We’re always on the lookout for stellar romantic fantasies, so when Eileen Gonzalez’s review of Daughter of the Salt King came back with an emphatic STAR, we jumped at the opportunity to connect Eileen with Salt King‘s talented author, A. S. Thornton, for a question and answer session. As you’ll see, Eileen was especially impressed with how the women in the novel wield power, even in quiet, unseen ways. In our minds, that’s one of the marks of great storytelling because it’s so true to life. This is a special project from an author with a bright future.
Eileen, you’re up.
Daughter of the Salt King contains a healthy mix of genres: fantasy, romance, historical, and even mystery. Do you consider the book to be one genre more than any other? Why or why not?**
Ultimately, I consider it most to be a fantasy novel. Although the romance is a very strong part of the plot, it is Emel’s story and there would be no story if it weren’t for the fantasy elements—the jinni and his magic.
The main characters are Emel, the Salt King’s daughter, and Saalim, the jinni she falls in love with. But their romance is no love-at-first-sight affair: it grows slowly, and they encounter many obstacles along the way. What, in your opinion, are the benefits (and pitfalls) of a slow-burn romance versus a whirlwind romance?
I think benefits and pitfalls really comes down to reader preference. Some people want to be thrown into a love story. They want the heat and sparks of everything that comes after the love confession, and it’s the couple being together that keeps the reader turning the pages.
Others—including me—enjoy the tension and anticipation of romance. I love the question of will they or won’t they. Like infatuations we’ve all had where just being near the person—feeling the brush of their knee under the table or the heat of their arm next to yours—gets you all aflutter! With slow-burn romance, it’s the hope and the question of when that keeps the reader turning the pages.
One of the book’s recurring themes is how women learn to wield the little power they have, even when doing so means risking self-destruction. Emel, her mother, Isra, and her older sister, Sabra, each have their own ways of coping with the chains that the Salt King places on them. Certainly, their situations are tragic, but is there also an element of empowerment in the fact that each chose her own path?
Absolutely yes! In fiction sometimes we get wrapped up in strong characters making enormous waves with their strength (which is tons of fun, too!), but in real life strength is much quieter and often unseen. And, too, strength is different for everyone. For one person saying “no” might be strong, but for another, the strong choice was “yes.” Using the card analogy I mention in Daughter of the Salt King, most of the characters in this book have been dealt a bad hand. They can’t control how their life started, they can only control how they respond to it. I hope that readers of this novel will see that even sometimes the acknowledgement of “yes, this is bad” is incredibly strong. For some of these characters, the recognition that there is a choice in how they feel is very quiet strength, but it is life-changing. There is always a choice—even if locked away with no hope for a future—in how they respond to their situation, and to recognize and cling to that is immensely powerful. I hope readers can take that message and apply it to their own life, too.
The story is so atmospheric. The Salt King’s desert compound, despite its opulence, is claustrophobic for those trapped inside, while the oasis and the ruins of Saalim’s kingdom offer liberation, if only for a few hours. What draws you to these types of desert settings?
Deserts are so stark and punishing with their heat and sun that something as simple as the shade of a tree or a cool breeze offers intense relief. It is fun to drop characters into these settings because it is so easy to alter their environment to manipulate the reader’s emotions and the feel of the story in that moment. I am also fascinated by how people have adapted to life in the desert—especially before modern conveniences! And ultimately, I really love deserts. They are stunning landscapes.
The most striking thing about this book is its ultimate message. Very often, stories prioritize and valorize self-sacrifice rather than the recognition of self-worth. Daughter of the Salt King does just the opposite. Was this a conscious decision on your part, or did this theme evolve naturally as you were developing the plot and the characters?
This was absolutely a conscious decision and something that is so important to me. It very much ties into the theme of empowerment. Truly choosing yourself is often times the riskiest and hardest thing of all, because it can result in the loss of so much. But at the end of the day, how can a hero be expected to save the world if she can’t first save herself?
The ending is a satisfying mix of ambiguity and hopefulness. Without spoiling anything, do you have an idea of what happens to the characters afterward, or is it as much an open question to you as it is to the readers?
When I first finished writing Daughter of the Salt King, I thought it would end there. It’s Emel’s story and her story was completed. I like the ambiguity. But, of course, I couldn’t let the characters just be and I kept coming back to them, There are lots of questions that needed to get answered! So there is a sequel in the works called Son of the Salt Chaser. It is expected to be released in 2022!
In A. S. Thornton’s romantic fantasy novel Daughter of the Salt King, a princess strives to find peace and happiness with the jinni she loves.
Just as Emel’s dreams are about to come true, tragedy robs her of her last chance to marry and find freedom beyond the confines of her father’s palace. In the midst of her despair, she learns the true source of her father’s wealth and power: Saalim, a jinni imprisoned in a glass that never leaves the king’s side. As their love grows, an impossible choice looms: one of them will have to sacrifice everything to secure the other’s freedom.
Despite her royal status, Emel is as much a prisoner as Saalim. When she is not being forced to perform for potential suitors, she sneaks away to a nearby market to visit friends and learn about faraway places. After meeting Saalim, her world expands, and her desire to explore it deepens. The camaraderie between them blossoms, only to wilt under misunderstandings and jealousy before growing back, stronger than ever.
Sumptuous settings include the ruined but still beautiful city Saalim once called home, and the marketplace that grows ever quieter as mysterious brigands threaten the Salt King’s domain. Intricate designs at the start of each chapter and ephemeral illustrations add to the story’s atmosphere. As secrets are revealed and danger creeps ever closer, Emel keeps hope in a stranglehold, refusing to be cowed by her dire prospects and cruel father. Saalim’s love emboldens her to take power where she can find it. But the most important lesson she learns is how to put herself first, even when the whole world tells her she is nothing.
Daughter of the Salt King is an unforgettable fantasy novel about love, freedom, and the discovery of self-worth.
EILEEN GONZALEZ (February 24, 2021)