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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Tara Sim! She’s the author of Scavenge the Stars, a gender-swapped fantasy retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, and its sequel, Ravage the Dark, as well as the books in the Timekeeper trilogy, steampunk fantasy set in an alternate Victorian world. The City of Dusk, her latest release and first published novel for adults, begins The Dark Gods trilogy and is described as “dark epic fantasy [that] follows the heirs of four noble houses—each gifted with a divine power—as they form a tenuous alliance to keep their kingdom from descending into a realm-shattering war.”

Cover of The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

Cover Design by Lisa Marie Pompilio
Cover Artwork by Ben Zweifel

When I was eight years old, a random family member—my uncle’s wife’s mother—came over on Christmas day to celebrate with us. She had gotten me a present, which I remember unwrapping to discover, to my delight, a book. At this point I was already pretty firmly in the “yay, reading” camp, but this was a kind of book I hadn’t really encountered before. On the cover was an illustration of a girl with a sword, glowing purple with magic.

A fantasy novel. One that starred a girl with—I cannot stress this enough—a sword. My interest piqued, I dove in almost immediately. Being eight and filled with innovation, I set up a nest of blankets and pillows on the kitchen table, where I spread out and devoured a story full of magic, mistaken identity, and of course, swordfights.

That book was Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce, and it changed my life. Even though I enjoyed stories, I still struggled a bit with reading because I found a lot of things boring. But this…This was not boring. At all. I needed more.

And so began my passion for fantasy. At twelve, right around when the movies were coming out, I read The Lord of the Rings and that too changed my life, but in a slightly different way. Because while Alanna sparked in me a desire to read fantasy stories, The Lord of the Rings sparked in me a desire to create them. While I’d always had some fascination with writing, it wasn’t until my deep dive (see: obsession) with LotR that I realized I wanted to make up whole new worlds. I wanted to make the rules, the creatures, the magic. I wanted elaborate stages in which to place my characters.

I wanted to instill in other people what these stories instilled within me.


When I was younger, I didn’t have the wide range of young adult fantasy we have today, let alone the scope of diversity we’re seeing now (and still need far more of). So I turned to adult fantasy to fulfill the need for fantasy stories. Even though there were plenty I enjoyed, such as The Wheel of Time, I eventually noticed that the majority of them were written by men. At the time, it didn’t bother me that much, or at least I told myself it didn’t. Because as I look back on that period, I see a seed of something defiant and stubborn being planted.

That seed was steadily watered until it grew into a shoot, spreading through me and taking hold, turning me into a cluttered house choked with bitter ivy. I still loved many of these stories, but they began to change for me. I noticed the lack of women, or how they were written in grating ways that made me hate them (until I later unpacked internal misogyny and understood the lack of care that went into their creation was largely to blame). I noticed the blatant SA, the objectification, the fridging.

What had happened to my initial spark? What had happened to the promise of more girls/women with swords?


When I was fifteen, I wrote my first book. It was affectionately titled Ember, and was the first in an epic fantasy trilogy. It was very long, and very bad, but I loved it and the process of writing it so much that I knew this was what I wanted to do forever. All that conviction at fifteen probably had my parents worried, but I was sure that I was going to be an author when I grew up. I was going to write books like The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time.

But over the years, the bitter seed grew. It didn’t change my conviction or my desire to write epic fantasy—it just changed how I perceived the genre, and what I wanted to contribute to it. With more clarity into my identity I understood the types of characters I wanted to write. I understood what sorts of worlds I had been craving.

I was still in college when I first came up with the idea for The City of Dusk. All I had was something along the lines of: noble houses all descended from the monarchy, contending for the throne. I gave it the codename Lastrider, the last name of who I perceived would be the main character, or at least one of them. It wasn’t until later that I began to seriously plan it, bringing in vengeful gods, multiple realms and magic systems, and demons.

Still, it was simply called Lastrider for ten years. For a decade I held on to that name and wondered who exactly it belonged to. From the beginning I knew it would be a girl, but what kind of girl?

I think reading Alanna at such an impressionable age steered me into the answer.

It would, of course, be a girl with a sword. A girl who has so many deep flaws but nonetheless perseveres until she gets what she wants, or thinks she wants. A girl who fights first and thinks later. A girl who loves her family and hates the system she was born into. A girl with muscles and shadow magic and a crass sense of humor.

A girl I was desperate to read about when I was younger.

And now here she is, sword in hand, ready to break everything apart in order to fix it.


Breaking the SFF mold is a dream I share with so many other authors of marginalized backgrounds—authors who stormed the SFF space with incredible stories, tenacity, and stubbornness to make sure our shelves are overflowing with talent and diversity. Authors like N.K. Jemisin, V.E. Schwab, R.F. Kuang, and Tamsyn Muir are completely reinventing what it means to write SFF, and I am so honored to include myself among them.

The City of Dusk is a love letter to them, to myself, and to all the things I wanted from books growing up. Sure, it has necromancy and demons and shadow familiars, but it also has marginalized women kicking ass and soft men who grieve. It has beauty and darkness and horror. It has monsters in the shape of both beasts and men.

And, at the end of the day, I wrote it because stories shaped and saved me, and I want to try and help others the same way. I want to give readers wonder, sadness, happiness. A chance to escape to another place.

Because that in itself is a type of magic.

Photo of Tara Sim Tara Sim is the author of The City of Dusk (Orbit), as well as the Scavenge the Stars duology (Little, Brown) and the Timekeeper trilogy (Sky Pony Press). She can often be found in the wilds of the Bay Area, California. When she’s not writing about magic, murder, and mayhem, Tara spends her time drinking tea, wrangling cats, and lurking in bookstores.