Las Musas celebrates the book birthday of Alex Aster’s Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch!
ABOUT EMBLEM ISLAND: CURSE OF THE NIGHT WITCH...
"Worthy of every magical ounce"―Kirkus Reviews, starred review
A fast-paced series starter, perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the End of Time and Percy Jackson, filled with adventure, mythology, and an unforgettable trio of friends.
On Emblem Island all are born knowing their fate. Their lifelines show the course of their life and an emblem dictates how they will spend it.
Twelve-year-old Tor Luna was born with a leadership emblem, just like his mother. But he hates his mark and is determined to choose a different path for himself. So, on the annual New Year's Eve celebration, where Emblemites throw their wishes into a bonfire in the hopes of having them granted, Tor wishes for a different power.
The next morning Tor wakes up to discover a new marking on his skin...the symbol of a curse that has shortened his lifeline, giving him only a week before an untimely death. There is only one way to break the curse, and it requires a trip to the notorious Night Witch.
With only his village's terrifying, ancient stories as a guide, and his two friends Engle and Melda by his side, Tor must travel across unpredictable Emblem Island, filled with wicked creatures he only knows through myths, in a race against his dwindling lifeline.
"Debut author Aster takes inspiration from Colombian folklore to craft a rousing series opener that's both fast-paced and thrilling. As her protagonists face off against a host of horrors, they learn the value of friendship and explore the possibility of changing one's fate in a world where destiny is predetermined."―Publishers Weekly, starred review
Alexandra Alessandri interviews Alex Aster about her debut Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch.
Alexandra Alessandri: I’m going to fangirl for a bit—I absolutely loved Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch and I know my 12yo son is going to devour it once it arrives. It’s got characters you want to root for, a fast-paced plot, Latinx mythology, and a magical—and sometimes dark—adventure. It tackles themes of friendship, sacrifice, and not letting fate define you. I was hooked from the start!
Alex Aster: Thank you so much!!
I’m always intrigued by the inspiration behind stories. I know that part of the inspiration for Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch comes from your Colombian heritage, but is there one story or one event in particular that served as the spark?
Yes, my abuela used to tell my sister and I stories every night, which had been passed on for generations. Many of them were really scary, but they shaped my imagination, and many of the myths/characters in Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch were inspired by those stories. One tale in particular inspired the entire world of Emblem Island, where everyone is born with markings on their skin that represent their fate and talents. That story is “La niña con la estrella en la frente.”
In this story, a girl earns a star on her forehead for following the rules, while her sister is given horns for breaking them. First of all, I was obsessed with the idea of a star on someone’s forehead (I’m weirdly obsessed with star-shaped things, and even had starfish as pets growing up) and also with the concept that markings on our skin could be earned and could represent either a power or a curse.
Latinx folklore is interesting because most of these stories have been passed down orally, without being written down, so they evolve and change. So I haven’t heard every Colombian myth, and some of the ones I do know I can barely find online!
Another Colombian myth that inspired characters in Emblem Island was La Patasola. Both La Patasola and La Ciguapa were the basis for the terrifying pelilargas the characters encounter.
I had a feeling the pelilargas were inspired by La Patasola! This actually leads me to the next question. Did Colombia itself, the diverse landscapes found there, provide any inspiration for the different landscapes Tor, Engle, and Melda encounter?
That’s such a great question I haven’t been asked before! Yes, definitely. I think a lot of people have misconceptions about what Colombia actually looks like. Bogota, where my mother is from, is a bustling city, but just outside there are gorgeous rolling field landscapes, mountains, deserts that look like they are out of a sci-fi movie, and part of the Amazon is also in Colombia! The weather also varies significantly in different regions. In the book, the characters visit each of these types of environments (a rainforest, desert, fields, mountains), so that was all deeply inspired by Colombia itself. There are also volcanoes in Colombia, like Azufral which is amazing, though there aren’t any volcanoes in my book.
So cool! I definitely saw glimpses of Colombia's incredibly diverse landscapes, fauna, and flora in Curse of the Night Witch, which is why I asked. I appreciated the descriptions in the rainforest and the animals Engle identifies throughout their journey. There's a certain magic in Colombia that I saw reflected in all that the trio encounter.
The rainforest scene was probably my favorite to write! That was definitely where I pulled the most inspiration from Colombia. Most of the creatures they encounter there, the foods they eat, and the plants can all be found in the Colombian Amazon. Which is cool, because most of the real stuff sounds like fantasy!
I was also fascinated by The Book of Cuentos tales sprinkled throughout the main narrative, and how these both gave us another layer of the world but also a glimpse into what lay ahead. They felt like the cautionary tales one would grow up hearing, precisely in that oral tradition that you mention. How did you get the idea to create this added layer of storytelling?
I really wanted to create an ode to those cautionary tales that shaped my childhood, by creating Emblem Island’s very own storybook, The Book of Cuentos. All of my abuela’s stories had a lesson, and their purpose was to scare curious children into being good. The story I wrote called “The Cave of Cosas,” definitely was my version of the many Colombian stories that say, don’t be too curious or run off far from home, or something terrible will happen! Originally, I was only going to include bits and pieces of each story. But I wanted the reader to get a sense of how important these legends are to the characters and the Emblem Island society, as a sort of guide, the same way my abuela’s stories were (and continue to be) important to me.
While storytelling for many nowadays is just for children, Latinx stories really seem to affect people of our culture far into adulthood. My cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all still have a healthy amount of fear for the superstitions and monsters from the tales they heard as children! So I also wanted The Book of Cuentos to be something that older people in the community also respected and listened to.
Do you have a favorite character and/or monster from Curse of the Night Witch? And, could you give us a glimpse into what other creatures Tor, Engle, and Melda will encounter in book 2 (if, in fact, there will be more creatures and without giving too much away, of course)?
Melda is definitely the character I relate to the most. She tries really hard at school, is very loyal to her family, and is also afraid of many of the things they encounter, which would definitely be my response, too! I also really like the Night Witch. In book 2 there will be many more creatures! But, while the first book explored Emblem Island and the monsters that lurked within it, the second book takes place in the sea around the island...so the creatures are very different!
Ooh that sounds amazing. I can't wait to read it!
Thank you so much!! It was really fun to write!
I loved the theme connected with the emblems, particularly in Tor’s character arc—that our talents do not have to define us, but rather it’s what we do with them that matters more. If you could give Tor, Engle, and Melda one bit of advice, what would it be?
’m so glad you got that from the book! It’s definitely the message I wanted to communicate. If I could give them advice, I would say to stick together! They are in for many adventures, and the only way they survive, is by having each other’s backs!
It's great advice, and I do think it's something they learn--Tor especially. You did such a great in drawing them out and giving each beautifully distinct arcs.
Thank you so much! The second book definitely focuses on their growth as characters, after what happens at the end of book 1.
We get introduced to all sorts of emblems throughout the story. Leadership. Cooking. Water-breather. Seer. Know-it-all. I particularly giggled at Know-it-all, which took a playground insult and turned it into this really cool talent (though I would argue it likely comes with a heavy burden).
But, this leads me to a fun question: If you could wish for any Emblem, which would it be? (I took the Find Your Emblem Quiz on your website and I got Painting. How fun! Readers should check it out!)
Haha yes I love the Know-it-all in the book! And omg I love that you took the quiz! Painting is a great one. If I could have any emblem, I think I would choose water-breathing. Or one that is revealed in the second book. But water-breathing would be awesome. I love the ocean but can’t hold my breath long enough to see anything interesting! Tor’s passion for the ocean definitely was influenced by my own love of the sea.
I really love how a little bit of you is embedded into multiple characters. Last question: If you could give an aspiring author one piece of advice, what would it be?
Never give up. I started writing books when I was 13 and wrote 6 before one of them sold. With each new manuscript, you learn so much. Be patient, grow, and don’t rush yourself or your process. Publishing is so slow, that whenever you do sell your book, it won’t be out in the world for two years. So don’t sweat any rejection, and keep writing, no matter what. I wish someone had told me this years ago, I was so impatient!
This is great advice! I think we’re all a bit impatient in this journey. This business really works out our patience muscles.
Absolutely! Things happen so slowly anyway that a few extra months editing a manuscript before submitting is no big deal! I should have been more patient before, but everything works out the way it’s supposed to, I guess!
Bueno, to quote Engle, “To adventure!” Thank you so much for talking with me about Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch! I hope everyone loves it as much as I did.
Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch is available from Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.
Alex Aster is an author who recently graduated from The University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. The Emblem Island series is inspired by the Latinx myths her Colombian grandmother told her as a child before bedtime. She lives in New York.
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