If you’re captivated by the court politics in The Cruel Prince by Holly Black and the heist adventures from Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan will keep you up at night. When Abriella makes a deal with a menacing Unseelie King to save her sister, she enters the world of two warring fae courts and battles various moral crises. Tasked with stealing various magical objects, Brie is swept into a fantasy land rife with betrayals and lies.
Upon hearing this premise, we had to hear more. So today we speak to Lexi Ryan about fairytales and what prompted the switch to fantasy after writing contemporary romance for the duration of her career.
“I did this deep dive [into high-fantasy] and just devoured everything I could get my hands on. I needed something more powerful than I typically get in a contemporary romance. I needed the Big Magic and the Big Bad. I needed to write about hope and how powerful it can be. It was exactly what I needed at the time and I had so much fun writing it,” Lexi tells The Tempest.
Reading is a coping mechanism for many and after what she deemed as a “crisis of faith”, Lexi channeled her frustrations into getting lost in fiction, which in turn partly inspired her venture into writing a new genre. But don’t let this newfound obsession with epic fantasy fool you; Lexi is no stranger to the world of the paranormal.
As a fan of the Sookie Stackhouse novels and True Blood, the genre has always been a favorite pastime for the author. Even her childhood sparked a fascination with all things supernatural. “I have four big brothers who always played Dungeons and Dragons. And they were always coming up with the big monsters and the characters who could fight the big monsters and the powers and the spells and potions. I would sit on the stairs to the basement and they’d all sit around the pool table playing Dungeons and Dragons. On some level that way of storytelling, it’s stuck with me. So I liked the idea of being able to go to Faerie where I could really bring in these fantastical creatures and these monsters and the magic,”
The atmosphere in These Hollow Vows has an eerie bedtime story feel to it and the reader discovers all the magic along with Brie. Lexi comments: “I really wanted to explore the myths and the characters from all the legends. So, that’s really what my research was. Who are the creatures in what I’ve read, who I haven’t really gotten to see much of or what’s a new take? I was reading about the Banshee, this woman who sits on your chest when you’re sleeping and, screeches, I had to put that in there!” Even library pixies that live among the books make an appearance.
Lexi is most excited for readers to meet the character of Lark as through her, she developed a lot of the magic system and rules. “She embodies so much of the world and the magic and the potential,” she begins. Lark can see the future but not in the conventional sense. “I kept playing with and then fighting against the idea of fate. I’ve just never been a big believer in fixed fate. I’m a free will girl. In fantasy, very often, fate plays such a big role. So through book one and book two as well, there’s kind of a push and pull. It was fun to use Lark to represent what that means,” Lexi continues.
As for crafting the entire book, it began with the protagonist. Abriella’s motivations drive the story – primarily by her determination to save her sister but also the need to discover herself along the way. “I’m very much a ‘work from the inside’ kind of a writer. So I have to write my way in. It’s not very efficient! It means I have to rewrite a lot. For me, it started with Brie. What is she up against? And I want her to be powerful because powerful heroines are awesome, but I don’t want her to be so powerful that this journey she needs to go on is easy,” Lexi reveals.
Undoubtedly, the most impactful theme in the story is the study of overcoming your prejudices. The humans in These Hollow Vows grew up with a perception that the fae are all unsavory beings, a belief rooted in the tales passed down through generations. Lexi uses Brie as a vessel to prove the need to form your own opinion despite being told otherwise, which mirrors modern society in many ways. She explains: “There’s something universal about the way we can all connect to [fairytales]. For Brie, it was about constantly questioning the fairytale, and almost with bitterness toward the story that she’s been told over and over again. And she almost has to get to a point where she takes them seriously.”
When asked how Brie’s personality affected the story, the author admits that everything would’ve played out very differently, if her sister Jas had been the main character. “[Jas] was so optimistic and so full of hope. And she almost would have looked at the world with like, stars in her eyes, and seeing all of these amazing beautiful things that were certainly there.” Brie is a much more “hardened and cynical” character, and so we see the world “through more of a critical lens”. Lexi continues: “[Brie] always thought fairies were so evil, and then being able to like realize that, yeah, some of them are, but so are some humans.”
Now romance readers, listen up because as well as energetic action and heists, qualms of the heart play a part in Brie’s journey. Undoubtedly, a certain prince (or two!) will steal all of your attention. Lexi’s background in writing romance is very evident throughout the book as she gives Brie an impossible choice to make by creating two polar opposite love interests. For Lexi “wanting your protagonist to be wanted by more than one person isn’t a good enough reason to have a love triangle. You need to have a compelling reason to make this happen”. She’s right, of course, as a successful love triangle contributes to the plot across multiple themes, not just romance.
In the case of These Hollow Vows, the heartwrenching lines aren’t just there to make you sway with emotions though; they’re very driven by what the characters offer Brie and how compatible their personal goals are with her own. “So much of the story is about who we think we can trust and the assumptions we make about people. The things that she’s been taught about different groups of Fae versus what maybe is true. And then, of course, I was able to give her kind of different pieces of information because of the different motives of the two love interests.”
Above all, Lexi believes in not shying away from what you’re good at when writing. “Anyone who reads my contemporary romances knows that there are going to be fierce friendships, and there are going to be family bonds that can survive really awful tragedy,” she says. These Hollow Vows is no different and every character is affected by their relationships, which brings up the question – does writing so many books with the same themes become too formulaic? According to Lexi, not at all. “Most romance writers are very prolific. We write several books a year. Are they too similar? Instead of worrying about that, embrace it, embrace that that’s who you are as a writer. That’s the story you have to offer readers. You’ll probably tell that story in 1000 different ways over the course of your career. And that’s okay. Because we all have a core story, and it’s just part of who we are,” she advises.
If you’ve already read book one, Lexi also reveals what you can look forward to in the sequel: “In book two we have a protagonist who doesn’t have the wool pulled over her eyes quite so much. She’s more aware of the world around her. I think readers will really enjoy seeing just how much of a badass Brie can be.”
After THAT ending we can’t wait to see what further chaos Lexi has planned and in the meantime we’ll be rereading These Hollow Vows until the pages fall out.
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