Exclusive Cover Reveal + Author Interview: A Clash of Steel, a Queer Asian Retelling of Treasure Island, by C.B. Lee

Today, The Quiet Pond is incredibly honoured and excited to share with you the exclusive cover reveal for A Clash of Steel, a remix of the beloved classic Treasure Island, by C.B. Lee!

Early last year, Feiwel and Friends announced that they would be launching ‘Remixed Classics’ – a YA series of modern retellings of beloved literature classics. So, when C.B. Lee, author of Not Your Sidekick and Seven Tears at High Tide, annnounced that she was going to be writing a retelling of Treasure Island that was both Asian and queer, all of us at the Pond were thrilled.

So when C.B. reached out to me and asked me to help her exclusively reveal for her Treasure Island retelling, named A Clash of Steel, I swear to you all: I was vibrating with excitement. And when she showed me the cover for A Clash of Steel, I literally gasped. I love it so much; it is truly a work of art and I know all of you are going to love it too.

Therefore, I am incredibly delighted and honoured to be sharing with you all an exclusive reveal of A Clash of Steel!

Here is the summary from the publisher:

1826. The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, the scourge of the South China Sea, is no more. Its ruthless leader, a woman known only as the Head of the Dragon, is now only a story, like the ones Xiang has grown up with all her life. She desperately wants to prove her worth, especially to her mother, a shrewd business woman who never seems to have enough time for Xiang. Her father is also only a story, dead at sea before Xiang was born. Her only memento of him is a pendant she always wears, a simple but plain piece of gold jewelry.

But the pendant’s true nature is revealed when a mysterious girl named Anh steals it, only to return it to Xiang in exchange for her help in decoding the tiny map scroll hidden inside. The revelation that Xiang’s father sailed with the Dragon Fleet and tucked away this secret changes everything. Rumor has it that the legendary Head of the Dragon had one last treasure—the plunder of a thousand ports — that for decades has only been a myth, a fool’s journey.

Xiang is convinced this map could lead to the fabled treasure. Captivated with the thrill of adventure, she joins Anh and her motley crew off in pursuit of the island. But the girls soon find that the sea—and especially those who sail it—are far more dangerous than the legends led them to believe.

A Clash of Steel releases on the 7th of September, 2021!

Pre-order A Clash of Steel on:

Hardback: Amazon | B&N | Books-a-Million | Indiebound | Bookshop | Powell’s
Audio: Audible | Libro.fm
Ebook: Nook | Google Books | Kindle | Kobo | ebooks.com | iBooks

Cover Reveal: A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee

Cover art illustrator: Feifei Ruan | Cover designer: Rich Deas

Add A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee on Goodreads!

Author Interview with C.B. Lee

CW: Hi CB, welcome back to the Pond and a huge congratulations on the cover reveal for A Clash of Steel! Can you tell us your favourite thing about your cover?

CB: My favorite thing? Oh gosh, can I say all of it? Feifei Ruan did such a spectacular job. I’ve admired her work since I saw her cover for Joan He’s DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE, which is absolutely gorgeous, and she did Malinda Lo’s LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB as well, both of which do such a beautiful job of conveying the tone and sense of time and place and the feel– that you’re in for a treat. When I first learned Feifei was doing my cover, I was beside myself because I knew whatever she would make would be absolutely mindblowing.

I love everything about the CLASH OF STEEL cover. I love the composition, the sense of adventure and heading into the unknown, and Xiang and Anh standing at the bow of the ship, ready for action. I love how Anh is turning back towards the viewer with a mischievous smirk, inviting the reader to come along on this adventure. I love the dragon in the clouds, the islands rising up on the horizon, and even the brushstrokes themselves speak to me as if to say, come along, dear traveler, let me tell you a story. Feifei completely brings this vision to life and I am so excited for readers to come along on this adventure with us.

CW: A Clash of Steel is a Treasure Island retelling and I am so excited for your take on it! What is your favourite thing about the original story, and what similarities and what differences from the original can we expect from your retelling?

CB: My favorite thing about Treasure Island is that it is such an adventure story. It might be the adventure story that shaped decades of literature to come, that inspired so many; whether it’s the imagery of the sea, the salty characters, the language and sense of place. Jim Hawkins is a young English boy who dreams of more, of saving his mother’s inn and finding the treasure, and his story is so fun and compelling.

A Clash of Steel remixes the elements of this tale– yes, there is a map, there is a legendary treasure on an island, and a motley crew. But setting it in the South China Sea with queer girls at the center–one Chinese, one Vietnamese– changes everything. To me, this story now becomes not only an adventure, but one about fighting for who you are, not just what others want you to be. I hope readers will recognize the key elements and the emotional resonance of what I felt from the classic, and enjoy this brand new adventure.

CW: We don’t read a lot of young adult stories about Asian girls living in the age of piracy, so I’m so excited to meet Xiang and Anh! What did you enjoy the most when you were writing Xiang and Anh’s stories and journey? What was the most challenging?

CB: This book is incredibly personal. I think both Xiang and Anh come from such different expectations–from others, from themselves–but they’re both trying to make it in a world that is defined by those in power. As I was writing it, I felt deeply connected to the history, particularly that complicated past between China and Vietnam. My family has origins in both China and Vietnam for multiple generations, as well as a history with pirates. 

My mother left Vietnam during the fall of Saigon on a small fishing boat as one of the thousands of refugees who were known as “Boat People.” Her ship was boarded by pirates one night, and she tells me the story about how the pirates led all the men off the ship and then stole what valuables–cash and jewelry–they could find. She had been terrified, hearing stories of pirates who had killed, kidnapped, destroyed lives and worse. There were also pirates who helped the refugees, who towed ships to safety. The stories are many and show many different aspects of these people during a difficult time. 

The pirates who boarded my mother’s ship left after stealing what they could, and then the men had returned–those who had not left with the pirates. They had been fed a hot meal during the siege. 

I thought about this often. As a child, people were either bad or good, and this confused me, because the pirates were supposed to be the bad guys. That’s who they are in Treasure Island. It’s more complicated in A Clash of Steel, as it is in real life. 

I think the most challenging thing for me writing this novel was the sheer amount of research and the historical aspect. I’m a perfectionist, and writing this and getting the details right were important to me, everything from the food to the language to the political details. I had to accept that the standards by which we judge history is often by a Western and colonial lens, because what is preserved is what was thought to be valuable. Many of the texts around this area focus on the impact of the South China pirates on the colonists, and details I was interested in– what were they eating? How many people were on the ship? What did they wear? Weren’t exactly covered. This is also my first historical fiction, so I had to accept that I wasn’t going to get everything perfect, and focus on the heart of the story.

CW: A Clash of Steel takes place in the South China Sea and the Dragon Queen is inspired by Ching Shih, who is considered to be one of the most ‘successful’ pirates in history. Can you give us hints of what we can expect from the Dragon Queen and her character?

CB: At this point I can write a whole book about her with all the knowledge I’ve absorbed in the past year. Zheng Yi Sao 鄭一嫂 is most commonly known as Ching Shih in Western vernacular/ There’s a whole conversation about what spellings to use, but for the purposes of the novel I have chosen to stay close to the Cantonese spelling versus the Wade-Giles romanization of Chinese words. 

A Clash of Steel revolves around the search for Zheng Yi Sao’s legendary treasure, and you can expect to see her appear as the ruthless and bloodthirsty pirate commander all her legends have made her to be. I would cast Ming-Na Wen as Zheng Yi Sao in a live-action remake of this film, just saying this now. 

From the novel, you can expect lots of gay disaster moments, and flirting disguised as swordfighting lessons, and lots of adventure.

Thank you CW and the Quiet Pond for the opportunity to chat here today!

About the Author

CB Lee is a Lambda Literary Award nominated writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy. Her works include the Sidekick Squad series (Duet Books), Ben 10 (Boom!), and All Out Now (HarperTeen). CB loves to write about queer teens, magic, superheroes, and the power of friendship.

Lee’s work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Wired Magazine, and Hypable. Lee’s first novel in the Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Sidekick was a 2017 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in YA/Children’s Fiction and a 2017 Bisexual Book Awards Finalist in Speculative Fiction. Seven Tears at High Tide was the recipient of a Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Fantasy Romance and also a finalist for the 2016 Bisexual Book Awards in the YA and Speculative Fiction categories.

Find CB on: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Facebook | Goodreads

Also check out: So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow

Also releasing on September 7th and part of Feiwel and Friends’s Remixed Classics series is Bethany Morrow’s Little Women remix, So Many Beginnings! While you’re here, why not pre-order So Many Beginnings as well?

Check out its gorgeous book cover, which was recently announced on Twitter:


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