It’s June and that means it’s time for another year of Pride Month spotlights! I’m so excited to spotlight Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin and share the interview with the author!
Welcome Elisa! Thank you for allowing me to interview you! Can you start off by introducing yourself?
Hi, thank you for having me! I’m Elisa, the author of Dauntless. I’m originally from the Philippines, but I lived in the US for 12 years while I was attending university and graduate school. I have a PhD in oceanography, and I now live in Germany where I work as a postdoctoral researcher. But I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and having my novels published is a dream come true for me!
How would you describe Dauntless in one sentence?
Dauntless is a story about two girls who fall in love but have to stop their peoples from going to war to be together.
Can you introduce us to the main character(s) of Dauntless?
Dauntless has three POV characters. The first is Seri, the main character. Seri is sixteen years old, and after something terrible happens in her hometown, she ends up working as an assistant to Eshai Unbroken, a young valor commander whose deeds have made her famous among the People. At first, Seri struggles to find a place for herself in the shadow of Eshai’s legend, but over the course of the book, she becomes a legend all on her own.
The second POV character is Tsana, Seri’s love interest. Tsana is seventeen, and has come to the land of the People with her master, Srayan. Tsana is a member of a mysterious group of people who can communicate with beasts, and has been sent to study Seri’s People. As their worlds collide she finds herself having to choose between Seri or everything she’s ever known.
Finally, the third POV character is Eshai herself. Nineteen years old and already legendary, Eshai finds herself struggling under the burden of fame and responsibility. As events push her to her limits, she must decide what kind of leader she will be, and what it means to be a hero.
What representation will readers find in Dauntless?
Dauntless is set in a Filipino-inspired fantasy world, so while the concept of the Philippines doesn’t exist in-universe, readers will still find Filipino-representation in Dauntless, particularly in the appearance of the characters and the food they eat. Readers will also find sapphic representation in Dauntless, as Seri and Tsana’s relationship is central to the book. Dauntless is set in a world where LGBTQ+ relationships are not treated any differently from any other relationships.
Do you know from the beginning how your books will end or do you let your characters decide their journey?
It totally depends on the book! For the most part, I start out with an ending in mind, but if over the course of the book, I start to get the sense that the characters are heading toward a different ending, I’m open to changing things.
Without spoilers, while I had a lot of Dauntless’ ending planned from the beginning, I wasn’t quite sure how Seri would pull off what she was meant to do in the climax until much later. Stolen City’s ending, on the other hand, came about a lot more organically. I knew what each of the characters’ goals were, but in my first draft, I let all their goals crash into each other until I figured out who came out on top and how they did it.
I know the ending of my current work in progress, because I have an outline to work from this time. But if my characters start pushing the story in a different direction, I’ll be open to changing that ending too.
Do you have a favorite scene, moment, or quote from the book?
My favorite quote from Dauntless ended up on the back of the book, and actually gave the book its title. It’s the first charge of valor: “Be dauntless, for the hopes of the People rest in you.”
When I was developing the world and society of Dauntless, I wanted to emphasize that the People had a rich set of histories, mythologies and stories that weren’t necessarily written down, but that were passed orally from generation to generation. Many of those stories had to do with the reality of living in a very dangerous world, and the role the valiants occupy in that world. While the rest of the charges of valor are a bit more focused on practical details, I really loved the idea of the first charge being something aspirational, something that valiants are expected to be. Dauntless.
What is something readers will find in Dauntless that they may not realize based on the synopsis?
While the story is focused on Seri and Tsana, I think one of the things people might not realize from reading the synopsis is that there’s quite a lot of the book written from Eshai’s POV. I really enjoyed writing Eshai’s sections, because Seri and Tsana are both outsiders in their cultures, and Eshai is such a star example (come back to this interview after reading the book so you can see the pun I snuck in there) of the People. She exemplifies their ideals of courage and honor and leadership, and I loved writing how she balances her perceived role with her own feelings and wants, and how mentoring Seri has also helped her grow and change.
What’s something you hope readers will take away from Dauntless?
I wrote Dauntless during a time in my life when everything was changing. I was finishing up my PhD, I was preparing to move to a different continent, and I was having to deal with the fact that my life, which had been in kind of the same place for several years, was about to change dramatically. I was excited for those changes, but I was also a bit afraid. I think that Dauntless’ narrative about embracing the unknown, about seeing change as something to be faced with courage, was born out of my own feelings back then. In the end, I chose to look at change as an adventure, and that helped carry me through it all. If Dauntless helps any readers face their own upcoming challenges in the same way, I would be very happy.
What are three books you would recommend if someone enjoyed Dauntless?
If you’re looking for more YA fantasy reads, there are a lot of excellent debuts coming out this year. Since 2020, I’ve been part of the 22debuts, a group of debut authors. Our website has a searchable database of all debut novels, which you can find here. There’s something for everyone, but if you enjoyed Dauntless, I’d recommend Akshaya Raman’s The Ivory Key for more action and adventure and Riss M. Neilson’s Deep in Providence for more Filipino and queer rep. Although I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I’m also excited for Melissa Karibian’s A Song of Silver and Gold, which is a sapphic retelling of The Little Mermaid that promises some high seas adventure.
What’s next for you? Anything you can share?
I have another book coming out this year! My sophomore novel, Stolen City, releases on Sept. 20, 2022. It’s another YA fantasy, set in a completely different world from Dauntless, and it’s a heist novel about twin thieves who live in a colonized city and steal back magical artifacts from their colonizers. They end up stealing the whole city back in the process.
ABOUT THE BOOK
A teen girl must bring together two broken worlds in order to save her nation in this lush, Filipino-inspired young adult fantasy novel from debut author Elisa A. Bonnin.
“Be dauntless, for the hopes of the People rest in you.”
Seri’s world is defined by very clear rules: The beasts prowl the forest paths and hunt the People. The valiant explore the unknown world, kill the beasts, and gain strength from the armor they make from them. As an assistant to Eshai Unbroken, a young valor commander with a near-mythical reputation, Seri has seen first-hand the struggle to keep the beasts at bay and ensure the safety of the spreading trees where the People make their homes. That was how it always had been, and how it always would be. Until the day Seri encounters Tsana.
Tsana is, impossibly, a stranger from the unknown world who can communicate with the beasts – a fact that makes Seri begin to doubt everything she’s ever been taught. As Seri and Tsana grow closer, their worlds begin to collide, with deadly consequences. Somehow, with the world on the brink of war, Seri will have to find a way to make peace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elisa A. Bonnin was born and raised in the Philippines, after which she moved to the United States to study chemistry and later oceanography. After completing her doctorate, she moved to Germany to work as a postdoctoral scientist. A lifelong learner, Elisa is always convinced that she should “maybe take a class in something” and as a result, has amassed an eclectic collection of hobbies. But writing will always be her true love. Publishing a book has been her dream since she was eight years old, and she is thrilled to finally be able to share her stories. She is the author of Dauntless and Stolen City.