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Female Rage, Tyranny and the Power of Friendship: Black Heat by Bex Hogan

By Georgia Appleyard

Black Heat, the exciting new YA fantasy book by UK author Bex Hogan, published on 6 July 2023. The story follows three young women who could hardly be more different: Marzal, the quick-witted daughter of the tyrannical emperor; Rayn, a rebellious blacksmith with a razor-sharp tongue and an even sharper blade; and Elena, a compassionate midwife who harbours a dangerous secret. The result is a refreshing take on YA fantasy, with complex characters and a unique, gripping plot. We had the opportunity to speak with Hogan, known for her Isles of Storm and Sorrow trilogy (Hachette Children’s Group), about creating complex female protagonists, addressing social justice in the fantasy genre, and celebrating the power of female friendships.

Bex Hogan grew up "on a healthy diet of fantasy and fairy tales," and this love for the genre formed a "natural progression" into the stories she now writes. We were curious to find out whether strong female protagonists like Marzal, Rayn, and Elena were featured often in the fantasy books that Hogan enjoyed during her own upbringing. While she recalled encountering "some great female characters" among her childhood favourites, she also noted that "their narratives were often mired in heartbreak and misery (I’m looking at you, Margery in The Juniper Tree)." Those who did break the mould and fight for what they wanted were often cast as villains and "punished for pursuing their goals." In response to the patriarchal tropes that have traditionally dominated the fantasy genre, Hogan felt compelled to "write stories that [she] would have loved to find when [she] was younger, with a range of female characters – complex, driven, flawed – with different aims and ambitions."

We asked Hogan about the potential challenge of maintaining three distinct narrators, whilst simultaneously weaving their stories together. She shared that it was both "challenging and terrifying" to work with three perspectives, but also mentioned that "having three very different characters, each with their own motivations, helped." Hogan explained that she initially approached the task by essentially writing three separate books, ensuring that each character had a complete tale with their own narrative arc. Afterwards, she meticulously organised her thoughts to identify overlaps, different narrative beats, and the big picture that ultimately combines the three perspectives. She then essentially "rewrote" the book to create one seamless story.

When asked if she relates to one of her protagonists the most, Hogan explained that whilst she resonates "with all the characters to some degree," but that she "definitely" relates to Elena the most. Whilst Marzal is able to navigate courtly life with ease and deception, Elena "isn’t a fighter or a politician, she’s just an ordinary girl doing what she loves, and hoping to make a difference in her small corner of the world," explains Hogan, "I think she has the most relatable strength of the three women: an inner strength."

As the fantasy romance genre soars in popularity, Black Heat, on the other hand, carves out a much-needed space to explore the highs and lows of female friendships. Whether those friendships are forged between the young girls in the convent where Marzal was raised, or between the dedicated midwife Aliénor and her apprentice, they take centre stage over the romantic elements in Hogan's latest novel. She explained that she "LOVES a good romance, but friendships are their own kinds of love stories. Also, the best fantasy reflects our world back to us, and female friendships provide such a solid foundation for so many of us."

Black Heat shines a light on the contrast between the sheltered life within the imperial palace and the harsh realities faced by ordinary citizens embroiled in a brutal war. Hogan reveals that "this whole book was essentially driven by my social fury, my absolute rage at the inequality we see in society – and the powerlessness to do anything about it." This frustration fuelled the worldbuilding in Black Heat, allowing Hogan to create characters who challenge injustice, fight back, and make a difference. Yet another of the novel's strengths is its celebration of moments of joyful interaction and humour among the characters. Hogan said that "the reason I write, and write fantasy specifically, is as a form of escapism." Whilst she wishes to explore weighty topics such as misogyny and war, she does not neglect to "offer that escape as well."She explains "especially with young adult literature, there should always be a sense of hope. What better way to offer that than with joy and humour?"

Black Heat is available to purchase now. Hogan’s upcoming fantasy middle-grade series Bronte Tempestra (Piccadilly Press) will be published in February 2024. You can find her on Twitter at @BexHogan and interact with all things Black Heat using #RevengeBurnsDeep.



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