The Merciful Crow is an incredible fantasy story set in a rich new world, and honestly, it raised a lot of interesting questions that we just had to have answers to! Margaret Owen was kind enough to answer one burning question through Twitter, which is included in our review, but she’s so wonderful that she also did a full interview with us. Owen shared with us how she created the world, her thoughts on inclusivity, and what she loves about young adult literature. Read the full interview below!
Can you talk a little about how you created the world? It seems to be inspired by many different cultures. What made you want to write about different castes?
It was a tricky process! If there’s anything I’ve learned about people, it’s that we like two things when it comes to identifying ourselves: declaring an affinity based on shared traits (a.k.a. the Sorting Hat) and then trying to establish a hierarchy (a.k.a. “my house is better than yours”). With a society where specific people are born with innate forms of magic, it seemed natural that people would form first communities, then a hierarchy, hence the caste system.
However, there are real-world societies that have fraught histories with caste systems, and I am absolutely unqualified to set the story in a world based on any of them. At best, my depiction would have been clumsy, and at worst, harmful to readers from those societies. Instead, I tried to build a world that didn’t feel like a real-world society with the serial numbers filed off but something new. Sabor may have some familiar problems, but it’s meant to stand on its own.
How did you choose the gift for each caste?
Some of it was plot-dependent – for example, I knew one caste had to have a gift that made them extremely good trackers since they would be hounding the heroes across the country. Others wound up as a way to flesh out the culture of the world, such as the Hawk gift of healing. Some societies would look at the ability to heal wounds and say, “doctors!” Sabor looks at that and says, “super-soldiers!”
Your novel has a few examples of inclusivity that aren’t typical for high fantasy – a gay prince and a character who uses they/them pronouns. Can you talk about why you included these types of characters?
I think, to put it diplomatically, I consider it more realistic to include a variety of identities, as that’s more reflective of the world we live in. The less diplomatic answer is that inclusion is a choice, but so is exclusion. If I’ve constructed a fantasy setting where everyone is straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied, and so on, then a reader who isn’t all of those things is going to pick up my book and discover I can’t imagine a world where they exist. That’s heartbreaking.
Will this be a trilogy or a series?
This is where the power of readers really comes into play! Right now, we’re approaching it as a duology. However, if there’s demand for more of Fie’s story, that could change.
Why did you choose to write a young adult story? Will you continue to write YA in the future?
I think there’s a kind of magic to writing YA. Teens are in this age where they’re being (gradually) handed adult responsibilities for the first time but also being (gradually) allowed new adult freedoms. That combination is a primordial soup for near-infinite interesting, compelling conflicts. I’ve got way too many story ideas for YA to stop anytime soon, so fingers crossed they keep printing them!
Is there anything else you want to share with us?
Thank you so much to Margaret Owen and her publisher, Henry Holt and Co. You can purchase The Merciful Crow on Amazon or wherever books are sold. We can’t wait for the next book!