Rosaria Munda’s debut Fireborne is one of our must-reads of the season. Set in a world recovering from a brutal war, Fireborne tells the story of childhood friends Annie and Lee, who are going head-to-head for the chance to be a dragonrider. Annie begins to develop feelings for Lee, and she isn’t the only one. Here Munda talks about crafting respect and friendship into the dynamic between romantic rivals Annie and Crissa.
I grew up on Mean Girls, and as much as I remember loving everything that it got right about school, what struck me as I got older and looked back was how much it had gotten wrong—at least in my experience. I hadn’t been “cool” or “popular” in my high school, but the girls who had been weren’t mean. They were usually popular because they were smart enough, and nice enough, to make a lot of friends. And even if they weren’t my friends, they were friendly to me.
I wanted to do those kinds of girls justice in Crissa, Annie’s romantic rival. She’s everything I wasn’t in high school—blonde, confident, a natural leader, and an inveterate flirt.
She is also—it should be unremarkable except that in so many stories this type of girl isn’t—smart, kind, and a good friend.
I think too often romantic rivals are depicted as horrible people, mean and heartless and shallow, ostensibly desired for their looks alone.
But I’ve found in real life that people worth liking tend to like people worth liking. And that that’s the hardest part. Romantic rivals are rarely monsters; they’re more often your perfectly decent roommate, or team captain, and it’s hard precisely because you can’t write them off. Sometimes, the person that your crush likes is someone you respect a lot, too.
And then you have to decide what you care about more.
That’s what what I wanted to be the challenge for Annie and Crissa. They have a lot of mutual respect for each other: Crissa admires Annie’s determination; Annie admires Crissa’s confidence, and learns from it. When a boy comes between them, that mutual respect doesn’t stop. It becomes a choice. And then it matters more than ever.
People sometimes ask, with dread in their voices, if Fireborne has a love triangle. The answer is yes, but not in the way you’re probably thinking. I wanted to have a love triangle precisely because I wanted to do it differently. I wanted there to be more than a rivalry over a boy; I wanted there to be a friendship between two girls in spite of him.
Rosaria Munda grew up in rural North Carolina, where she climbed trees, read Harry Potter fanfiction, and taught herself Latin. She studied political theory at Princeton and lives in Chicago with her husband and cat.