Interview: Alexandra Brecken discusses Silver in the Bone, magic, and more

Alexandra Bracken. CM by Rita & Co
Alexandra Bracken. CM by Rita & Co /

Alexandra Brecken’s latest book, Silver in the Bone, is the first of a new series and is already a New York Times bestseller. The story follows Tamsin Lark, a girl with no magical abilities in a world full of people with all kinds of magic. She feels a bit inadequate in comparison. But when your parent goes missing and you have to find ways to keep yourself and your brother alive, you make do. And Tamsin certainly does.

Now, ten years after her parent went missing, her brother is under a curse and Tamsin must team up with her rival in order to find a ring that could undo the curse. Unfortunately, as is the case with many rings in fantasy stories, Tamsin and her rival, Emrys, are not the only ones looking for the ring and those others are more dangerous than you could ever imagine.

Silver in the Bone is filled with magic and romance and complicated relationships with a bit of Arthurian legend thrown in for good measure. It also features the ultimate bad*ss in Tamsin who will do what it takes to get what she needs but also struggles with her own issues as well.

This is a must-read for 2023 and fortunately, I was able to interview Alexandra Bracken. She discusses what sparked the idea for Silver in the Bone, “strong” female characters, and what’s coming in the next book.

Silver in the Bone. Image courtesy Penguin Random House
Silver in the Bone. Image courtesy Penguin Random House /

Alexandra Brecken talks retellings, sibling relationships, and magic

Culturess: What sparked the idea for this story? Did the plot come first or did Tamsin?

Alexandra Brecken: Would you believe me if I told you the answer was neither? It actually began with me looking into my own family history, and finding a really unique ancestor who lived in Devon, England in the 17th century. He had a dark reputation—like, sold his soul to the devil, dark. All sorts of legends sprung up around his death that tied into the black dog folklore of the British Isles and the Wild Hunt. That discovery sent me down a glorious rabbit hole of research, and I held onto the nugget of a story idea for over a decade, and the rest of the pieces fell into place.

Culturess: What about Arthurian legend drew you to it? What made you twist it into this story?

Alexandra Brecken: To be honest with you, I wasn’t all that obsessed with Arthurian legends growing up, not the way I was into Greek mythology, or even fairytales. There was something so unbearably human and sad about Arthur’s stories to me. But during my senior year of college, I took an Arthurian literature course, and I found myself really drawn to both the history of the stories, and how they evolved over the centuries, coming in and out of the public’s consciousness.

I knew I wanted to focus on an area of Arthuriana that had received less attention from earlier writers: the mystic isle of Avalon. I’ve never understood how they could describe this paradise of an isle filled with magic and wonder and yet never really want to write about it in a meaningful way. I don’t know if it’s because it was a feminine space and they just were not interested, but I was gleeful about finally getting to take a crack at it.

Culturess: This isn’t your first retelling of legends and lore (pun intended). What is it about retellings that you like to bring your unique spin to?

Alexandra Brecken: My goal is to never retell one of these stories in a straightforward way, but to find fun and inventive ways to bring elements of them, and their overall essence, forward into a modern-day setting. It really just captures what I loved most about these stories as a child, which was to imagine what it would be like to live in a world of magic and experience the kind of heroic journey so many of these famous characters went on.

I’ve found I usually end up with one main goal for each book—with LORE, I really wanted to challenge myself to write a “modern myth,” one that captured all of the darkness, violence, and epic stakes of the original stories, but set in our world to show how the modern clashed with the ancient. With SILVER IN THE BONE, I wanted to do the opposite—to strip away the valiant, noble feel of the earlier stories and explore a darker side of Avalon.

Culturess: Your books all seem to have strong female characters and female characters who are looking to right a wrong against them. (And to do whatever it takes to do so) What about those types of stories draw you to them? Why do think girls getting their due are important stories to tell?

Alexandra Brecken: It’s really because I want to reflect how girls and women so often don’t get the justice or help they deserve, and how they’re forced to call upon their inner strength to find some sort of resolution or healing.

I like writing “strong” female leads in the sense that they’re complex, and they feel alive—they have strengths, yes, but also fears and weaknesses. They have things they love and things they despise. They have dreams and past pain that’s shaped them. That humanity allows us to connect to the characters, and see ourselves in them.

It can be so cathartic to see a character succeed, but the journey they undertake to get there is equally important, because it transforms them in some way—and they have to make an active choice to take control of their destiny and change. My hope is that my stories remind readers that there is always light on the other side of darkness, and that they’re stronger than they even know.

Culturess: Tamsin has a complicated relationship with her brother (to say the least). What did you want readers to take away from that relationship specifically?

Alexandra Brecken: Tamsin’s relationship with her brother really reflects how deep her fear of abandonment runs, but also how the same trauma can harm us in different ways.

The sibling relationship is just so unique and compelling to write about. Obviously, it’s not the same for everyone, and if you have multiple siblings, each of those relationships is unique, too. Even beyond the sense of comradery and competition, siblings know exactly how to wound one another emotionally to inflict maximum pain. You really see that with both Tamsin and her brother throughout the story—how in some ways they know one another on such a deep level, and then in others, they don’t always see one another clearly.

Culturess: How did the magic system come about in this book? Was it difficult to come up with the “rules” for the system?

Alexandra Brecken: My personal author curse is that I can take a simple story element and overcomplicate it within seconds. It’s one thing I have to really be on guard for while working out the worldbuilding of my stories, because I never want a reader to have to work so hard to keep track of all of the many rules and information that it pulls them out of the story entirely, or it reduces their overall enjoyment of it.

Originally, the sorceresses and priestesses used entirely different magic sources, which meant two different sets of rules. Not ideal! My editor was the one who helped me unlock the right way to simplify this, which wasn’t to have the conflict between them stem from the different types of magic, but, rather, to have them share a common source, and choose to use it and call it in different ways.

Culturess: What can readers expect in book 2? Can you give any non-spoilery details??

Alexandra Brecken: Oooooh, well, you can expect A LOT of answers… even answers to questions you don’t yet know to ask! There are angsty reunions and lots of action and twists, of course, and a journey to a different Otherland—but one no less dangerous.

Silver in the Bone is available now in ebook, audiobook, and hardcover formats.

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