Fantasy literature used to be treated as “niche” or “genre” work, even “pulp,” barely deserving consideration as “literature” at all. The same has held true in the cinematic realm. But in recent decades, that prejudice has been gradually eroded by the release of new works whose quality bears comparison to other contemporary classics, and new generations of readers and viewers have embraced the identity of fantasy geek wholeheartedly. It’s all happening just in time for the holder of an endowed chair at Vassar College, Sarah Kozloff, PhD, to make her debut as a fantasy author. She’ll be at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck on Sunday touting A Queen in Hiding, Book One of her new quartet of novels The Nine Realms. The full series is already written, and the sequels will be released, originating in paperback, on a monthly basis.
“Genre” wouldn’t be a daunting pejorative in any case to Kozloff, who cut her teeth in film production and has been at Vassar since 1988 as professor of Film History. Her scholarship focuses on American cinema, particularly on issues related to speech, narrative and ideology. Her typical courseload includes surveys of genre films such as Musicals, War Films, Romantic Comedy; cultural studies courses such as The McCarthy Era and Film; and in-depth seminars such as The Films of Alfred Hitchcock and American Women Directors.
It was in the process of teaching that American Women Directors class that it occurred to Kozloff that some of her most beloved movies, Peter Jackson’s screen adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, flunked the “Bechdel Test,” a now-standard parameter for judging whether or not a work of literature, film or TV show is sexist. The bare-bones baseline: Is there at least one scene in which two or more named female characters have a full conversation about something other than a man? Alas, Tolkien’s novels on which Jackson’s films were based also flunked the test. It was that epiphany that inspired her to begin writing an adult fantasy series of her own, putting female characters at center stage. As she told one interviewer, “My vision was: What if Aragorn had been a woman? What if a realm awaited the return of a queen?”
And so, beginning in 2017, she reduced her teaching to one semester a year to begin a new life as an author of epic fantasy. Her academic credentials probably didn’t hurt, as she has been already accepted into the Science Fiction Writers of America. Unsurprisingly, “cinematic” is one of the adjectives being employed by early readers of The Nine Realms, the first volume of which has already been released by top-tier fantasy publisher Tor Books. A Queen in Hiding will be closely followed by The Queen of Raiders in February 2020, A Broken Queen in March and The Cerulean Queen in April.
In Book One, readers meet Cérulia, Princess of Weirandale. Orphaned, exiled and hunted, she must master the magic that is her birthright, become a ruthless guerrilla fighter and transform into the queen that she is destined to be. To do it, she must win the favor of the spirits who play a role in mortal affairs, assemble an unlikely group of rebels and wrest the throne from a corrupt aristocracy whose rot has spread throughout her kingdom. Sounds like catnip to readers who love badass female characters in a medieval setting. Can a movie or TV miniseries deal be far behind?
Kozloff’s book launch event for her debut novel, A Queen in Hiding, gets underway at 4 p.m. on Sunday, January 26 at Oblong Books, located at 6422 Montgomery Street in Rhinebeck. To reserve your spot, or to order a signed copy (for $12.99), visit www.oblongbooks.com/event/book-launch-sarah-kozloff. To learn more about the Nine Realms series and the author, visit https://sarahkozloff.com.
A Queen in Hiding book launch, Sarah Kozloff, Sunday, Jan. 26, 4 p.m., Oblong Books & Music, 6422 Montgomery St., Rhinebeck; (845) 876-0500, www.oblongbooks.com/event/book-launch-sarah-kozloff.