Delacorte Press has pre-empted a débutant’s YA fantasy trilogy, inspired by the author’s experience growing up in Sierra Leone during the civil war, for a “significant six-figure” sum.
Kelsey Horton, editor at the Penguin Random House US imprint, won North American rights to screenwriter Namina Forna’s Deathless, and two other novels, just days after submission. The deal was brokered by Alice Sutherland-Hawes at the Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency.
Deathless, set in the West African-inspired deeply patriarchal society of Otera, is a “sprawling fantasy looking at the commodification and othering of women”. It centres around 16-year-old Deka, who participates in a ceremony that determines whether or not girls can become members of the village. When Deka bleeds gold—the colour of impurity—she faces a consequence worse than death. She is saved by a mysterious woman who tells Deka of her true nature: she is an Alaki, a near-immortal with exceptional gifts. The stranger offers her a choice: fight for the Emperor, with others just like her, or be destroyed.
Forna was born in Sierra Leone but emigrated with her family to the US in the 1990s, during her homeland’s civil war. She has worked as a writer and producer for film and TV in LA since graduating from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Forna said: “I always wanted to write a book that showed girls that they could be heroes, that they could fight for what’s right. Twelve years ago I got the idea for the Alaki, and I’m so excited to share Deka with the world.”
Horton said: “I loved this story from the first page—I was completely won over by Namina’s powerful writing. I also just needed to know what would happen to Deka. As I continued to root for her page after page, I discovered a compelling, layered world.”