Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NYU chapter.

For fans of “Legendborn,” Neil Gaiman or Leigh Bardugo, debut author Nevin Holness’s “King of Dead Things” offers a new favorite book. This urban young adult fantasy steeped in Afro-Carribbean folklore follows two Black teens searching for a powerful artifact in the hidden magical side of London.

“King of Dead Things” is the first book in a planned duology and has received a starred review from “Kirkus Reviews” who called it “an electrifying debut” where “readers will feel transported as the vivid scenes play out on each page, drawing them in with universal elements such as struggles with identity, family, and an uncertain future.”  

Eli doesn’t know who he is or who he came from. Three years ago, he was found by his now-best friends, Sunny and Max, who gave him a home in a magical sanctuary doubling as a Caribbean restaurant. What Eli does know is that he can heal a wound with just a touch and pluck magic from a soul like a petal from a flower—and there is nothing he wouldn’t do to survive and keep his newfound family together.

Malcolm would do anything to forget where he comes from. Desperate to escape his estranged father’s shadow and plagued with an inherited death magic he doesn’t fully understand, Malcolm has just one priority: save his mother, no matter the cost.

Malcolm and Eli’s paths collide when Eli and his friends are sent to track down the fang of the leopard god Osebo, a deadly weapon that can eat magic. In a job filled with enigmatic nights and Caribbean legends, the teens must face their own demons as they race through the magical underbelly of London to retrieve the fang before an ancient and malevolent power comes back to life.

Nevin Holness is from North London. She has a degree in fashion journalism from London College of Fashion and currently works in womenswear. In 2018, she was selected as a finalist in Penguin’s WriteNow mentorship program.

OSOx0ssaBLN7GE26HiE4SpSmFzlapLwlsgYKjrDcPMjVeYN3kuec47IoG6xzzcKzk hY OZKGiXQ1pHriUin

When drafting questions for this interview, I wanted to ask about the Afro-Caribbean culture that inspired Holness and what her debut writing process was like, considering the fact that she was in a mentorship program with her publisher. 

One of your protagonists, Eli, has the interesting power of being able to pluck magic from people. Does this power follow the Afro-Caribbean culture and mythology that your book pulls inspiration from? 

The idea was loosely inspired by the folktales of Anansi the Spider, who would often trick people out of everything from a piece of fruit to years of their life. I think Eli’s character came about because I was intrigued by the idea of a main character with the same trickster tendencies, and what he might use a power like that for.

Were there any fun or intriguing facts you learned when researching Afro-Caribbean mythology?  

I only have a very small reference to this in the book, but the one that stands out is Queen Nanny who was a real historical figure that led the Jamaican Maroons in a guerilla war against the British during the 18th century. There are stories that she had Obeah powers, and according to legend, she’d catch the bullets that the British shot at her and throw them straight back. When I read about that, I was like – oh, well, I have to mention this in my book.

What do you hope readers take away from this book? 

That they enjoy it! I wrote this so that young Black kids could read it and see elements of themselves reflected in it, so if just one reader does, I’ll be happy.

Often, authors debut with books close to their own experiences. Your debut isn’t related to your degree in fashion journalism nor does it portray your hometown of London as it truly exists. Why did you decide to debut with a book that is different from your own life experience? What did you hope to accomplish in doing so? 

The book is set in a fictional version of London, but my hope is that even though the characters in this story have magic abilities and routinely cross paths with gods, that the setting still feels authentic. It’s really supposed to be a love letter to my hometown and there’s lots of little references to the places I grew up. I wanted the story to take place in a side of London that you don’t often see represented; somewhere colorful and full of community. 

How do you see yourself reflected in both Eli and Malcolm’s characters? 

I have a bit of Malcolm’s shyness and can sometimes be a little too headstrong like Eli, but it was more important to me that young Black readers were able see themselves in the characters. I really wanted both protagonists to feel complex and flawed, and that even though they’re often on opposing sides, the reader would want to root for both.

How did the Penguin WriteNow mentorship program help you while drafting your debut? 

Before WriteNow, I had no idea how to find an agent or how to go about submitting my book. The WriteNow program completely demystified the whole publishing process, and they really do support you through the entire journey. They’re less involved with the actual drafting of the book (that’s between you and your Word Document!) but my mentor, Naomi Colthurst, read some of my early, unfinished drafts and gave really important feedback that definitely helped shape the book to what it is today. 

Thank you to Nevin Holness for answering my questions! Your writing reminded me of one of my classmates’ own writing style, so I recommended your book to them to let them know that writing something fictional from personal experience is possible. Excited to see what the next adventure for Eli and Malcolm is! 

I’d also like to thank Nicole Russo from Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing for answering my email inquiry to interview Holness after I received an ARC of her debut in the mail. Hope to work with you more in the future! 

Sabrina Blandon is an English major at NYU with a minor in creative writing. Avid reader herself and literary advocate, she has interviewed over 60 authors from New York Times bestselling ones to debut authors for Her Author Spotlight blog series for Her Campus NYU and Her Campus Hofstra. She loves exploring everything New York City has to offer and is a major foodie.