When the Advanced Reader’s Copy of Jessica Leake’s Through The White Wood arrived a little over a month ago (literally with my name on it) nothing could stop me from getting down to business and reading every last word. I read sections that were cut from the final print, I read handwritten annotations from Jessica herself, I even read the section about the back about mythology and pronunciation, and even thatwasn’t enough. TTWW is the kind of book that keeps you wanting more in the best ways possible.
The Bear and the Nightingale meets Frostblood in this romantic historical fantasy from the author of Beyond a Darkened Shore.
When Katya loses control of her power to freeze, her villagers banish her to the palace of the terrifying Prince Sasha in Kiev.
Expecting punishment, she is surprised to find instead that Sasha is just like her—with the ability to summon fire. Sasha offers Katya friendship and the chance to embrace her power rather than fear it.
But outside the walls of Kiev, Sasha’s enemies are organizing an army of people bent on taking over the entire world.
Together, Katya’s and Sasha’s powers are a fearsome weapon. But as their enemies draw nearer, will fire and frost be enough to save the world? Or will Katya and Sasha lose everything they hold dear?
Inspired by Russian mythology, this lushly romantic, intensely imaginative, and fiercely dramatic story is about learning to fight for yourself, even when the world is falling down around you.
I will remind everyone that this is NOT a sequel to Beyond A Darkened Shore, although it does work well as one. Set about five years after the events of BADS, TTWW features an extended cameo from its predecessor’s protagonists, Leif and Ciara. While there are one or two ‘in jokes’, you do not need to have read BADS (although, if you haven’t, you’re going to want to get yourself a copy after you’ve read this one!).
But before you run off to order your copy, let’s have a chat to the author herself, Jessica Leake:
G: First of all, I have to say that I am in absolute awe with your ability to pull a reader into the action from the very first page, automatically loving and siding with your female protagonist. In Beyond A Darkened Shore, we were in the middle of Ireland with Ciara, watching her little sisters playing only to have them whisked away while we march into battle beside her, and then in Through The White Wood, we’re with Katya, having done something terrible and now being thrown into a sleigh, condemned.
In both situations, though, your female protagonists are thought of as ‘monsters’, both by others and by themselves. My question is WHY? Self-doubt is bad enough, but this goes above and beyond that. Why start your characters’ journeys there?
J: Thank you so much, Gurpreet! Reeling readers in by their emotions from page one is definitely my goal J. In answer to your question, though, I think it’s because, as a psychotherapist, I’ve worked with so many women whose self-esteem doesturn that dark. Their self-doubt and inner critic become like a separate entity within their minds, and their every move is criticised to the point where they feel as though they have no worth. I wanted to show how destructive self-doubt can be, even with people who have these incredible powers.
G: Speaking of the psychology of characters, we discover early on that Katya isn’t the only one in the book with powers, so how do you choose which powers belong to whom? And does that have anything to do with their personalities at all?
J: It does have a lot to do with their personalities. The reason I chose earth for Grigory is a bit of a spoiler, so I won’t mention it here, but Ivan has the power to negate others’ abilities because he’s sort of the “protector” of the group. For Boris, I thought it would be funny for this guy who loves cooking so much to be a fearsome fighter with superhuman strength. And Kharan was just made for the assassin/spy role.
G: I need to ask about Sasha here. First off, why Sasha? We’re introduced to him as Prince Vladimir, and then we learn that his mother called him Sasha. What’s the significance of that?
J: So his name actually is changed in the final version to Prince Alexander/Prince Sasha. In Russia, Sasha is a pet name for Alexander, and I changed it from Vladimir so that it would make more sense for people who were familiar with the way Russian pet names work.
G: Well, there you go, readers! If you follow me on social media and then can’t a Prince Vladimir in the book, you know why…
Jessica, why is he so perfect?! It took readers a little while before we realised just how perfect Leif was in BADS, but we’re right there cheering Sasha and Katya on from even before they meet. Was that a conscious decision?
J: I’ve toned that down a bit in the final version, but I hear you! I think it’s born out of my desire to show “healthy” males in books—boys and men to look up to (even though I secretly love reading and writing about bad boys!).
G: Don’t we all? HaHa! Last time we spoke you said that Leif and Ciara had cameos in TTWW, but they had a significantly bigger role than expected. Was that in the plan or did they forcibly push their way into the plot?
J: They completely took over! They were supposed to just be in Constantinople, but you know how they are. They can’t resist the opportunity for battle.
G: It was really funny, actually. As soon as I realised what their primary role in the book was, I was the first one screaming at the pages telling Sasha he’s an idiot for not asking them to join him in battle!
There’s actually a bit of a joke about Elation being an eagle and not… something else (really, readers, if you haven’t read BADSyet, you need to get on it!). Was there any significance to Elation being an eagle?
J: I’ve just always loved falconry, and when I looked up birds of prey in Russia, a golden eagle was one. I needed a bird that would be a powerful ally, and an eagle fit the bill perfectly.
G: I want to talk a little about the backdrop now. We’ve already spoken about your love of mythology and folklore, and why you chose Celtic and Norse mythology for BADS. Why Russian mythology for this one?
J: I talk a little about this in the author’s note at the end, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Russian folklore. It can be so dark at times, but also beautiful, and the vast Russian landscape, with its heavily wooded forests, deep snow, and ice, lends itself perfectly to a fantasy story.
G: And how do you choose which mythological beings should be in the story? Baba Yaga seems to have had a bit of a boost in profile since the John Wickfranchise, so she seemed to be an obvious choice, but what made you choose the Bannik, for example, over Domovoi or the Kikimora?
J: I chose creatures that Katya would encounter naturally—like the bannik in the banya, or the rusalka in the forest lake—and also ones that best fit the plot. But I felt like I couldn’t write a book inspired by Russian folklore without Baba Yaga! I knew she’d have to feature in the story.
G: Until Constantinople was mentioned, I didn’t realise that these are real places that you’ve chosen. Kievan Rus was a real place! So I’m curious how accurate you are history wise, and why you chose that particular period.
J: It was! I wrote about this, too, in the author’s note, but Kievan Rus’ was the birth place of three modern-day nations: Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. I knew I wanted to set the story within the same time frame as Beyond a Darkened Shore, so 11th century, and it just so happened that Russia at that time (called Kievan Rus’) was actually made up of Slavic tribes first banded together by a Varangian—their word for a Viking!—prince. I couldn’t believe how nicely that fit. The Vikings had a trade route through Russia, going all the way to Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) and beyond.
G: Knowing Varangian means Viking explains everything! So there weren’t any liberties taken with Ciara and Leif appearing, then?
J: It actually makes historical sense since the Vikings had a trade route through Kievan Rus’ at the time.
G: TTWWis significantly shorter than BADS. Here comes the big question: how much did you cut?
J: I just checked the page differences between the ARC and the final copy, and it’s only a page! It’s hard to say how much I cut because I added new scenes at the same time, so apparently it ended up a bit equal.
G: There were some bits that made me belly laugh – a particular scene with a lot of skin and heat springs to mind – how do you balance the humour with the drama and the action? Do you have to consciously go “Oh, I need a bit of comedy in there”?
J: Sometimes a scene does feel like it needs that balance, but other times, it’s all character-led. A lot of the scenes are character-led, come to think of it…
G: We discover surprisingly early in the book why Katya was kicked out of her village, even though there was an opening further on in the book for the story to be told then. Why did you choose to reveal her big secret so quickly instead of making us wait for it?
J: I originally had it written the way you’ve mentioned, but upon further read-throughs, it just seemed to drag out the suspense too much. There’s a point where a reader is like, JUST TELL ME ALREADY, and I knew there were other surprises in store in the book besides what happened in the village.
G: Following on from that, actually, there’s a fair bit of violence in this. It’s not dwelled upon at all, but it is quite graphic if you’re seeing it unfold in your head, and I’m wondering if that, too, was a conscious decision? Was it intended as shock factor or…?
J: Lol! It must not be a conscious decision, because I was totally thinking, “There’s a lot of violence in this one?? I thought I’d gone light on the violence this time!”
G: For me, at least, it was a shock factor, especially after knowing what Ciara’s powers are. Violent! HaHa!
The epilogue, without giving too much away, is a bit ambiguous to some effect so are there plans to continue with Katya and Sasha’s story?
J: I would love to continue their story! That’s up to the powers-that-be though ;).
G: You know this question’s coming: When do we next get to see Leif and Ciara? Do we get them popping into the next book? Is Katya and Sasha going to cameo in the next book? Are we meant to be looking out for all of them?
J: Same answer as above, I’m afraid! It’s up to reader interest and the powers-that-be in the publishing world.
G: Jessica, you’re killing me…
And finally, you mentioned that your next manuscript is heading off to editors now so we’ve got a little longer than normal to wait for this one, but can you tell us anything about it?
J: I wish I could say more because this is my favorite book I’ve written so far! One thing I can say is that it’s a fantasy, but I’ve channelled the psychotherapist side of me and given it a strong focus on mental health.
G: Well, your books seem to be going from strength to strength, so I’m expecting big things for this next on, Jessica! 😉
And that, readers, is that! Go get yourself a copy of Through The White Wood now!
2 winners will receive a copy of Through the White Wood (US only)
1 winner will receive a $25 Amazon eGift Card (open internationally)
Ends April 17th
Once upon a time, Jessica Leake was a psychotherapist, but even though she loved her clients, she couldn’t stop writing. She wrote and wrote until she got her first book published, and then she wrote some more. In between all that writing she had four beautiful and hilarious children with her husband (best friend and man she’s known since high school; also hilarious), moved back to her adopted hometown of Greenville, SC, built a chicken coop, and got a bunch of chickens that poop breakfast every morning. She also has two dogs to keep the chickens in line. (The dogs made her write that last bit.)