I adored Ana Mardoll’s collection of rewoven tales, No Man of Woman Born, a book that centers trans and/or non-binary characters who break, subvert and fulfill gendered prophesies. The prophecies know the MC’s gender even if others around them do not, and I love that this magical gender affirmation is at the center of every single story.
I love these stories dearly, and decided I wanted to do my first ever character interview with one of the characters from this book.
We decided to do an interview with Claude, the genderfluid aromantic MC of “Early to Rise”, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty! I really enjoyed this story, and adored Claude. I’m excited to share this interview with you, along with a short excerpt from the story.
An Interview with Claude, the MC in “Early to Rise”
Hi there Claude, welcome to Corey’s Book Corner. Tell me a bit about yourself.
It’s so nice to meet you! My name is Princess Claude [they/them] and I’m the eldest child and heir to good King Juste and Queen Osanne. You’ve probably heard of the… incidents surrounding my birth? My parents invited several good fairies to bless me with grace and artistic talent and passion but an invitation was, er, lost and one fairy arrived rather put out at the snub. She cursed me to die on my seventeenth birthday. Things became complicated from there.
What makes you happiest? What frustrates you most?
This life isn’t the one I asked for myself, but I know I have a responsibility to my people. I’m grateful that I have opportunities to learn and grow and express myself creatively; I want to be the best possible monarch I can be. My family is my greatest source of strength and happiness–and, I suppose, my greatest source of frustration. Mother and Father really are trying their best to find a way around this curse we’re all living with, and I shouldn’t become frustrated with them when they push suitor after suitor at me. It’s not their fault that none of those boys interest me.
My siblings are more supportive–Séraphine and Valéry are always ready to crack a joke about my suitors–but in some ways I have to watch myself even more around them than I do around our parents. They understand me too well, and I don’t want them causing a panic by saying something they shouldn’t around the castle staff. You know, like “Claudie doesn’t even want to fall in love.” That could cause trouble and they’re too young to realize it. Well, Valéry is.
What scares you?
I’m not scared of sleeping. I’m not even scared of dying, not really. I don’t want to die but if it happens I can’t imagine I’ll have very long to contemplate it. No, what I’m afraid of is that I’ll fail my people. Children of royal blood have to balance their personal desires against what is best for their kingdom. My peers–princes and princesses in neighboring countries–are taught they will have to marry without love, because allegiances and treaties come first. Me? I’m taught that I have to marry with love, because of this curse. I wish I could trade places with one of those other princesses. She can have the True Love and I can marry to gain territory. Everybody wins.
What is your deepest wish?
My deepest wish is to get rid of this curse, but not just because the curse is horrible and I’m worried about my kingdom and people. If I didn’t have it hanging over me, I feel like I could be… more myself? I could tell Mother and Father how I feel, and I wouldn’t need to keep hiding parts of myself from Séraphine and Valéry. I don’t think my family will judge me once there’s not all these fraught consequences attached to my being different. I hope not, anyway.
But, really, it’s going to be fine. My seventeenth birthday is coming up soon and the plan Mother and Father have come up with is solid. Even if everything goes wrong, it just means we all sleep a little bit longer than we planned. I’m not worried. You shouldn’t be worried either.
Everything is going to be fine.
An Excerpt from Early to Rise
(Content Warning, highlight to read: Magical curse)
“If we held a ball for Séraphine’s birthday, we could invite Prince Régis. What do you think, dear?”
Claude kept her eyes on her painting, though she had to take the brush from between her teeth in order to answer. “Isn’t he too old for her? She’s only nine.”
Osanne never sighed or groaned—to do so would be unqueenly—but the little pauses in her speech could convey a world of meaning. “You would be there too, Claude.”
Now she did look up, feeling her entire body contort in a wince. “Me? Mother, I don’t like Régis! He chews with his mouth open and his breath smells like cabbage.”
Her mother lifted an arch eyebrow. “He is a high-spirited boy who likes to talk during dinner and enjoys his vegetables. If a man’s table manners are his worst quality, those can be fixed with time and patience.”
Claude let her lips twist into an expression which could be read as defeat or defiance depending on her mother’s mood and turned back to her painting. The mixture for the sky wasn’t quite right and this frustrated her; blue paints were the hardest to procure and finding exactly the right hue was time-consuming and wasteful. This particular piece had frustrated her almost beyond bearing and she was tempted to consign the entire canvas to the fireplace but didn’t want to let it beat her. She would win.
If her mother would just leave her alone.
“We could invite Yves as well. You like him, remember? He has that lovely little duchy with the lake you enjoyed so much as a child. Remember how your father and I used to take you there?”
She tried to smile but the effort left her grimacing at the canvas. “Twice, mother. Yes, I remember.” That seemed insufficient, so Claude searched for something more to say. “It was a very nice lake; peaceful.”
“And Yves is a very nice peaceful boy, so that works out well,” Osanne observed in her crisp manner. “I’ll put him on the invitation list, along with Prince Régis. Is there anyone else you’d like to suggest?”
Claude felt her mother’s eyes watching her, tension in the air as she waited for her to show some semblance of interest. Osanne didn’t wish to make the conversation awkward—indeed, much of her role as a queen was to defuse tense situations, not exacerbate them—but on this one subject it was impossible for her to step back and give her daughter breathing-room. Claude swallowed the lump in her throat and spoke.
She felt her mother’s hesitation in the tiny pause that followed. Léandre was neither prince nor duke, just the son of an earl. But he was gentle and lovely, with hair that flowed over his shoulders like spun gold, and half the girls in the kingdom wanted him. Osanne was in no position to be choosy so she put on her warmest smile. “Of course. I’ll put him at the very top of the list. See you at dinner, dear.”
“Mother!” Claude whipped around before she could retreat. “Do you like my painting? It’s not quite finished yet and I’m not happy with the sky, but I think the trees along the bottom came out really well.”
A long pause, gentle in intent if not delivery, conveyed all the sighs the Queen never breathed. “It’s lovely, dear, as is everything you do. Please don’t be late to dinner; it worries your father when you are.” Osanne swept out, her skirts rustling against the floor like a soft breeze through autumn leaves.
“She never even asked if I wanted a party,” grumbled Séraphine, glaring out through the glass pane to the courtyard below. Her knees were drawn up to her chest and her back rested against the stone behind her. The window seat was her favorite perch in the tower, and she often kept Claude company when she painted.
Claude formed her mouth into a sympathetic grimace, though she wasn’t sure if the sentiment reached her eyes. “It’s tough being the youngest,” she offered, the words an olive branch. She wanted a royal ball even less than Séraphine did, but Séraphine was right: the celebration was being arranged on Claude’s behalf, not hers.
“What would you know about it?” Séraphine was blunt to a fault. “You’ve never been the youngest. You were an only child until Valéry came along, and then you were the eldest. I’ve been the youngest since I was born. What are you painting? Giving up landscapes and moving on to castle scenes now?”
Claude blinked at the sudden change of subject and looked back at her canvas. Gray stone walls, open to the viewer, framed the lush frills of an enormous bed with billowing curtains pulled back just enough to show the hands folded modestly over the sleeper’s chest. Roses in bloom filled the chamber; red flowers, because her instructors insisted love was that shade. Claude couldn’t say if they were right but took their word as law.
“It’s a painting of the… the situation. So that the prince will know what to do; or the duke or earl or whoever.”
“‘Whoever’?” Séraphine repeated with a snort. “Listen to you! Don’t tell Maman you’re pining for a stable boy. She’s having enough trouble accepting an earl. But why wouldn’t he know what to do, Claudie? The whole kingdom knows, along with everyone in the neighboring kingdoms. Traveling bards sing about the curse!”
Claude opened her mouth then closed it again; turning back to her paints, she set about the process of packing away her supplies. The canvas needed time to set before she could layer more paint into place. “Well, it’s just in case,” she said, choosing her words slowly and trying not to sound defensive. She didn’t like talking about the curse—she couldn’t get away from it for even a moment—but Séraphine didn’t count the way others did. “Maybe he won’t turn up for a long time, and people won’t remember. If I have paintings up to explain the situation then he’ll know what to do, even if it’s a thousand years later.”
“A thousand years?” Séraphine’s mouth dropped open as she stared at Claude from the window seat. “Are you serious? Maman is expecting it to be a few weeks at the most. Why do you think she’s so obsessed with finding the right boy for you to meet and fall in love with?”
Claude shook her head, not wanting to be drawn into that line of speculation; no one wanted to hear her say she had no idea what the ‘right boy’ would be, nor if she could ever feel the way they wanted her to feel. “I know, Séra. I know. But it’s sensible to make plans. What if the first one dies on his way here? We’d have to wait for another True Love to appear. That could take a long time.” Or forever, she added mentally.
“You’re so morbid, Claudie.” Séraphine unfolded herself from her seat and moseyed her way over to peer at the canvas, her nose inches from the damp paint. “I remember those clay sculptures you used to make of yourself sleeping; so still and solid, as if you were dead instead of asleep.”
Claude sniffed, putting on her haughty artist’s voice. “I was expressing myself.”
“My point exactly.” Séraphine laughed, turning on her heel; her dark eyes glinted and Claude wondered just how much she saw. Young as she was, Séra seemed the most mature of the three royal children, as though an old soul had bonded with the child in infancy. “Speaking of which,” she said, her hand darting into the sash at her waist, “I found what you asked for, so you can ‘express yourself’ better on your next boy-day.”
Silver glinted in watery sunlight that filtered in through the tower windows. Claude’s breath caught and she reached with infinite care to touch the scissors. Sharp treasures were precious and rare in her world, given her parents’ fears about the pricking of fingers. Scissors weren’t a spindle on a spinning wheel, but Osanne and Juste were taking no chances with their children. “Thank you,” she breathed, glancing at her sister as she tucked away the gift at her waist. “You know, you and Valéry are the only ones who believe me.”
Séraphine smirked at her and tossed her long dark hair over her shoulder as she turned to leave. “Not quite the only ones. Be careful; you didn’t get those from me, Claudie.”
About No Man of Woman Born
Destiny sees what others don’t.
A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father’s death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess laboring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he’s ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny.
From the author of the Earthside series and the Rewoven Tales novels, No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven fantasy stories in which transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies. These prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character’s gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story.
About the Author
Ana Mardoll is a writer and activist who lives in the dusty Texas wilderness with two spoiled cats. Xer favorite employment is weaving new tellings of old fairy tales, fashioning beautiful creations to bring comfort on cold nights. Xie is the author of the Earthside series, the Rewoven Tales novels, and several short stories.
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Note: Unlike many indie books, this does have an audiobook and it’s wonderful. I will add a link when it’s available.