Coming, Fall 2022 . . . the Highly Anticipated . ..
I have a scoop.
Not just any old scoop. A scoop that I think will highly please the many folks that thoroughly enjoyed the Dylan Meconis graphic novel Queen of the Sea.
Folks, were you left wondering about the future adventures of Eleanor, Francis, and Margaret at the end of the last book? Have you been hankering for more to the story? Then have I got good news for you! Today, I’ll be speaking with Dylan about upcoming sequel, Prince of the City AND I’ll share a bit of art from the book. What more could you ask for?
Betsy Bird: I think I speak for large swaths of people when I say that the existence of a sequel to QUEEN OF THE SEA fills me with unmitigated joy. Yet one of the things I loved about QUEEN was the fact that it could, in theory, stand on its own. Did you always envision it to be part of a larger series or was this a late decision?
Dylan Meconis: When you’re the person who writes the story and the person who has to draw the entire story, you are always very excited to have an idea that fits into one book!
Preferably a short book. Extra credit if it takes place in an empty white void and the characters wear the same outfits all the way through.
The original story crumb for Queen of the Sea was “a new person arrives at a peaceful, isolated convent and ruins absolutely everything,” which is a great one-book idea. (Also: the nuns wear the same outfits all the way through!)
But it pretty quickly developed into “a deposed queen is exiled to a peaceful, isolated convent and ruins absolutely everything for a little girl who lives there, who may secretly be her half-sister and possibly a competing heir to the throne,” which is not a tidy one-book idea.
I was much more excited to make that version of the book, though. I also set myself up to really enjoy drawing it – sections of illustrated prose, different art styles, diagrams, and lots of funny farm animals to draw, not just page after page of paneled layouts.
As both a reader and writer, I really enjoy endings that leave you wondering what everybody does next (I realize I’m in the minority there!). This story had a natural inflection point where the “ending” would feel ambiguous but not random, and I knew I would be okay with it if I didn’t get to continue it any further.
So I hedged my bets and pitched Queen of the Sea as a “standalone book with series potential.” (Feel free to steal that catchphrase, fellow authors.)
BB: Can you give us a rough approximation of the plot?
DM: Our three intrepid escapees from the Island – Eleanor, Francis, and Margaret – travel to the Continent aboard the Regina Maris. Their enemies think they’re dead, so they have to adopt some unusual disguises, and rely on odd jobs and the charity of Elysian convents to get by.
Their mission is to convince the rulers of other kingdoms to join in fighting Queen Catherine…before she realizes that Eleanor is still alive and starts hunting her down.
The first stop is the bustling but severe new Republic of Batavia, where Margaret finds herself delivering shipments of rare pigments to the workshop of the most popular (and mysterious) royal portrait painter on the Continent.
With the help of a charismatic explorer, the group books passages on a ship bound for their next stop – the tiny but powerful City of the Gate, a walled kingdom at the far Southern end of the Continent. It’s been ruled for hundreds of years by two different royal lines, each representing one of the city’s two major religions.
Just as they arrive, an awful calamity throws that alliance into question, and Eleanor, Margaret and Francis are caught up in the aftermath. Margaret suddenly has to learn three new languages, navigate two different palace kitchens, keep up with a terrifyingly powerful scullery maid, solve a murder mystery, win the trust of a reluctant prince, and save three to four kingdoms.
You know, all in a day’s work.
BB: The first book was a fictionalized rendition of a time in the life of Queen Elizabeth prior to taking the throne. And while there are lots of fictional elements, the realistic ones prove equally fascinating. How closely does PRINCE OF THE CITY keep to historical events?
DM: It goes a bit further afield, although it still borrows from broad stroke events and cultural geography. English-language readers are taught more about English history than that of other places (even though so many of us live thousands of miles away, on colonized land with hundreds of thousands of years of its own human history).
Along with that shared education, we’re encouraged treat English history as our cultural heritage, so doing impertinent things like fictionalizing Henry VIII by changing his name and killing him off early doesn’t carry a very big potential for misrepresentation to the point of harm.
That level of playfulness is less appropriate when you want to share ideas inspired by personalities or events from other cultures. No kid should have to read yet another England Is Very Important book and feel like their culture’s history has been raided for cheap entertainment. But I also remember how exciting it is as a kid to read a book and unexpectedly get to see parts of your heritage or identity represented in a way that’s very cool.
So, outside of a couple more characters from Albion, the story doesn’t mess with (or shorten…) as many actual historical figures’ lives. I did change the outcomes and timelines of some major events, which allowed certain settings to exist when in real history they were already gone or hadn’t yet come into existence, but I tried to always alter them in favor of the exiled or subjugated parties.
We’ve got enough “what if…even more things had gone wrong?” scary revisionist historical fiction out there already. Kids and adults need help to build our muscles for imagining positive and empowering alternate realities, so we can help make those things happen in this reality.
…I think you can tell that I was raised in a Star Trek family.
BB: If I might ask, what are some of the kid reactions you’ve seen to QUEEN OF THE SEA? Have they had suggestions for you in terms of a sequel?
Oh my gosh, they’re the best. I’ve gotten reports of several kids learning to play chess, some amazing fan art, reports of a few museum visits being a lot more fun than initially expected, and a bunch of e-mails from parents along the lines of “please tell me there will be a sequel so my children will know peace once more.”
I haven’t gotten a ton of specific story suggestions, but kid readers are all very concerned about whether Eleanor will get the crown back, and if Margaret’s going to be okay. (At least I’ve been able to to reassure everybody who asks that, yes, the three of them safely make it to the Regina Maris in that last scene!)
BB: Okay. Here’s a tricky question. A kid reads QUEEN OF THE SEA. A kid reads PRINCE OF THE CITY. Now the kid wants to know as much as humanly possible about the real Queen Elizabeth. What do you recommend that they do?
DM: If there’s one where you live, you should go to the library! (Your school library counts, too.) The nice thing about Elizabeth is that she was a really big deal and she lived and ruled for a really long time and it wasn’t even that long ago (trust me, the 16th century is basically “last Wednesday,” historywise.)
There are a ton of books about Elizabeth written for kids, but I think some of the ones written for adults will actually be more interesting for Queen of the Sea readers. (One of the great secrets about adult history books is that a lot of them have a big section of photographs and paintings in the middle.)
I always ask a librarian for help finding the youth titles and adult books, and if nothing captures my interest, I ask for help looking up other titles that may be checked out or at another location. A lot of libraries also have apps that let you watch movies and documentaries and listen to audiobooks for free!
For readers who like listening to stuff on boring family car rides, almost every British history podcast has an episode about Elizabeth, or sometimes about Elizabeth and her favorite playwright, Shakespeare. (Librarians also tend to like podcasts and have good recommendations, FYI.)
BB: And finally, big question: What percentage of this book contains any nuns whatsoever? I suspect I may miss my nuns.
DM: It is definitely a lot less nuncentric, but the sisters of the Elysian order are still pretty important to the story – if you’re on an international adventure, it’s pretty useful to have connections with the nuns who have a convent in every city with a port! We get to meet some other kinds of nuns, too.
Margaret learns that some aspects of convent life that she thought were universal are actually just Island things. It’s that strange moment you get when you find out that other families make their macaroni and cheese differently.
At any rate: there will be nuns.
BB: Hooray! New nuns!
Enormous thanks to Dylan Meconis, Jamie Tan, and the good folks at Candlewick for this reveal, interview, and these lovely interior images. Can it be 2022 now, please?
PRINCE OF THE CITY. Copyright © 2022 by Dylan Meconis. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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