée Ahdieh is bringing vampires back to YA
Renée Ahdieh is moving into the world of vampires for her next series, EW can announce exclusively.
The best-selling YA author (Flame in the Mist, Wrath and the Dawn) will publish The Beautiful next fall, a romantic murder-mystery set in 19th century New Orleans. The book, which kicks off a new series, marks a major return for vampires in the YA space, where the creatures had become less popular in the years following major breakouts like Twilight and Vampire Academy. With Ahdieh, one of the YA’s biggest rising stars, behind it, The Beautiful should serve as a rather fitting reminder that vampires aren’t dead just yet.
Here’s the book’s official synopsis: “In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to 17-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans provides her a refuge after she’s forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent along with six other girls, Celine quickly becomes enamored with the vibrant city from the music to the food to the soirées and — especially — to the danger. She soon becomes embroiled in the city’s glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group’s leader, the enigmatic Sèbastien Saint Germain. When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the lair of La Cour des Lions, Celine battles her attraction to him and suspicions about Sèbastien’s guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret. When more bodies are discovered, each crime more gruesome than the last, Celine and New Orleans become gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose — one Celine is sure has set her in his sights . . . and who may even be the young man who has stolen her heart. As the murders continue to go unsolved, Celine takes matters into her own hands and soon uncovers something even more shocking: an age-old feud from the darkest creatures of the underworld reveals a truth about Celine she always suspected simmered just beneath the surface.”
The Beautiful is set to publish in October 2019. Ahdieh caught up with EW on why she turned to vampires with her latest novel, how she created her new protagonist, and much more. Read our interview below, and be sure to check out the trailer at the top of this post.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to write a vampire story?
RENÉE AHDIEH: Really this all comes down to love. I fell in love with books even before I could read. I would hold them — sometimes upside down — and “recite” the story as I remembered it, much to the amusement of my parents. But I fell in love with writing when I read Anne Rice’s The Queen of the Damned. That sinister sexiness, that rich history, and the madness of a life without end captivated me. Some of the first short pieces I ever wrote were about vampires, simply because I was fascinated by the lore and the world of shimmering darkness. The Beautiful is a book that has lived in my imagination for years, and I’m thrilled to share this love with readers now.
Safe to say YA has moved a bit away from vampires recently. Why were you excited to center them here, now?
I think there is always room for great stories, especially told from ever-widening lenses. When I first began writing, I thought it was smart to cater to trends, but I found I never felt as passionate about the narrative when a non-entity was dictating its terms to me. I write best when I write from a place of fiendish love for a project, and I’ve loved vampires since I was 12 years old. Now I’m craving more tales about all kinds of otherworldly creatures, from all over the world. The chance to take something familiar and bring it to life in new and exciting ways is precisely why I think storytelling is so important. I suspect I’m not alone in that sentiment!
Your protagonist, Celine, flees from Paris to New Orleans. Tease her journey for us.
When I first began crafting Celine’s story, I poured all my rage at the current political situation into her character. At how this mounting toxicity is affecting women and marginalized people from all walks of life. She’s the most like me of any character I’ve ever written. She’s loud and brash, but also tempered by fear and the need to fit into society. At the onset of the book, a specter of worry and shame hovers over her head. Celine fights back when a young man assaults her, and flees her home because she knows no one will believe her. I wrote this book months before the events in our recent past, and it’s sadly unsurprising how understandable Celine’s reaction is, even now. But this story galvanized me, even through my despair. Celine begins the book worried something is dreadfully wrong with her, and I want her journey to be one that shows her the person she is beneath her skin — with all her rage and love and imperfection — is exactly the person she was always meant to be.
What attracted you to this time period? Any particular aspects of it you were excited to draw out?
America after the Civil War has always fascinated me because I feel like our country mucked up a pivotal chance to take accountability for our past actions and enact lasting change. New Orleans in 1872 was so indicative of this lost hope. It was just before Jim Crow laws were enacted, and New Orleans was one of the only cities in the South with an integrated police force, though it was short-lived. It was also one of the largest port cities in America. Its food and its people represent the intersection of so many cultures. Like me, Celine is of mixed race, as are many people in New Orleans. I love reading about the history of our country, and I want to see more cultural richness reflected in the things we read and watch and consume. To me, New Orleans is a perfect backdrop for Celine’s story, and it provides me with an amazing opportunity to show that our history should be as inclusive and honest as we should strive to be in our present, mistakes and all.
You’re mixing a murder-mystery with a love story here. What about combining the two appealed to you?
My first series, The Wrath and the Dawn, also contained a bit of a murder mystery amid a romance. I’ve always enjoyed juxtaposing love and death in my work because they are both such all-consuming things. They represent our greatest hopes and our greatest fears. I think mixing them creates a perfect storm, and it can also force us to acknowledge who we are and what we want out of life.
What are some of your favorite vampire novels? Any particular inspirations for The Beautiful?
Of course, I adore the entirety of The Vampire Chronicles, but I will always hold a special place in my heart for The Queen of the Damned. I’m a huge fan of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. Also, George R. R. Martin wrote an amazing vampire novel that no one ever talks about called Fevre Dream. And Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books will always be a favorite. I would also be extremely remiss to ignore Twilight. Those books were so fun, and I will never forget how all my friends passed them around like rumors, staying up until the wee hours of the morning while trying to get to work and make it to their med school finals.