Welcome to our interview with Elsie Chapman to celebrate the release of her new book, Caster! Pitched as a Chinese-inspired Fight Club with magic, it centres on sixteen-year-old Aza Wu, who enters an illegal underground magic casting tournament to save her family legacy and avenge her sister, and is filled with action, magic and twists.
Co-hosts Shenwei and Wendy both loved the book, and below are five reasons they think you should read Caster. For more detail, you can also check out their full reviews — a big thank you to Elsie Chapman and to Scholastic for the ARCs.
Reasons to read CASTER:
- It’s a dark, thrilling read, full of twists, which will have you whizzing through to find out what happens next
- Aza is a strong and determined heroine who’s forced into difficult moral choices concerning revenge, her web of lies, and whether the ends justify the means, whilst staying loyal to her family
- The vivid setting: Lotusland is based on Vancouver, featuring its Chinese community, including Aza’s family tea house and a Chinese gang as one of the main antagonists; the tournament takes place in several captivating arenas
- The magic system is distinctive and well-developed: unique, strongly visual and sensual, with clear rules and patterns and taking a toll on the user and earth itself
- The action sequences in the magic battles are exciting and filled with emotional intensity
We asked Elsie Chapman a few questions about Caster and her process behind it.
Q: Can you tell us about how you came up with the magic system in Caster? It was so well-developed – did you have any particular inspirations or face certain challenges while creating it?
Thank you for having me on the blog, and I’m so glad you liked Caster’s magic system! I definitely found it challenging to build one that was both easy to understand with simple rules while also being intricate enough to able to mess around within those same rules.
My initial version was overly complicated, but with the help of my editor, saw how to scale it back and where to tweak to clarify everything. My goal was to capture my own best experience as a reader when I’m being introduced to a new magic system, and getting drawn in goes so much more smoothly when I’m not constantly getting confused over the rules.
Q: Following on from this, do you have any favourite fantasies with ‘hard’ (rule-based) magic systems?
It’s too hard for me to pick a favourite fantasy, but one of my favourite magic systems is the one in Fullmetal Alchemist. I just remember at the time that it felt really fresh and unique and I’ve never forgotten it. I also think the manga is a great example of how a world can have a really compelling magic system and exciting plotline, but also manage to spawn characters that are relatable, well-rounded, and interesting in their own right.
(GIFs from Giphy.com)
Q: We’re aware that authors have limited input into this, but were wondering whether you could tell us more about the cover design and photography process for Caster? It’s so captivating and it’s great to see an Asian model on the front!
I love the cover too! I did get asked for input, and I said I would love it if they could feature an Asian girl, front and centre. We all know YA still has a long way to go when it comes to featuring POC on covers, and having spent a few years in publishing now, I’m more able to understand how I can do my part in getting POC voices heard. And with Aza being a Chinese teen, I really thought it would be great if we could feature her face right on Caster’s cover. So Scholastic did it, and I think they did an absolutely brilliant job. Shout outs to Maeve Norton for the fantastic jacket design and to wonderful photographers Lissette Emma and Nika De Carlo!
Q: You’ve mentioned that Aza’s sector in Lotusland was inspired by your experiences growing up in Richmond, a Chinese-majority part of Vancouver – can you tell us a bit more about that and how it influenced Caster?
I actually grew up in Prince George, BC – a very white, very small town – before moving to Vancouver (way more multicultural) for school, and then later relocating once more to its suburb of Richmond. But while it was in Vancouver where I first felt that shift – from feeling like I was always standing out to suddenly fitting in – I felt it even more strongly after my move to Richmond, where the Chinese population is actually majority minority. So the differences within Vancouver itself, from suburb to suburb – they’ve always felt palpable to me, and I wanted to explore that kind of flow in Caster’s setting and what it could mean for Aza.
Aza lives in the Tea Sector, which is a re-imagined Richmond, while the rest of Lotusland is modeled after Vancouver. Having Aza feel at home in one part while being more cautious in others felt very real to me, and is also a reflection of her own personal journey as she figures out her magic and her level of control over it.
Q: Caster touches on issues of environmental destruction, which is very relevant, especially to young people, today. Knowing this, how did you approach these questions in your storytelling?
Working out Caster’s magic system and how there had to be a cost for magic, I wanted to somehow go beyond making it just be its casters who pay the price, whether physical, emotional, mental, etc. Having it be earth is something that kind of came about on its own, but I’m really glad it did and that I stuck with it because it’s an aspect of Caster I’m really proud of including. You’re right that kid readers are absolutely aware of issues today like climate change and carbon footprints and how we’re losing species every minute. I don’t think I’m sending a message in Caster so much as it’s me just acknowledging that, yes, the world’s not doing so great right now, and how we can all stand to think and work harder at making changes.
Q: The various tournament locations and the magical arenas were very vividly described. Did you base any of them on real places?
No, they’re all made up, but for inspiration I went through old Chinese movies and their battle scenes to see what makes for a good fight setting. And for Caster, because it’s based around a tournament, I really wanted each round to have its own distinct feel to keep all the fights from kind of melding together in the reader’s mind.
Q: Will there be a sequel for Caster? If so, is there anything you can tease us about it at the moment? 😉
I promise if something happens, I’ll get on social media and announce it! And thank you for having me on Lit CelebrAsian!
Thank you for joining us, Elsie!
Everyone, you can find Caster at the outlets below, or check your local independent bookstore.
Elsie Chapman grew up in Prince George, Canada, and has a degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia. She is the author of the YA novels Dualed, Divided, Along the Indigo, and Caster as well as the MG novel All the Ways Home, and co-editor of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Hungry Hearts. She currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her family.
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