I am incredibly honored to have interviewed and featuring one of my favorite authors and human beings, Ana Lal Din, on Talk of Tales. This has been in the works since May of this year (2021) and we are finally putting it out there! In this interview, Ana gives wonderful answers about The Descent of the Drowned, the nuances and thought process that went into it and more on the sequel, The Blood on the Blade. (Watch trailer!)
Stay tuned for a special exclusive excerpt!!
About the Author
Ana Lal Din is an #ownvoices author who was born in a Danish southwestern city and raised in a small town outside Copenhagen. At the age of 8, she wrote her first short story after which she decided that she wanted to be a published author.
Passionate about culture, language, religion, and social justice issues, Ana’s story worlds are usually full of all four. What drives her as a writer is developing characters that are psychologically and emotionally complex, reflecting human nature at its darkest and brightest—and everything in between. Since Ana is a Danish-Pakistani Muslim with Indian heritage, she often explores the intricacies of a multicultural identity through her characters.
The Descent of the Drowned is her debut novel and the first in a trilogy. If you’re the social media type, you can follow her on Instagram, Twitter, or GoodReads.
About the Book
She is bound to serve. He is meant to kill. Survival is their prison. Choice is their weapon.
As the sacred slave of a goddess, Roma is of a lower caste that serves patrons to sustain the balance between gods and men. What she wants is her freedom, but deserters are hunted and hanged, and Roma only knows how to survive in her village where women are vessels without a voice. When her younger brother is condemned to the same wretched fate as hers, Roma must choose between silence and rebellion.
Leviathan is the bastard son of an immortal tyrant. Raised in a military city where everyone knows of his blood relation to the persecuted clans, Leviathan is considered casteless. Lowest of the low. Graduating as one of the deadliest soldiers, he executes in his father’s name, displaying his worth. When he faces judgement from his mother’s people—the clans—Leviathan must confront his demons and forge his own path, if he ever hopes to reclaim his soul.
But in the struggle to protect the people they love and rebuild their identities, Roma’s and Leviathan’s destinies interlock as the tyrant hunts an ancient treasure that will doom humankind should it come into his possession—a living treasure to which Roma and Leviathan are the ultimate key.
[ in bold are the questions. any spoilers or possibly triggering content will have the question preceded by a spoiler warning or trigger warning — so feel free to skip that question along with its answer. ]
Hi, Ana! Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how your writing journey started.
Hi! I’m a Danish-Pakistani Muslim author. Though I was born and raised in a small town outside Copenhagen, I moved to England in Fall 2019 to study English Literature. As the youngest child of immigrants, I had a multicultural upbringing throughout which I spent a lot of time on my own, but fortunately, I had a very vibrant, overactive imagination to keep me company.
My writing journey started at an early age as I grew up in an environment where libraries were a sanctuary and books were portals to other worlds. Those worlds lived inside my head with every book I devoured. At eight years old, I wrote my first story and, after that, I realised I loved telling stories as much as I loved reading them. I haven’t stopped writing since then.
For those who haven’t read the March 2021 release already (how?!), please pitch The Descent of the Drowned in 1 single sentence.
A thought-provoking story about a casteless prince seeking redemption and a sacred slave seeking freedom in a dark world where humanity has drowned, and where reclaiming yourself comes at a terrible price.
What inspired you to write such a dark, complex, and thought-provoking story, specifically as a Young-Adult (YA) novel?
I have always been politically aware. Sociocultural, political, and religious issues were at the center of conversations in my family. Growing up in a Danish society made me incredibly conscious of experiences such as discrimination, because the focal point of a lot of debates in Danish politics was (still is) how to force immigrants (and especially Muslims) to assimilate. Apart from that, I experienced the caste system up close among other Indian-Pakistanis. My interest in social justice only intensified over the years until I became politically active.
I started attending conferences about the Middle East in 2010, but they left me feeling frustrated because no solutions were offered, no guidance as to how to help Palestine and Syria. At the time, I was following a great deal of independent media sources for intense on-the-ground news. All of it combined gradually began to affect my mental health at which point I had to withdraw from the news entirely for a long period of time. When I sat down to write TDOTD, it was because I desperately needed to do something about the helplessness I felt. Understanding the power of the pen in return empowered me. I thought: Why not use writing to produce meaningful stories that spread awareness and bring marginalised voices into the center?
I chose YA since it’s a popular market. I wanted to reach the next generations who are responsible for building a better world than we have and I wanted to spread awareness among them, to inform them about things that they may not see or hear in the mainstream media, and hopefully encourage them to research on their own. To educate themselves because the system doesn’t.
The Descent of the Drowned is an immersive character-driven story. How did these complex and morally ambiguous characters come about, especially while exploring the intricacies of a multicultural identity through their characterization and individual arcs?
What fascinates me the most about humans is our complex nature. Oftentimes, we prefer to read stories that have heroes and villains, but humans are so much more multifarious than plain good and evil. While I do believe in good and evil, I also believe in the shades in between, and those are the nuances I like to explore in my characters. When I fleshed out the characters in TDOTD, I focused on building humans.
I was raised in a household where we not only spoke a mixture of Urdu, Punjabi, Danish, and English, but the environment was also a blend of all of those cultures, including the Islamic culture. At times, it was confusing and frustrating. That confusion and frustration is something I channeled through Levi and Roma in how they struggle with their environments and with themselves.
Levi is biracial and casteless and Roma is from a lower caste with strongly religious ties. For Roma, the battle is between her spiritual upbringing, the societal culture and customs, and her own beliefs. For Levi, the battle is particularly his split identity, not understanding where he belongs, not being accepted by the higher caste or the clans, and figuring out what he personally believes in and who he wants to become.’
Who would you say was your favorite and/or most interesting character to write about? And on the other hand, who was your least favorite or difficult to grasp?
My most favourite character to write is Ashar. No doubt about it. I love his light-hearted, laid-back nature, and how straightforward he is about things whether it’s emotions or opinions. With Ashar, what you see is what you get. There are no hidden intentions, no deception, and his outlook on life is proactive. Even in tense situations, he’ll focus on solutions. Also, it’s so much fun writing a flirtatious character with a deep love and respect for women. I think that people will find his story surprising in the sequel, and that’s something I’m looking forward to.
As for the most difficult one to grasp, Levi takes the crown. I set myself a monumental task with his character. Not just because he’s a trained soldier with exceptional combat skills and senses (and that took extensive research), but his mind, personality, and behaviour are very complex, which altogether doesn’t make him an easy character to navigate in writing, especially in a way that helps people understand him.
On your writing and outlining process: Which aspect of the story was solidified first and foremost, and why do you think that is?
Definitely the characters. It’s always the characters for me. They come to my mind first, and then I start to develop their backgrounds, thought patterns, and so on. I think that it’s because, personally, I’m a writer who writes for the characters’ journeys. While I do enjoy a great plot, it’s secondary to the characters to me, and so I can read a book with a relatively weak plot but absolutely love it just because of the characters. I tend to gravitate toward stories, both in books and cinema, that focus wholeheartedly on the characters. Maybe it’s also because I’m a sensitive person, so I seek emotional experiences and connections.
Why did you choose a colonized Indo-Persian world inspired by pre-Islamic Arabian mythology as the setting for the story?
I wanted to explore the consequences of colonisation, especially since it’s such a significant aspect of my own heritage. Normally, we see how the colonisers bring their belief system to the colonised land, but other aspects are neglected such as cultural appropriation. In TDOTD, we see that the Silvers (who are the colonisers) have appropriated the culture of the indigenous people, enforced taxes on them for personal gain, and claimed their resources. We see how they use the people’s festivals as entertainment and adopt their honorifics as well as parts of their language as a way to indulge in something they consider “exotic.”
As for the pre-Islamic Arabian aspect, I wanted to draw parallels between the Jahilliyah period and South Asian society. For instance, I thought it important to comment on how certain customs such as burying your newborn daughters alive was a tradition in pre-Islamic Arabia and still takes places in South Asia. I was also fascinated by the pre-Islamic Arabian gods and goddesses worshipped by different tribes and peoples for various purposes. I didn’t delve deep into the historical background for the pre-Islamic Arabian mythology, but saw it as an inspirational foundation upon which to build my own mythology. This is one of the reasons why I have a goddess like Lamia in the story who is loosely based on al-Lāt, but doesn’t represent her, while I also have gods and goddesses directly taken from pre-Islamic Arabian mythology (such as Ruda, Quzah, etc.)
How was your process researching the sociocultural and political issues from different cultures such as South Asia, Afghanistan, the Middle East and more?
It was difficult. And long. I spent a lot of time accumulating articles, books, and basically anything that would educate me. History is such a complex entity to study. Many days, I was just digging up sources and attempting to understand them. I had to familiarise myself with the plight of the Rohingya People by reading where they came from, who they were, why they were being persecuted, and then move on to articles about their current circumstances.
With Palestine, I read Rashid Khalidi’s Palestinian Identity among other books and researched articles all the way back to 2010. For South Asia and Afghanistan, I studied harrowing customs, systems, and war crimes. I remember I wrote two essays (one on Palestine and one on caste system) to internalise the knowledge I had acquired because it was so much.
However, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think that part of what makes TDOTD resonate with readers is the research behind it. While the process was long and, at times, painful, it was necessary and rewarding on top of it.
[ ! trigger warning — rape, trauma, abuse ! ]
The Descent of the Drowned handles marginalized and underrepresented (especially female) voices with such care and importance interwoven through the overall story and plot. Was it difficult to portray the heavy themes conveyed through the main characters, Roma and Leviathan?
Yes. So many times yes. Something I had to do for Roma’s experience as a rape survivor was to read survivor accounts in order to understand what someone in that position goes through emotionally, mentally, and physically. There were accounts so awful that I was physically ill after reading. What scared me the most was whether I would be able to treat the themes with the care they deserved. I have read many books where rape is used as a plot device to create drama or action in the story, and I wanted to stay far away from such a narration.
Roma’s rape had to be conveyed as the traumatic, destructive experience that it is. It had to portray how deeply a trauma can go, and how difficult it actually is to deal with it and move past it. With Levi, the experience was far more personal because the emotional abuse that he experiences from his father was drawn from my own experience with an abusive relationship. To bare and explore that was difficult.
I think that it is easy for people to sort of sigh and say: Oh, when will this character move forward? But then, the truth is that such experiences can mire you. Most traumas mire you. If you’re still in the environment that traumatised you, you cannot possibly move on, especially without a support system or trauma treatment.
If you could switch places with any of your characters, who would it be, and why?
This is hard because all my characters go through so much, but I would switch places with Ashar. Just because of the way he sees life and the way he lives it.
The title of your book, The Descent of the Drowned, alludes to the “fall of humanity,” which is a critical reality of the story. Looking at the overarching theme of the trilogy, would you say there is a balance between this looming fate of devastation and the strong voice of hope and survival?
While all three books are quite dark, we will see some beautiful parts of life come into play for the characters. We will see people find hope in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. We will see them fall in love, forge strong friendships, enjoy moments with people who matter, and experience the rewards that you can find in the smallest of things. For an oppressed, traumatised people, those are the imperative moments. They might not experience the kind of burden-free happiness of someone who lives in a peaceful place with food on the table every day, but they hold on to the smaller moments that reaffirm life, and they hold on to each other.
To be honest, I believe that faith and hope thrive in darkness. Without darkness, you would never need hope, never reach for faith, and I think that my characters embody that.
For science research purposes, if the prominent characters in The Descendant of the Drowned were living in our modern day and age, what would be their outfits’ style?
I love this question. Roma would be a sweater and jeans kind of girl, and Levi would switch to tank tops with jeans because he doesn’t like wearing a lot of clothes, or a close skin-to-fabric contact. As a bonus, Ashar would probably wear bomber jackets, or leather jackets with leather boots. He’s all for the leather.
We know each character in The Descent of the Drowned has a bit of you in them, but which of them would you say conveys your experience and mindset the most?
Levi, all the way. Unfortunately, I have his pessimism, struggles with faith, and difficult self-image as well as his confusing experience with a multicultural upbringing.
What would you like readers to take away from the story of The Descent of the Drowned trilogy as a whole?
I hope that it makes readers more aware of sociocultural and political issues, and how essential it is to protect our humanity. To be compassionate. To listen, understand, and help.
The anticipation for the sequel, The Blood on the Blade, is real! Could you give us exclusive quotes, snippets, etc. to look forward to?
Honestly, I struggle so much with not sharing literally every single thing from the sequel, but here’s a special quote that I haven’t shared elsewhere:
“People don’t need to be blamed for their mistakes. People need hope. They need forgiveness. Bad things happen, and it hurts like hell. You grieve. Then you find a way to move past it. You find a way to heal. That’s what matters.”Exclusive Excerpt from The Blood on the Blade (The Descent of the Drowned, #2) by Ana Lal Din
Give us 3 emotions of how The Blood on the Blade is going to make us feel like.
Shocked, emotional, and excited.
Speaking of unreleased shenanigans, you’ve mentioned before that you’re working on another YA fantasy that is a Danish-inspired fairytale. Could you tell us more and what to hopefully expect from it?
Yes, absolutely. You can expect representation of sociocultural issues as well as psychological and emotional complexity, but, unlike TDOTD, this is a dark, twisted romance that will explore the corruption of innocence, a both beautiful and terrible love, and unhealthy relationships. More specifically, it’s the origin story of a female antagonist.
Lastly, what do you think is the most surprising thing you have learned, or are learning, through creating such an incredible story as The Descent of the Drowned trilogy?
I have learned so many technical things about writing which is something that makes me feel really excited, but I think that the book has taught me a lot about myself as well, about the kind of writer I want to be and the kind of work I want to put out, and that’s truly invaluable.
That was it! Thank you so much, Ana, for coming onto my blog! Anything you’d like to add?
I want to thank you so much for inviting me on your wonderful blog! It’s truly such an honour to be a part of it, and I will always treasure this experience.
Thanks so much to Ana for this incredible experience and being one of the kindest people I’ve ever come across. I cannot (but will) wait for the sequel and everything else Ana comes up with in the future.
If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading. Hope you enjoyed this interview, make sure to follow Talk of Tales book blog for more interviews and special content to come! Have a wonderful day ~