In “Divine Rivals,” the first book in author Rebecca Ross' "Letters of Enchantment" duology, she tells the story of Iris Winnow and Roman Kitt. The two are young rival journalists and war correspondents who fall in love through a magical connection amidst battles between gods.
Iris’ brother is missing at the front lines, so she writes letters to him on her old typewriter, slipping them beneath her wardrobe door where they magically vanish. Though she is unaware of it, they're sent to Roman, her rival colleague at the newspaper she works for. The two end up reporting together at the front lines — leading them to form a connection outside of their shared letters.
That's where Ross' second book in the duology, “Ruthless Vows,” picks up, where the war between gods intensifies and the stakes of Roman and Iris' actions are higher than before.
Ahead of her event with Brookline Brooksmith on Jan. 5, Ross joined GBH News to discuss “Ruthless Vows,” which is out today. Lightly edited excerpts from the interview are below, and you can listen to the full interview by clicking the player at the top of this page.
Haley Lerner: How are you feeling about closing the world of “Divine Rivals?"
Rebecca Ross: It honestly feels very surreal. I think when you have a series and you're finally seeing it end, it's very bittersweet because you're excited for readers to read the conclusion, but it also means it's over. So, I'll be moving on after these books and I will definitely miss Iris and Roman.
Lerner: Where did the idea for this story first come to you?
Ross: So, with “Divine Rivals,” I had a period of really bad writer's block where for months I didn't write anything new. It was in 2020 and there was a lot going on in the world.
It was November. I needed to just sit down and write ideas in my journal and see if something sparks. One of the lines that I wrote down was a girl who writes letters to her missing brother and the boy who reads them. And I was very intrigued by that line.
“You've Got Mail” and “The Shop Around the Corner” have been two of my favorite films ever, and I knew one day that I wanted to write a book about two people who fall in love through letters who don't like each other in real life.
Lerner: What made you decide to make Iris and Roman competing reporters, who eventually work together when they go out into the war zone reporting together?
Ross: Going back to the line that inspired the story, when I realized her brother was missing, I knew he was missing in action and at war. And when I thought of that, I instantly brought up images of World War I, trench warfare ... . And so I knew that Iris was also a writer herself, she really does write to process everything she's dealing with.
I brought in Roman ... I really wanted to have the rivals to lovers trope and so I was like, what if they were both at the newspaper and that's how they met and they both are competing for the same thing? With her brother being missing in action, eventually something was going to happen where Iris would have to decide, “Do I stay here or do I go ahead and pack everything up and go find my brother, who is the last person I have in my family and go report on the war?”
As we see in the beginning of the book, there's a lot of propaganda and the information is really tightly controlled about the gods and what's really happening on the war front. So, I think for Iris, she wants to write about things that matter and about the truth of what's really happening.
Lerner: There is war and propaganda in this book and Iris has a desire to honor the truth in her reporting. How did it feel to write this within the world we are currently living in, and where freedom of speech is threatened with things like book bans?
Ross: I think stories are incredibly powerful. I think it's amazing to see how books can really bring us together. Books are so critical, as far as I think, teaching us empathy, helping us step outside our own box and perspective.
Books are like magic and I think when we start banning books, that's very, very dangerous ground because we have people trying to control what we're reading. I don't think that's right at all, especially since these book bans particularly target authors from minority groups. We already see in publishing that there is disparity there and we need to see these authors have a chance to tell their stories. So, we need to be reading them and supporting them.
With my book, going back to this line that Iris says is, “I want my words to be like a line I cast out in the darkness." I think that's how I feel about my books. I probably will never know the reach that some of my stories have had, but it's just a very incredible thing to think about. Something that began just in my heart, my mind and on my laptop is now on people's shelves.
Rebecca Ross talks with Amanda Foody and C.L. Herman on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. at Brookline Booksmith. More information can be found here.