Sara Holland shares the secrets of Havenfall, along with some sequel hints

Photo: Havenfall by Sara Holland.. Image Courtesy Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Photo: Havenfall by Sara Holland.. Image Courtesy Bloomsbury Children’s Books /

Culturess chats with Havenfall author Sara Holland about her new novel, her process of writing this twisty story, and what else she’s reading these days.

Havenfall, the latest novel from author Sara Holland, hit shelves last week. (And, spoiler alert: It’s a great story that manages to feel fairly unique in the current YA fantasy landscape.) On the surface, it’s a tale of a a mysterious inn hidden beneath the Rocky Mountains that serves as as a crossroads between other magical worlds. But it’s also the very realistic and relatable story of a regular human girl trying to figure out her place in the world, and who she wants to grow up to be.

The Inn itself is a neutral zone, sworn to provide a safe haven for anyone from any of the Adjacent Realms. Each summer, delegates from these lands – the crisp, icy Fiordenkill and the hot and barren desert world of Bryn – visit our world, charged with revising and renewing the peace agreement between them all. This is the way it has been for generations, through good times and bad, even when a fourth realm – the dark and mysterious Solaria – was cast out from the others. The Inn remains. And so does its purpose.

Teenager Maddie Morrow has always viewed summer trips to Havenfall with wonder. She adores her uncle Marcus, the Innkeeper, and loves the way she’s able to be fully herself around the visiting delegations. She hopes to become Innkeeper herself one day. But when tragedy strikes and a monster attacks, Maddie must step forward to fill her badly injured uncle’s shoes sooner than she’d ever have imagined. And that means she’s not only got to solve the mystery of how the doorway to a forbidden realm opened in the first place, but do it while placating power hungry guests and keeping the Inn and its secrets safe.

Culturess got the chance to chat with Holland herself recently about her inspiration for Havenfall, what it’s like writing contemporary fantasy, what we can expect to see in the story’s sequel and more.

Culturess: Havenfall is a really appealing mix of contemporary and more traditional fantasy elements – and something that isn’t really out there in the marketplace so much at the moment. (People tend to pick one lane or the other.)

Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with this story and what made you want to tell it?

Sara Holland: I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you! A lot of my favorite books growing up combined reality and fantasy in various ways—from Harry Potter and His Dark Materials to the Shadowhunters books and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I loved how they added a glimmer of wonder and possibility to my life: they let me believe, at least momentarily, that at any moment I might get an invite to a magic school or run into some demon hunters or stumble upon a doorway to another world. That magic just might be waiting around the next corner.

With Havenfall, I’m hoping to give that same sense of possibility—of maybe, just maybe—to my readers. And I’m lucky to be part of a resurgence of YA that mixes contemporary and fantasy—there is an embarrassment of riches on shelves right now! Readers who love that combo of magic and contemporary can reach for Labyrinth Lost, The Hazel Wood, The Cruel Prince, Shadowshaper, The Devouring Gray, Wicked Fox, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Infinity Son, and many more.

Culturess: How did coming up with the world of Havenfall compare with writing your Evermore/Everless series? Easier? Harder? Just different?

Holland: It was easier in some respects, because when you’re writing in the real world—at least some version of it your readers are already familiar with the story world, and you don’t have to explain what the setting looks like on a basic level.

But setting a fantasy story in the modern day also posed some challenges I hadn’t faced before: instead of creating whatever rules I wanted for the magic, I now had to account for the real world’s challenges and limitations, and figure out how magic would have been kept under wraps. It was tricky at times, but working around such obstacles is part of the fun of writing!

Culturess: Havenfall is so well imagined it might as well be a character in the book itself. What inspired/how did you come up with this setting?

Holland: While promoting my first book series, I stayed in a lot of hotels. They’re strange spaces—luxurious, comfortable, but full of strangers going in and out. In a hotel, you sense that anyone could be here, anything could happen, and it seemed like a great place to hide something magical. So when I was trying to figure out what my next book would be about, I took the idea of a magical hotel and ran with it.

However, I didn’t know where to put it. For a bit, I thought I might set it in the Upper Midwest, where I grew up, or in New York City, where I live now.  But then I thought about the Rocky Mountains—remote, misty, mysterious—and it immediately felt right and inspired the rest of the story.

Culturess: Maddie is such a realistic and relatable character! I love how resilient she is and how willing to stand up and make choices even when she’s afraid. What do you like most about her?

Holland: Maddie was so much fun to write! Unlike Jules in Everless—who, given the option would probably choose to have just a nice, normal, peaceful life on a farm or something—Maddie is ambitious; she wants big, exciting things out of her life. But she’s also full of self-doubt, and those two qualities are constantly clashing—anxiousness and ambition.

That duality is something I definitely relate to, as I think is the case for a lot of young people, especially girls. So I really enjoyed writing it into Maddie.

Culturess: As much as I liked Maddie and Brekken, I thought she and Taya also had great chemistry – can readers hold out hope we’ll see her again? (Also, can I just say how refreshing it is that Maddie’s attraction to both of them is just another part of her character and not a plot point.)

Holland: Thank you so much–and rest assured, you have not seen the last of Taya! 🙂

Culturess: What can we expect to see in Havenfall’s sequel? Vague hints are fine! And are you working on anything else you’d like to talk about?

Holland: In the sequel, we’ll get to see Maddie venture outside the bounds of the Inn and perhaps outside of this world!

Culturess: And what are you currently reading these days? I’m always looking for things to put on my TBR.

Holland: I was lucky to snag an early copy of Incendiary, Zoraida Cordova’s start of a new fantasy series, which will be out next month! It’s a dark, sweeping story with Assassin’s Creed vibes about Ren, a girl who has been made a weapon of by the enemies occupying her kingdom, and must fight while dealing with the distrust of her allies and her own self-doubt.

I’m currently reading A Phoenix First Must Burn, an anthology of sci-fi and fantasy short stories by black women and non-binary authors edited by Patrice Caldwell, and it’s awesome! And next up is The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski—I love her writing and am so excited to sink back into her world.

Next. Havenfall is a delightful mix of traditional and contemporary fantasy. dark

Havenfall is available now, wherever books are sold.