I am going to begin by saying that Midnight Strikes was a refreshing fantasy, enveloping a new take that leaves the readers yearning for more. Filled to the brim with political intrigue, romance and of course—a time loop setting, this is a debut you do not want to miss!
And today, I’m so excited to be part of the blog tour hosted by TBR and Beyond Tours! I’m thrilled to be interviewing the author on this platform, so if you haven’t had enough reason to pick this book, or want to take a look inside the world of Midnight Strikes, here’s your chance.
In this explosive fantasy debut with a time-loop twist, a provincial girl must work with a roguish prince to stop an attack on the royal family and escape a nightmarish curse that forces them to relive the same night over and over again.
Seventeen-year-old Anaïs just wants tonight to end. As an outsider at the kingdom’s glittering anniversary ball, she has no desire to rub shoulders with the nation’s most eligible (and pompous) bachelors—especially not the notoriously roguish Prince Leo. But at the stroke of midnight, an explosion rips through the palace, killing everyone in its path. Including her.
The last thing Anaïs sees is fire, smoke, chaos . . . and then she wakes up in her bedroom, hours before the ball. No one else remembers the deadly attack or believes her warnings of disaster.
Not even when it happens again. And again. And again.
If she’s going to escape this nightmarish time loop, Anaïs must take control of her own fate and stop the attack before it happens. But the court’s gilded surface belies a rotten core, full of restless nobles grabbing at power, discontented commoners itching for revolution, and even royals who secretly dream of taking the throne. It’s up to Anaïs to untangle these knots of deadly deceptions . . . if she can survive past midnight.
Q: Welcome to the blog, Zeba! To those who are unfamiliar, can you please introduce yourself and your debut, Midnight Strikes?
Hi Queenie, and thanks for having me here! I’m Zeba Shahnaz, and I’m a Pakistani American fantasy author from New Jersey living in Washington, DC. I’m a sitcom obsessive, history nerd, and occasional baker. If I’m not writing, I’m probably watching a Bollywood film.
My debut novel, Midnight Strikes, is a YA time loop fantasy full of action, adventure, mystery, and romance. It’s about a seventeen-year-old named Anaïs Aubanel, whose provincial-noble parents have dragged her to the terribly opulent anniversary ball in the capital. They’re determined to get Anaïs betrothed into a powerful courtly family, but Anaïs cannot stand the idea of spending the rest of her life living among those who look down on her and her people. She’s just about given up hope of finding someone who could make her not miserable when she’s suddenly swept off her feet by the infamous, indolent prince Leo Cardona.
But at the stroke of midnight, the palace is wracked with explosions, and a surge of strangers storm the ballroom, killing everyone inside–including Anaïs. Who wakes up again earlier on the day of the ball. No one else remembers the attack, and no one else believes her story. And when it happens again, and again, and again, Anaïs realizes her only hope of saving everyone she knows from death and herself from a brutal time loop is stopping the midnight attack before it happens.
Q: I’m almost done with your book, and the twists and loops (haha) are so fun to read through. What inspired you to write a time-loop fantasy?
Oh, I’m so glad you’re enjoying it! Honestly, I never would have thought of writing a time loop book. The idea for Midnight Strikes came as a joke in a group chat, where, after venting about the party or ball scenes we were working on at the time, some friends and I posited “there needs to be a book set at the same ball over and over again.” I rarely have discrete lightbulb moments, so to speak, but following that up with a pitch for “Cinderella x Edge of Tomorrow” really was an aha! moment. I had no idea how to begin to pull it off, but the next day, I sat down and outlined a whole plot, and it was all downhill from there.
Q: For me, personally, the most surprising and most intriguing part was how the world was designed. Between the Proensans, Cardonas, Castarans and Landaulans; it was so carefully crafted! Can you tell us a little fun fact about each of them without revealing the plot?
I love a good politically complex, possibly corrupt fantasy kingdom, and multiethnic though it is, Ivarea is no different. I don’t know how fun these are, but here goes:
- The ruling dynasty, the Cardona family, have been in power for four hundred years. Once upon a time, they were all-powerful magicians as well. Those days are long gone, but the Cardona family–including Leo–is more interested than they’d publicly admit in bringing them back.
- The largest and most powerful ethnic group in Ivarea are the Castarans, who look down on anyone who does not look or think as they do–
- –like the Proensans, the group to which Anaïs belongs. Proensans have very specific beliefs and, like the Landaulans, are often sidelined because of them. But between the midnight attacks and the time loop, maybe now, Ivarea needs its people–all of its people–more than it ever has before.
Q: Fairies and saints, saints and fairies. The lord and cultures were woven through the story beautifully! What was your idea behind creating these diverse worlds? Anything in particular?
One of the things that I was most excited about with this book was using the Cinderella story as a frame for a twisted fairytale about marginalization, citizenship, and belonging in a possibly corrupt, very exclusionary multiethnic kingdom. That’s not a coincidence: as a Pakistani American author, I am, and have to be, hyper aware, of my own positionality in the country I live in and the systems that shape my life and that of so many others.
My inspirations for worldbuilding usually come from places and periods in history. Once I decided that the main character’s name would be Anaïs, I realized that her world should also be inspired by Southern Europe, particularly France and Spain. As I thought about what this fantasy society looked like and what it included, I was always asking myself: who is in power and why? What is the cost of that power? Once I felt that I understood the way Ivarea worked, I tried to weave lore and magic systems together that would work for a very tight magical time loop plot, as well as act as a metaphor for Anaïs’s struggle with belonging in her own country.
Q: Moving on to the stars of the show—Anaïs, Leo and Clara! If you could associate a certain time of the day with them, which one would it be?
What a fun question! Hmm, I think to start with, Anais is 3 or 4pm. She loves the rituals and togetherness of teatime, not to mention the pastries. Too bad she doesn’t get to enjoy it.
Leo loves a good party, his family’s Anniversary Ball notwithstanding, and indulges in more than his fair share of late night debauchery and shenanigans. He’s never ready to call it a day, so I’d say he’s 2 or 3am.
Last but by no means least, I’d associate Clara, Leo’s beautiful and brilliant sister, with golden hour. Like her brother, Clara knows just how to make the light work to her advantage, and Ivarea is never more breathtaking than right before sunset.
Q: Lastly, thank you so much for joining me on my blog as part of the tour! Wrapping up the interview, could you share a few details on your next project? We would certainly would want to know more about it!
Thanks so much again for having me! I don’t have anything I can share at the moment, but I’m working on a YA fantasy inspired by North India that I’m really excited about.
about the author
Zeba Shahnaz writes fantasy full of political intrigue, twisted romance, and a healthy dose of existential angst. A proud Pakistani-American, she translated her love of storytelling into a graduate degree analyzing national identity, culture, and cinema in South Asia. She grew up in New Jersey, which she has yet to fully escape (though not because of a time loop). Midnight Strikes is her debut novel.
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