A Q&A with Kent Davis:
Author of the A Riddle in Ruby series!
Q: First things first: tell us about The Great Unravel? Where do we catch up with Ruby?
It’s a slow, quiet kind of story.
But seriously, in the middle of all of this action and adventure, Ruby and her friends will each have to finally plant their flags to answer those most basic of questions: 1. Who am I? 2. What do I stand for? 3. What will I do to defend 1 and 2?
2) Part of Ruby’s appeal to me, is that she lives in a world that is, in so many ways, predicated on the idea of counterfactual history. I know you’ve said that your inspiration for the series stems from wanting a character that wasn’t the “chosen one”, but how did that influence your creation of her world?
(I hope that makes sense. I’m just really fascinated by the idea of counterfactual history and worlds similar, but not quite like her own.)
I have always treasured fictional worlds that reflect our own, but like a fun-house mirror: familiar, but slightly skewed. I adore the Europe of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, riddled with witches and topped with sapient, warrior polar bears. I’m fascinated by Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam books; or her The Handmaid’s Tale, set in a totalitarian theocracy in a contemporary US. Thrilled by Kim Stanley Robinson’s Years of Rice and Salt, where the Black Death killed not 30-60% of Europe’s population, but around 90%. Robinson takes that one fictional difference and uses it to imagine a very different (and awesome) history from the one we're living in now. These are worlds that seem plausible, like they could have been real… if only a few events went differently, or a few people chose, differently.
Which brings us to Ruby. And, um, an answer to your question. The Colonial America of the Chemystral Age is a place at one of those (fake) historical crossroads. It’s a sandbox where this young apprentice thief's life decisions have massive impacts on not just her family, but arguably the whole world. This is where the “chosen one” thing comes in. The stories that excited me as a kid and the stories I want to write as a slightly older kid do have massive stakes. Shakespearean. West Wing-ian, even. But they do not have prophecies that foretell a character will reunite the world/defeat an ancient power of darkness/be awesome for sure later. I don’t want the outcome to be certain, or heading for an inevitable showdown. What makes characters special to me is not who they are supposed to be, but the actions they take: the fears they face down, the risks they take, and the compromises and difficult choices and even failures they sometimes have to navigate. They’re the engines of the story, not the passengers. They’re creating history.
I like putting that kind of power in the hands of fictional 13 year-olds. Because they got this.
3) I’ve seen quite a few covers throughout my time as a book blogger, and I have to admit: your covers rank amongst some of my favorites. They’re vivid, adventure-driven, and make me immediately want to pick up the books and read.
What stands out to you about The Great Unravel’s cover? Are there any specific details that you’d like to point out?
Sorry, staring again.
What can I point out that doesn’t make me just sound like a raving fanboy? It really is full of little easter egg details. The addition to Ruby’s crew of one member: a saucy, mischievous otter automaton (ottermaton?). The quality of light. On all three covers the work with light is breathtaking. The bandolier of alchemy flasks over Henry’s shoulder. The look in Ruby’s eyes: fierce and determined. Ooh, and The Benzene Yards. The terrifying hunk of smokestacks looming on the horizon may be the crew’s final destination, and it is suitably grand and horrific. Petur also somehow snuck directly into my memories and stole the exact shades of purple and orange in the polluted sky from their actual counterparts from my university days in Philadelphia….
4) While readers always have their own interpretations of a text, is there a specific theme, idea or message that you hope readers will garner from reading The Great Unravel and the rest of Ruby’s adventures?
And the crazy wager with taking action is that we don’t control the outcome. All we can do is try, to do… and then see what happens. I think that’s a cool question for kids of all ages to consider.
5) Finally, what’s next for you? What’s new on the horizon both in terms of your writing, and in terms of what you’re doing in your downtime?
Downtime: During these crazy times I’m trying focus on big levers as well as little ones. Civic engagement is extremely compelling to me. Not just the now now now of the news cycle, but stuff like redistricting and corporate citizenship. And also smaller, even, dare I say, more important stuff: trying to connect to actual physical humans in my immediate vicinity. Reading, hiking, family, cooking for friends, watching cool stories with my sweetie. Hanging with my dog: he’s my spiritual advisor.
This was fun! Thanks!
So. Are you ready to see Kent's awesome cover? TA-DAH!
About the book:
In the past year, Ruby Teach has been kidnapped, taken to a remote fortress, and experimented on by an evil scientist working for the crown. And even though she’s finally been reunited with her friends, her trouble has not ended. The vile Dr. Swedenborg has created a machine that steals the life force out of the unsuspecting citizens of Philadelphi, and Ruby and her crew might be the only ones brave enough to stop him. With a mix of alchemy, friendship, peril, and one adorable mechanical otter, Kent Davis’s reimagining of colonial America is wholly original. The epic conclusion of the Riddle in Ruby trilogy is an engaging, hilarious, and dastardly adventure perfect for fans of The School for Good and Evil and The Amulet of Samarkand.