Dark YA fantasy Seven Faceless Saints is set in a richly detailed magical world with a complex political hierarchy. The city of Ombrazia is built around the worship of seven gods, who have each gifted their descendants—known as “disciples”—-with specific kinds of magic. Unfortunately, those without similar gifts are discriminated against as part of a lesser caste known as the “unfavored,” citizens who are destined to live lives of poverty and strike, with their sons and daughters sent to battle and die in the city’s seemingly endless war with a Northern kingdom.
But when a disciple of Death is killed, the connections between his death and the murders of several unfavored raise uncomfortable questions about what’s going on in the city—and draw former childhood sweethearts Rossana Lacertosa, a disciple of Patience, and security official Damian Venturi back into each others’ lives. A story that’s one part murder mystery, one part enemies-to-lovers romance, and one part furious treatise about the unfair and exploitative ways society treats those it deems lesser, Seven Faceless Saints is a fast-paced, twisty fantasy with a message at its heart.
We got the chance to chat with the author herself about the world of Ombrazia, Damian and Roz’s tempestuous relationship, and what we can expect from the sequel.
Paste Magazine: Tell us a bit about where the inspiration for Seven Faceless Saints came from. What made you want to tell this story?
M.K. Lobb: I had already written quite a few manuscripts by the time I wrote this book, and none of them had been successful. I went into Seven Faceless Saints with the idea that this was going to be a story just for me—a story full of all the things I love about young adult fantasy.
I had it in my head that I wanted to write a murder mystery, but I didn’t immediately know what that would look like. What I did know was that I wanted a darkly lush world, an enemies-to-lovers romance, a belief system I could work to unravel, and characters I could pour my whole self into. I always say that Roz is my rage, and Damian my regret—-that could not be more true, and writing them was almost cathartic for me.
Paste: I love the intricate nature of the world-building in this book — from the setup of Ombrazia itself to the history of the saints and the magic of their various disciples—-how much time did you spend plotting all this out? (And how much of it did you have to leave on the cutting room floor?)
Lobb: I take a lot of my world-building inspiration from real history, so the city of Ombrazia is actually inspired by Florence, Italy back when it was run by seven major guilds, or arti maggiori. These guilds each had a different skill, and they had a ton of power over the city’s economy at the time. I ran with this general concept but decided to separate my guilds by magic and assigned each of them a patron saint.
It definitely took a lot of time to fine-tune, because you really have to strike the right balance between communicating all the necessary facts without info-dumping. And of course, that happy medium is so subjective! There’s so much that ended up getting cut, including all the real historical elements. Combined with the magic system, I realized it was just getting too complicated. That said, I think it’s always better to over-plot and then take what you need.
Paste: I’m hoping the ending to this one means we might learn a bit more about the saints and their history in the Seven Faceless Saints sequel? (Warring gods are a weakness of mine!)
Lobb: Without revealing too much—-absolutely! In fact, a couple of the saints’ backstories become extremely important in the second book. I’m ironically not the kind of person who enjoys a complicated lore, but I did have fun unraveling this one.
Paste: What made you want to write Seven Faceless Saints as a YA story versus an adult fantasy? There are some really dark themes here so I feel like it could have gone either way.
Lobb: Honestly, I read more YA than adult SFF, so I think I just naturally gravitated toward that age group! I’d say my writing “voice” lies somewhere between YA and adult, and in this case leaning towards the former made sense—-especially because Roz and Damian were very much older teens in my head.
The issues they deal with in the book could certainly be “adult” issues as well, but I think they handle them as teenagers. They don’t quite know who they are yet, and
they’re both struggling to situate themselves in this complicated and unjust world.
Paste: I know you probably love both your broken children equally, but whose POV did you enjoy writing more Roz or Damian?
Lobb: You know, this seems to be a common question, and it’s so difficult to answer! I never looked forward to writing one POV more than another—-I always just tried to pick the one that would best serve the scene.
That said, writing Roz was definitely more of a cathartic experience for me. She has so much of the rage I felt as a teen, and the rage that sits inside me still. She also possesses a lot of qualities I think people are predisposed to dislike in female characters, whether they realize it or not, and yet she’s unapologetic about it. I found that really fun to write.
Paste: Roz is such an interesting heroine for a story like this – usually, the young girl getting powers doesn’t get radicalized by having them! Talk to me a little bit about how you view her evolution as a character and where her journey is headed.
Lobb: I think Roz’s main issue is that she was already on the path to radicalization, and being forced to join what’s essentially the ruling class made everything so much worse. She’s seen how people without magic are treated, because she was one of them for most of her life. She knows what happened to her father, and how those like him are seen as disposable.
Now, though, she’s expected to become part of this institution by virtue of something she can’t control. It feels like a horrible betrayal to her father’s memory, and it’s at odds with everything she believes in. She’s going to have to come to terms with that and start confronting her self-loathing. Can the magic she detests be used, if she’s only willing to try?
Paste: I’m always a sucker for a good enemies-to-lovers romance like Damian and Roz – what do you think it is about that particular trope that keeps us coming back to it?
Lobb: I love it, too! At least for me, it’s all about the tension. When two characters have a fraught relationship, I think it’s natural to want to know how they’re eventually going to overcome that. What are they going to learn about one another that changes their opinions? Where are they going to find common ground (or not)?
As a reader, I’m anticipating those moments. And of course, there’s something so inexplicably addicting about the tension that arises when two characters are supposed to hate one another but can’t help feeling that flicker of attraction.
Paste: What are you most hoping your readers take away from this story?
Lobb: First and foremost, I hope they take away whatever they’re looking for.
That said, I think the message at the heart of the story is one of forging your own path. Of questioning the things you’ve been taught or told to believe, even when it’s difficult. Roz can fight against an unjust system even when it directly benefits her. Damian can change his mind about his convictions when things no longer feel right.
Paste: Can you tease anything for us about what we can expect in the Seven Faceless Saints sequel?
Lobb: So many things I could say would be spoilers!
I will tell you, however, that we’ll get to see our favourite soft boy become fairly unhinged, which was very fun to write. You’ll also get a lot more of the side characters – Disciples of Chaos is more of a group cast, whereas Seven Faceless Saints was very focused on Roz and Damian alone.
Paste: And my absolute favorite question I love to ask — as, an author, what are you reading and enjoying right now?
Lobb: I’m terrible, and read so many things at the same time!
I’m currently reading and loving Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim. I’m also listening to Cruel Illusions by Margie Fuston, and I just started an advance copy of Love at First Set by Jennifer Dugan.
Seven Faceless Saints
is available now.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.