Author’s Couch: Q&A with Leah Cypress!

I picked up DEATH SWORN by Leah Cypress as a recommendation from my librarian co-worker. She said, ‘You have to read this book! The main character is a total badass, and the relationship is awesome!’ Let me tell you, DEATH SWORN did not disappoint! I couldn’t put this book down. Cypress presented a character who really had to ‘fake it until she made it.’ Once I finished, I immediately picked up DEATH MARKED, and all I can really say is, I’m so sad there are only two books!

I reached out to Leah and asked for an interview–and guess what? She’s just as awesome as her books and agreed to answer my burning questions!


DeathSworn HC CTell us what’s unique about DEATH SWORN?

Death Sworn is a murder mystery and fantasy combined, set entirely in an underground cavern that serves as a school of assassins. I can’t think of any parallels offhand. 😉

More seriously, though: I wanted to write a book about assassins that weren’t the usual fantasy assassins-with-hearts-of-gold characters. Not that I don’t love those books — I do! — but for this book, I drew inspiration more heavily from the actual, historical sect of the assassins that existed in the Middle East in medieval times, and what we know about how they functioned and what motivated them.

Sorin and IIeni don’t have a relationships typical of the YA genre in that they react to each other in a very realistic and rational manner. At times, this was frustrating and heartbreaking, but I also loved it. Can you give us insight into your view of Sorin and IIeni’s relationship? 

I’m glad to hear you say that, because my intent was to make it realistic! (does author happy dance)

In some ways, I think their relationship is somewhat unhealthy — Ileni enters it partly out of desperation and depression, in addition to attraction and admiration; and while Sorin grows immensely from knowing Ileni, she is also a threat to everything he has ever wanted. Combine that with their wildly incompatible worldviews, and their romance will always be a struggle. I can’t say much more without giving away aspects of Death Marked, though!

While reading DEATH SWORN, I thought about the difficulty of world building while staying in DeathMarked HC csuch an excluded location. Did you find this difficult as well? 

Writing a book set in a constricted location is a challenge, but it happens to be a challenge that I love. Plus, I have always been fascinated by caves, so the ability to research and describe the underground caverns was a large part of the fun of writing this book. I think I’ve watched every cave documentary in existence — and I also got to dig up my old travel notebooks for the descriptions I had written of caves I’ve explored.

Was DEATH SWORN originally planned as a duology? 

Believe it or not, I originally planned it as a stand-alone — I thought readers would be happy to imagine the rest of the story on their own! But every single person who read it told me, in no uncertain terms, that they demanded a sequel. The last of those people was my editor, and so a sequel was born.

Last question: If Sorin and IIeni lived in this world and had to have day jobs, what would they be? 

Ha, fun question! I suspect Sorin would be in the military — some sort of elite special forces unit, probably. And Ileni would put her ambition to use in a demanding field in which she could rise to the top *and* feel like she was doing something important in the world. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if she went into politics. Or, if she had any talent for it, she might do medicine or medical research.

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About the Author

  Leah Cypess author photo 1

I wrote my first story in first grade. The narrator was an ice-cream cone in the process of being eaten. In fourth grade, I wrote my first book, about a girl who gets shipwrecked on a desert island with her faithful and heroic dog (a rip-off of both The Black Stallion and all the Lassie movies, very impressive).

After selling my first story (Temple of Stone) while in high school, I gave in to my mother’s importuning to be practical and majored in biology at  Brooklyn College. I then went to Columbia Law School and practiced law for almost two years at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, a large law firm in New York City. I kept writing and submitting in my spare time, and finally, a mere 15 years after my first short story acceptance, I sold my first novel to Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins).

I live in Silver Spring, Maryland (right outside of Washington, D.C.) with my husband and three children.

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