Spotlight: Sangu Mandanna on her Mahabharata-inspired space opera, The Celestial Trilogy

In just a week, the highly awaited sequel of A Spark of White Fire, which is an impressively structured space opera inspired by the Mahabharata and other Indian myths, will finally hit the bookshelves! I had just finished my reread of the first book, and I was fortunate enough to have had the privilege of reading the second installment — both of which I read just two weeks ago — and all I have to say is fasten your seatbelts because the ride is wild, bumpy, and thrilling (and the night is full of terror).

But I’m getting way ahead of myself, I think. As part of my recent blog tour for A House of Rage and Sorrow — which was aptly named as A Tour of Rage and Sorrow — I had the amazing chance to interview its author, Sangu Mandanna.

Sangu Mandanna is an absolute sweetheart, and she is so friendly and approachable! And she made my wildest dream come true by mentioning me in her upcoming book (if you must know, yes, I am still crying my eyes out). I hope to meet her in person someday, but for now, let me share her interview answers with all of you.

SHEALEA: Sangu, thank you for (virtually) sitting down with us to share some very exciting things about your brilliant upcoming sequel (which made me cry twice!), A House of Rage and Sorrow! It’s sincerely such a huge honor to have you on my blog, and I am very, very happy to scream about your books on all my platforms.

I usually like to kick off my interviews with something light and silly. Consider these questions as a warm up!

IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS THE BEST ASIAN SOUP?

SHEALEA: Fair warning, this is a mandatory question that I ask all Asian authors I interview. A few months ago, Eugene Lee Yang from the Try Guys (a group of four male YouTubers) tweeted that one way to start a fight is by asking Asians which Asian culture has the best soup. Inspired by that tweet, here’s my question: in your opinion, what is the best Asian soup?

SANGU: When I was eighteen, I spent a few months in Cambodia, and not a day went by that I didn’t eat a bowl of beef pho at this amazing little Vietnamese restaurant. So I’m totally betraying my Indian roots here, but pho. Pho is the best Asian soup. I dare you to fight me on this.


Photo credit: Serious Eats

IN YOUR BOOK’S UNIVERSE, WHAT WEAPON WOULD YOU LOVE TO WIELD?

SHEALEA: In the fictional universe where The Celestial Trilogy is set, which weapon would you love to wield?

SANGU: Oh, definitely Esmae’s Black Bow! It’s an incredible bow, for a start, but it also has the ability to destroy any other weapon. I like that. I like the idea of being able to destroy weapons, not people.

FIGHT, MARRY, KNEEL USING THE HOUSE OF REY

SHEALEA: If you’re familiar with the silly game called Fuck Marry Kill, I’ve come up with a spin-off game for characters in thrilling SFF books: Fight Marry Kneel. Among the younger characters in the House of Rey (i.e. Esmae, Alexi, Bear, Max), who would you fight, who would you marry, and whom would you kneel and pledge allegiance to?

SANGU: This one is easy! I’d marry Max, swear allegiance to Esmae, and fight Bear. Not because I’d want to hurt Bear (who would?!) but because I think he’d be the one most likely to go easy on me.

WHAT FOOD AND/OR BEVERAGE WOULD YOU PAIR UP WITH A HOUSE OF RAGE AND SORROW?

SHEALEA: If I wanted to snack on something or have a drink in my hand while I read A House of Rage and Sorrow, what food and/or beverage would you recommend? And why do you think these would complement or go well with the book?

SANGU: A nice, hot cup of masala tea. I think you’d need a hot drink for comfort and the masala tea feels right for a book so inspired by Indian stories!

WHAT DID YOU FEEL WHILE YOU WERE WRITING A HOUSE OF RAGE AND SORROW?

SHEALEA: Yay, thank you for playing along! For the rest of the interview, let’s talk about A House of Rage and Sorrow and all the ways this sequel is bound to break hearts (I am only partly kidding).

What did you feel while you were writing the second book of The Celestial Trilogy, especially given the reader reception from its predecessor, A Spark of White Fire?

SANGU: Terror and agony. No, really. A Spark of White Fire has a small but incredibly passionate readership, many of whom feel a strong connection to the Mahabharata, so I was very aware while writing this book that I didn’t want to disappoint you all. I think there’s also a special kind of terror that comes from being an underrepresented voice in children’s fiction and knowing that, with a sequel in particular, you are going to be held to standards that authors from more frequently represented backgrounds are not. (And the agony came from, well, writing the actual story, which is. Um. Brutal. Sorry!)

WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN WRITING THIS SEQUEL?

SANGU: Other than the emotional weight of everything I talked about in my previous answer, plotting was easily my biggest challenge this time around! A second book in a trilogy can so easily fall into a slump because it doesn’t have the shiny newness of the first book or the epic finale feel of the third, so I spent a lot of time writing and rewriting my outline until I felt like the plot was right. And then, as ever, the characters did their own thing when I started drafting and a few surprises popped up that I didn’t expect!

WHAT WERE THE MOST REWARDING ASPECTS OF WRITING THIS BOOK?

SHEALEA: In contrast to the previous question, what were the most rewarding aspects of writing this book?

SANGU: There are a few scenes in this book that I’ve been imagining in my head since I first started writing A Spark of White Fire over four years ago, so it was amazingly satisfying and exciting to finally be able to put them on the page! (Hint: the thumb!) Writing Esmae was also really rewarding because she hurts so much and changes so much in this book, so it was incredible to follow her on that journey.

WHAT ARE THREE OF THE KEY THEMES THAT YOU EXPLORE OR DISCUSS WITHIN A HOUSE OF RAGE AND SORROW, AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE ABOUT THESE THEMES?

SANGU: Like Spark before it, the theme of family and found family in particular is such a key part of the story. Family is easily the most important thing in my life, whether that’s my romantic relationship with my husband, or my relationship with my parents, or with my children, or with friends who are as much my family as anyone I’m related to, so it’s always an important part of my writing. (Though I’d like to think my personal family dynamics are much less messed up than poor Esmae’s!)

The second theme that I think are intrinsic to this story are the inevitable price extracted by history. I do explore the destructive, ruinous effect of war in this trilogy, but I think what’s even more essential to the story than that is how that war comes about. One of the things we see unfold across this story is how the choices made decades before the present day have a ripple effect across time. Like our own world, choices are made over centuries, over years, over months, and ultimately, it’s the generations that come later who pay for it.

Finally, one of the most important parts of Esmae’s character arc is the question of who counts as someone. Who is important? Who matters? Whose life is worth saving and whose isn’t? Esmae and I both believe that everyone is important, but that’s not something that comes easily in her world. Or in ours.

WHAT CAN READERS EXPECT FROM A HOUSE OF RAGE AND SORROW?

SHEALEA: We’re down to the last question! What can readers expect from A House of Rage and Sorrow? And what should readers have at all times while reading it?

SANGU: Keep that hot drink and a box of tissues close by! Readers can expect a very angry, wounded Esmae; quite a bit of trickery; much more Titania; a terrible betrayal; some swoony kissing; and a whole lot of rage and sorrow.

Some content warnings that may be helpful: grief, war, violence, murder, discussion of suicide.

Sangu Mandanna was four years old when an elephant chased her down a forest road and she decided to write her first story about it. Seventeen years and many, many manuscripts later, she signed her first book deal. Sangu now lives in Norwich, a city in the east of England, with her husband and kids.

I’d love to hear from you!

🌻 What do you think about this interview? Do you agree with Sangu’s choice for the best Asian soup?

🌻 Have you read A Spark of White Fire? If not, are you planning to pick it up soon?

🌻 Are you greatly anticipating the release of A House of Rage and Sorrow this coming September?


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3 thoughts on “Spotlight: Sangu Mandanna on her Mahabharata-inspired space opera, The Celestial Trilogy

  1. Lovely interview, Shealea! ❤ Ah, I am so excited for this book to release! Sangu is such a sweet heart, and yes, pho is one of the BEST Asian soups. It'll always be a comfort of mine! I love how A House of Rage and Sorrow focuses on family and found family, not unlike the first novel. I cannot wait to dive into it soon!

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  2. This is such an incredible interview, Shealea, I loved all of the questions you asked! I am reading A House of Rage and Sorrow right now and I know the damn book is going to break me – I ugly cried during my re-read of Spark! Definitely going to brew up a warm beverage to soothe my damn soul while reading.

    Like

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