Kurara has never known any other life than being a servant on board the Midori, but when her party trick of making paper come to life turns out to be a power treasured across the empire, she joins a skyship and its motley crew to become a Crafter. Taught by the gruff but wise Himura, Kurara learns to hunt shikigami – wild paper spirits sought after by the Princess.
But are these creatures just powerful slaves, or are they beings with their own souls? And can a teenage girl be the one to help them find their voice – and change the course of an empire?
Exquisite world-building, a dramatic and gripping plot, and an array of deep and believable characters – explored through multiple perspectives – make this a hugely exciting fantasy adventure debut.
The inspiration behind Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin
My debut book, Rebel Skies, is the first in a Japanese-inspired Asian Fantasy trilogy filled with origami magic, cities in the skies, and flying whales.
Kurara has always known that she can make paper dance and origami animals move. What she doesn’t know is that those who can wield paper magic are prized by the empire for their connection to the wild and ferocious paper spirits that terrorize the land. However, when her best friend is injured in an attack, she joins a crew of hunters aboard the skyship Orihime in order to learn how to fully wield her power and save her friend.
When I was ten, a family friend taught me how to perform magic. With just a square of paper, she could turn it into a crane, a pig, a rabbit. It seemed she could make anything she wanted. I think that it was at that point my fascination with origami began. Later, I would go on to submit a portfolio entitled ‘Folds’ for my Year 11 Textiles course – twelve pages of fashion designs inspired by origami. There’s something about paper as a medium for creation that captures my attention like nothing else.
That fascination stayed with me even as I put pen to paper and began writing Rebel Skies, my debut novel. In the world of Rebel Skies, certain people have the ability to wield origami magic. They can use paper to create weapons, shields, and even leash paper creatures to their will. It leads to some very creative battles and getaways!
Yet the magic of the world was inspired not just by my personal obsession with paper, but from a number of old Asian folktales and Asian mysticism as well. In traditional folklore, exorcists could use paper talismans to seal away demons. Paper could also be given power when imbued with magic or prayers. Spirits could be summoned and bound inside paper manikins. Even today, there are paper charms that you can buy from many temples in Asia, usually tucked inside cloth. I actually have two paper charms of my own – one given to me by an uncle during a visit a Buddhist temple when I was a child, and another given to me much more recently by a friend. I really love the idea that paper, which a lot of people see as fragile, can also be this powerful and fearsome thing.
However, most books are never just born from one idea. They’re an amalgamation of a writer’s hopes, interests, and obsessions. For me, that second obsession was with early modern Japan, also known as the Meiji era.
I had read Natsume Sōseki’s work in my late teens and enjoyed them enough to want to read about the period that he was writing in. One innocuous internet search later, I was down a rabbit hole researching the periods that came before and after, finding books on the various wars waged, looking at badly photographed pieces of art work, and reading a whole lot more literature. I filled my head with (mostly) useless pieces of facts and trivia about the period. (Did you know the writing system was standardized during this period? Did you know that Emperor Meiji encouraged the population to drink milk and wrote it into policy?) I was, in a word, obsessed.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint what exactly about this era ignited my imagination so much. However, for many years my interest remained just that – an interest. It had nothing to do with my dream of being a novelist. I wasn’t planning to be a historical writer, after all. Besides, the allure of paper magic was beckoning me. I was going to write fantasy!
Then it occurred to me. I could write about both!
It seems obvious in hindsight, but as a child of the 90s, there wasn’t much in the way of Asian Fantasy, at least not coming from Western publishing. What I could get my hands on were often sword-and-sorcery type books set during the feudal period. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to realize that I didn’t have to stick to stories about samurai and warring clans.
Thus, the marriage of two obsessions gave birth to the book I have now. The world of Rebel Skies is full of cities awash in the glow of electric lights. Flying ships crowd the sky and the scream of steam trains fill the air. Samurai are a thing of the past and the military police patrol the streets with pistols strapped to their waists. People who can control paper use their powers to fight while paper spirits leave villages flattened and livestock dead. From start to finish, it was a joy to create, and I hope that readers will experience the same joy as they step into the world.
Ann Sei Lin is a writer, librarian, and book nerd with a love for all things fantasy. Though London is now her home, she spent several years in Chiba, Japan, living in a rickety apartment block next to a rail station where the rush of the midnight train would make the walls shake. When not writing, she is often studying, gaming, or trying to make that origami rabbit for the one hundredth time.