In a time where we just want to escape, there is no book more atmospheric – or hotly anticipated – than Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles. This debut book features a tight competition between magicians, daring and confident female characters, and swoony magical cities and spaces that anyone would want to step into.
I was so excited to be able to talk to Angeles about the first book in her Kingdom of Cards duology and dive deep into a story that is perfect for fans of Moulin Rouge and The Phantom of the Opera.
The Young Folks (TYF): In your own words, can you please explain what Where Dreams Descend is about?
Janella Angeles (JA): In this start of a fantasy duology pitched as “Phantom of the Opera meets Moulin Rouge with a dash of The Night Circus”, we follow a powerful, ambitious showgirl named Kallia whose pursuit of fame and glory leads her to a magician’s competition in a mysterious city that quickly becomes a risky game behind the scenes as dark secrets rise to the surface, an unexpected romance blooms, and a show that must go on instead goes terribly and dangerously wrong.
TYF: Where did the idea for this story come from? What was it influenced by?
JA: I’ve always wanted to write Phantom-esque book, as well as a story featuring magicians and circuses. But I didn’t realize I could merge the ideas together until years later, when I started wondering what Phantom would look like if I swapped music for magic, and asked: “What would happen if Christine—beautiful, talented yet scared Christine—was not scared at all, but was ambitious and actually owned her power and stage presence? What would that story look like?” From there, I started asking similar questions of all the characters, and before I knew it, the ideas were expanding, the threads of Moulin Rouge and The Night Circus were naturally coming in, and more sparks of inspiration piled into a draft of what would eventually become Where Dreams Descend.
TYF: What was it like to create the world of Soltair and the magic system?
JA: So much fun! The world of Soltair was a world I wanted to be its own thing while also being able to slip into the seams of its core comps: Phantom of the Opera, Moulin Rouge, and The Night Circus. These works overlap so beautifully in terms of how romantic, atmospheric, and magical/whimsical they are, and I absolutely wanted to emulate that in the places we come across in Where Dreams Descend. I was also deeply inspired by Cinderella (1997) starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. One of my favorite film musicals and favorite settings, it was the first fantasy world I watched that I felt like I could step into, with people of color joyously thriving from charming marketplaces to dazzling ballrooms, and I hoped to create something similar in Soltair. In terms of developing the magic, I looked toward my fascination with the arts and creativity as a jumping off point–where we have artists who are wildly talented and naturally so, vs. artists who must study and train in their craft. In Where Dreams Descend, we see two types of magicians who sort of fall in similar categories: those born with magic, and those who can acquire it. I feel like creativity is one of our closest connections to magic, so to really take inspiration from that in a magical sense was so interesting to explore.
TYF: The focus on gender equality and feminism from page one on is such a great force. Why did you decide to bring this theme into the story?
JA: Aside from my own personal experiences, a big spark for this actually came from watching a reality competition show about stage magicians, in which a panel of expert judges oversaw contestants trying to dazzle them with their tricks. When a girl entered the ring, it was such a rare sight which even she acknowledged as she said, “magic is a very male-dominated world,” and she was in the game to win it. Not only was this a big spark behind Kallia’s character, but it urged me to look deeper into why there are so few female magicians who have the same amount of enduring prestige and name-recognition as Harry Houdini, David Copperfield, Criss Angel, etc. There’s a reason why female magicians are commonly mistaken for the assistant, or why magicians have predominantly chosen women for assistants at that–why they are often cast in the background or the “distraction” in a trick rather than the actual mastermind of it. Those who are always given the spotlight are also given an invisible power and credibility, which is as real in our world as it is in Where Dreams Descend. And I knew with a powerful character like Kallia who wants that spotlight more than anything, she would question and challenge and confront such obstacles while doing everything it took to seize it for herself because she knew she was the best. And she would prove it to everyone.
TYF: It is so much fun to read Kallia’s, Jack’s, and Demarco’s stories. What was it like to write them?
JA: Thank you so much! I loved writing them, though some were definitely easier to write than others. Kallia, for instance, was such a breath of fresh air to write. Her confidence and starpower made her such a fun character to slip into, but writing that on top of her strength and ambition was so empowering. We’re so different, but I truly connected with her on such a deep level with those defining character qualities. Jack and Demarco were a bit more challenging because they have many secrets (which they did not reveal to me easily!), but I do love them as well for very different reasons. And I just love all of them because they are such different characters from each other with unique personalities, but like a stage production, their roles all add to the larger narrative and I loved intertwining their stories together.
TYF: As a debut author, what has your journey been like? What advice would you give to writers who dream of becoming a published author?
JA: Like many, my journey has not been smooth or quick or easy. Debuting during a pandemic has been its own rough journey all alone. But on the overall writing journey front, it’s been a lot of hard work that often leads to shelved words, or words that have to be revised a thousand times over. It’s been filled with more rejections and failures than requests and wins, though it’s also been filled with truly rewarding moments and breakthroughs and the exciting things that remind me why I love to write. For any writers hoping to become a published author, I urge them to both protect and foster that love of writing and storytelling–for that is the light you can always return to when things feel a bit dark on the journey–but to also research and study this industry they hope to be a part of. I’m glad I knew beforehand that the road to publication was more rocky and difficult than the opposite, because it helped me manage my expectations at each stage and it also proved to me that I really wanted this enough to keep going despite the inevitable hardships coming my way. When you foster that love of writing, you also build that want you need to stay in the business with all its ups and downs. So make your love of writing and story as strong as it can be, because it’s such a good foundation to fall back on if you ever start doubting why you’re on this journey in the first place.
TYF: Lastly, what should readers look forward to next?
JA: The sequel to WHERE DREAMS DESCEND–also the end of the duology (eep!)–which will be coming out next summer!
About the Author
Janella Angeles is a Filipino-American author who got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age–which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good.