By Mary Sollosi
October 12, 2020 at 04:51 PM EDT
Credit: wednesday books; Evan Agostini/Shutterstock

Almost one year after her brother Ronan blew up the best-seller list with Catch and Kill, Dylan Farrow is making her literary debut, but in a completely different arena: YA fantasy.

"I always wanted to be a writer, [and] fantasy was sort of what started me on the path," says the author, whose first novel, Hush, came out this month. Well, not quite her first novel: As a teenager, Farrow wrote what she affectionately calls "500 pages of pure garbage," which she read aloud to her appreciative little sister. "I think that experience was really sort of formative in me deciding that this was something that excited me, this was something that really made sense to me creatively."

Having always been drawn to "dark, magical, deeply flawed worlds" like those of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials and Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea series, Farrow sought to create her own with Hush's mystical land of Montane. In this cruel, beautiful realm, all reading and writing as well as select spoken words are strictly forbidden to the lower classes, while the elite of Montane, called Bards, are skilled in the powerful magic of Telling — a form of reality-altering sorcery based in the use of language.

"Building that whole magic system [was] incredibly fun for me as a writer," Farrow says. "But I also wanted it to be something that's almost mundane, something that can be taken for granted, that just also has that added layer of possessing enormous power to alter and shape everything we know."

Her story follows Shae, a common village girl with a mysterious power. When tragedy befalls her family, Shae begins to unravel the well-guarded secrets of Montane and sets out to discover the truth about her home — and herself. When Shae first discovers her secret talent, it manifests not as a capacity for swordplay or martial arts, but embroidery — a very conscious choice on Farrow's part. "I wanted to sort of try and normalize the idea that, yeah, something typically seen as a very feminine activity can be powerful, too," she says. "In my head, I see her as a badass, but I like the fact that that badassery is sort of derived from something that is not a male-assigned activity. She probably would be a terrible swordsman, and that's okay."

The novel speaks brilliantly to the many ills of 2020 (it even begins with an account of a deadly plague sweeping across the land, the coincidental timeliness of which strikes even the author as "kind of bizarre"), and Farrow was inspired by the buildup to the explosion that has been this year. "It was seeing the environment around me change — people getting angrier, and finding outlets for that collective rage, and finding voices amid an environment that's so saturated with news and social media and echo chambers," Farrow says. "Being able to examine that through the lens of fiction was an idea that was very appealing to me."

She's not stopping there: Hush was part of a two-book deal, so Farrow is already returning to Montane for the sequel. "It's not a complete departure from the themes and the ideas that are introduced in the first book, but it's also a very different type of journey," she teases. "It's been really exciting seeing the characters grow even more, and the lives that they take on." And as far as a screen adaptation? "That would completely blow my mind."

Having been inspired to write Hush by those speaking out to effect change in the politically fraught present, Farrow sought to explore "how language and propaganda can play a role in young people finding their voice," she says. The theme has personal resonance for the author, whose allegations of abuse by her adoptive father, Woody Allen, have led her to think deeply about how the powerful can silence the voiceless. She acknowledges that, like all artists, her own life has informed her writing, but "to assign my story exclusively to the book or its characters kind of takes away from the reader's experience of finding their own connections," she says. "And at the end of the day, that is the purpose of books and art. That's how a writer's book becomes its own living creature."

Hush is available now.

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