Astrid Scholte's standalone YA novels are among the most exciting stuff being put out in the genre right now. EW has an exclusive preview of her latest.
If you love YA fantasy and don’t yet know the name Astrid Scholte, allow us to make an introduction. The author burst into the teen scene this year with her delectable debut, Four Dead Queens, a bloody mystery envisioning a nation divided into four distinctively ruled kingdoms, that was released in the winter to best-selling success.
But unlike fellow recent breakouts in the space like Toni Adeyemi or Karen McManus, Scholte’s work is of the standalone variety: fast-paced reads that develop complete — and separate — stories, worlds, and characters in each book. In a market dominated by epic series, it feels like a refreshing change of pace.
And so Scholte will return next year with The Vanishing Deep, of which EW can offer an exclusive preview. The new novel finds Scholte operating in an entirely new mode — that of the dystopian thriller touched with the supernatural, where people have the ability to revive the dead… for only a day. The book is set on a long-destroyed planet, where inhabitants have learned to live on the water; 17-year-old Tempe is offered the chance to buy back her deceased sister Elysea’s life for 24 hours, which she takes. After all, Tempe wants answers: Elysea was responsible for the death of their parents.
At the top of this post, you can take an exclusive look at the cover for The Vanishing Deep, and then we have an in-depth Q&A with the author on the success of her debut, shaking things up with Book 2, and more. The Vanishing Deep publishes March 3 and is available for pre-order.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Four Dead Queens was one of the year’s breakout YA debuts. How did you feel about the response? Was it unexpected?
Definitely unexpected! It’s been a surreal few months where I’ve often had to pinch myself. I’ve wanted to be a published author since I was little, and while I’ve written many different manuscripts over the years, it wasn’t until I wrote Four Dead Queens that I signed with an agent. Unlike my other manuscripts, there was immediate interest in the concept, and I hoped this enthusiasm would translate to readers once the book was released, but you never know. My aim was to write an immersive read with characters that readers will love — or love to hate! — and a build a world they never want to leave. When I hear that readers are eager for a sequel or prequel about the queens, I know I’ve achieved my goal!
It’s a lot of work going from high-concept standalone to high-concept standalone. Do you enjoy the worldbuilding?
My favorite part of the writing process is building complex worlds, and asking “what if” questions: What if a nation was divided into four distinct regions and each ruled by a different queen? And in The Vanishing Deep, what if you could revive your deceased loved one for 24 hours? Spending the last 10 years working in visual effects and animation has influenced my creative process and inclination to write cinematic novels with complex worlds. I want the reader to feel like they’re watching a blockbuster movie with a vivid, captivating world that leaps off the page.
How did the writing experience of Four Dead Queens inform your next book? What did you learn about yourself as a writer, and your process?
The writing process for both books were similar in the way that I didn’t plot or plan and let the story unfold organically. I’m driven by concept first and foremost and flesh out characters, plot and setting while writing the first draft. It can be a concerning way to work, as I don’t know what’s going to happen next or what the ending will be. Also, I often have to do extensive revisions, which was the case for The Vanishing Deep, but this process allows me the creative freedom to follow any narrative path that may arise, which often surprises me — and hopefully, the reader.
What was the genesis for the story behind The Vanishing Deep?
The initial spark of inspiration actually came from The Real Housewives of New York City. The show is a guilty pleasure of mine, and in an episode, one of the housewives mentioned that she wished she had one more day with her late husband. The idea stuck with me and I wrote it in my journal back in 2015. However, it wasn’t until early 2017 that I started writing about a facility that could provide the service of reviving your loved one, but only for 24 hours. I then started developing the concept of a waterlogged planet that is essentially deceased, as the backdrop for the story.
You’re exploring the strength of sisterhood in this novel. What about that theme appealed to you? What within it did you want to unpack?
Like Tempe, I have a sister who is two years older than me, so sisterhood has always been an important aspect in my life. Sisters can often have a complicated relationship, and this is also the case for Tempe and Elysea. In the beginning, Tempe is furious with her dead sister for keeping a secret about the night their parents died, but mostly, for leaving her alone in the world. I wanted to explore the lengths a person would go to for the people they love and the importance of family bonds.
How would you describe The Vanishing Deep’s pace, especially coming off such a breakneck debut? Did you want to change things up at all?
I’m a huge fan of fast-paced novels that grab you by the throat and don’t let go. I know I’ve done my job when readers say they couldn’t put Four Dead Queens down or read it in one sitting. In The Vanishing Deep, time is the real villain of the story. We know from the outset that Elysea has only 24 hours left to live, which puts this immense pressure on every moment the sisters have together. Once Elysea is revived, the book kicks into high gear and the characters, and reader, are acutely aware of how much time remains. I wanted the book to feel like an action movie with the pace of a runaway train that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat up until the final word.
What do you hope readers take away from The Vanishing Deep?
While the book explores dealing with grief and the fragility of life, it’s essentially a story of two sisters. I want readers to question how they would react in they were in Tempe’s shoes and what they would be willing to risk or sacrifice for the person they love. Ultimately, I hope that readers find themselves lost in the beautiful but deadly world of The Vanishing Deep.