The idea for Adalyn Grace’s new book, “Belladonna,” came at a surprising time: the author was contemplating her own death.
Just over 10 years ago, Grace was working at a theater company near her home in Phoenix. Working in the technical department during a production of “The Secret Garden,” she says she was on the rafters above the stage, watching the audience below.
“I just started having all these weird thoughts,” Grace now recalls from her Santee home. “The series contains ghosts. So I started thinking, ‘What if I fell off these rafters? Will I become a ghost? Could someone see me?
At the memory of this, Grace laughs but says she started “pulling that thread” and, year after year, the story that unfolds in “Belladonna” began to take shape.
This story is about a young woman, Signa Farrow, who was orphaned as a baby and grew up living with various guardians over the years in a fantasy world loosely based on the Victorian era in the UK. When the matriarch of her remaining parents, the Hawthornes, dies and reappears as a spirit claiming to have been poisoned, Signa sets out to unravel the mystery with the help of a stable boy.
At first glance, “Belladonna” may look like a relatively standard young adult (YA) mystery set in a fantasy world, but what sets it apart is its romantic subplot – one that came to her as she watched from these theatrical rafters. . Yes, the protagonist has an irresistible connection to death itself and even makes an alliance with it in hopes of solving the mystery.
“With the Death character, I wanted to reflect the softer side of death, because it’s not always this tragic, scary thing,” Grace explains. “There’s definitely that bad side of him as well, but there’s also the peaceful, quiet moments of death. I wanted someone who was a mix of all those things and presented death in a different way.
Still, if “Belladonna” has been in the works for more than a decade, it’s because Grace says she had reservations about personifying death as one of the main characters. Yes, it’s a cool concept that would surely appeal to a teenage audience, but Grace wanted to find a way to make her personification of death stand out from the rest.
“I was trying to figure out what I needed to do to bring something new,” Grace explains. “It was daunting at first, just to almost give me permission to do it and not feel like I was doing something stereotypical. The Death and the Maiden trope is so old and has been done before, but it is so much fun.
And “Belladonna” is indeed a fun book, despite its moody and macabre subject matter. Signa is brave and sarcastic, even in her dealings and her flirtation with death. Her own creator likes to describe her as “eccentric”, “eccentric” and “outcast” with a “morbid outlook” on life.
“I really wanted to explore her journey in how comfortable she felt in her own skin,” Grace said. “Even though it draws inspiration from the Victorian era, many of the issues it faces are highly relevant, particularly to women and girls in today’s society.”
Grace’s first two books – “All the Stars and Teeth” and its sequel, “All the Tides of Fate” – were instant bestsellers, but were much lighter. She admits there can be a risk in delving into morbid subject matter, but sees “Belladonna” as the type of book that will appeal to young readers who, much like her younger self, are drawn to “more dark” and “paranormal”.
“It was just me writing about the things I loved and wish I had grown up,” Grace says. “And the things I like to read now, for that matter. This is the one that most resembles me of all my books.
“I loved Victorian stories, dark Gothic stories,” Grace says. “I was this weird kid who listened to ‘Sweeney Todd’ on a beach vacation. It was my relaxing music. So once I got down to all the things I loved, I could find the true story of “Belladonna”.
Before embarking on writing “the weird and gothic Bridgerton,” Grace grew up as a self-proclaimed “weird kid” in the Phoenix and Glendale area of Arizona. While she says she knew she wanted to write from a young age, Grace admits she didn’t know how to channel her talent in a way that made sense. After moving to Los Angeles to work at Nickelodeon Animation, she still held on to her dream of writing her own novel.
After moving to San Diego, she realized that dream in 2020 when “All the Stars and Teeth” was released. The book became something of a pandemic sensation, with readers escaping to the world of the island kingdoms of Grace. And while she was certainly thrilled with the success of the book, she couldn’t have enjoyed it as much as the other authors.
“The book came out in February, then in March it was all shut down,” Grace recalled. “I remember I had just come back from one of my first literary events in Chicago and all of a sudden I was stuck at home.”
These days, she says she’s really looking forward to stepping out to promote “Belladonna,” precisely because she couldn’t experience the full experience with her first two books.
“It’s like a fresh start, like I’m starting over again,” she says. “It’s like the second round, let’s try again. Bookstores are open. Let’s go!”
Grace is already hard at work on a sequel to “Belladonna,” “Foxglove,” which will be released next year. While she says she planned for the series to be a duology, she loves the world she created so much that she says she could easily “write in it forever”.
“I never say there will be a definitive number of books with the same characters, because I tend to change my mind,” Grace says. “We’ll have to see.”
“Belladonna” by Adalyn Grace (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022; 416 pages)
Mysterious Galaxy Presents Adalyn Grace
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 30
Where: Mysterious Galaxy, 3555 Rosecrans St., #107, Midway District
On line: mystgalaxy.com
Combs is a freelance writer.