Cousins Ailis and Na’ya are typical 12-year-olds—except for they live in the magical nighttime world of Laitham, on the coast of New England. Oh, and they’re weirns—that is, witches that are bound to demon guardian spirits called astrals. In addition to their schoolwork, with classes that include cryptozoology and alchemistry, the cousins are tasked with training their sometimes unruly astrals. PW spoke to Na’ya and Ailis about life as weirn kids in a land of “things that would gladly eat you for dinner” and, even scarier, about the perils of middle school.
I’ve heard that astrals are notorious for getting into trouble. How goes the training with yours?
Na’ya: Mine doesn’t NEED training. It’s stupid they make us go; I ace the class every time.
Ailis: Didn’t she eat your alchemistry textbook last week? Did you ever get it back?
Na’ya: That was ONE time, she just really likes books, because she’s super smart and…Hungry for knowledge. BA-DUM-TSSS.
Ailis: What about the time when she—
Na’ya: HOW GOES YOUR ASTRAL TRAINING, AILIS?
Ailis: Uh, well, she still digs up the ground randomly. Miss Blue doesn’t know what to do about that. So I guess the school’s just going to have random scratches on the floor everywhere.
Na’ya: And she still sheds.
Ailis: [Through clenched teeth smile] And she still sheds, yes, thank you for mentioning that, Na’ya. Now let’s talk about that alchemistry book that your Astral—
Na’ya: LET’S MOVE ON.
Na’ya, I think it’s safe to say that you have an interest in dragons. How are you working toward your goal of becoming one?
Na’ya: Oh, okay, so! I’ve been doing research and I think all I have to really do is find the right transformation spell and some dragon essence. I mean, it sounds pretty straightforward. Our grandma runs a magic supply store, and she’s got all these vials and potion bottles just lying around, and one of them HAS to be dragon essence.
Ailis: If not in the store, then def in the attic.
Na’ya: Yeah, yeah!! I mean, she might have an entire dragon lost up in there; the place is a mess.
Ailis: [Laughs] It’s true, it’s worse than your room.
Na’ya: It’s worse than YOUR room!
Ailis, I hear that your grandmother makes the best pastries in Laitham. What makes them so delicious, and how do you resist?
Ailis: Oh, I don’t. Unless grandma’s reading this? Then I mean, I totally resist, I’m very good at not eating delicious chocolate rolls that are placed within smelling distance.
Na’ya: Ugh, grandma’s not playing fair; she’s got this secret recipe that she won’t share with anyone, even with D’esh! And she LOVES D’esh, okay—he’s totally her favorite grandchild.
Ailis: And when she’s baking? It’s like this special endurance test: the whole house smells like there’s a fresh pastry up your entire nose and you can’t have any! And the chocolate rolls—she puts all these special herbs in there, and they just melt in your mouth, and—
Na’ya: STOP IT! [Stomach grumbles.]
What are your favorite school subjects, and which one do you find comes most in handy outside of school?
Na’ya: Spell shop, hands down.
Ailis: Oh, yeah, same! I also really like alchemistry! They take us on crystal harvesting field trips and they let us take some home! Spells work so much better with fresh crystals.
Na’ya: Cryptozoology’s cool too. I don’t like cleaning up the creature poop though. It smells and some of that stuff can burn a hole in CEMENT.
Let’s talk about school drama. Anything you’d like to share?
Ailis: Uhhhhh…let’s see…I guess…
Na’ya: [Grumpily crosses her arms] Cuz, I can’t believe you have to THINK about this.
Ailis: Oh! That’s RIGHT. Patricia!
Na’ya: She is the WORST. We used to be best friends in elementary school but now she’s suddenly EVIL for some reason, and just constantly harassing us!
Ailis: Constantly! It’s kind of like general background noise, now, I’m so used it…I wonder why she hates us now.
Na’ya: Because she’s a dumb TRAITOR, that’s why.
After dark, the town of Laitham transforms from a human world to one of magic and night things. As a tourist, would you suggest I visit in the daytime?
Ailis and Na’ya: Nothing interesting really to see in the daytime, everyone’s sleeping.
Ailis: Wait, are you human? Or Night Thing? If you’re human, ONLY visit during daytime. Or you’ll get eaten. There’s stuff for human tourists—they have like, a haunted “witch” house and this hike called “werewolf walk.” It’s totally fake and safe, there’s just glowy lights and growl recordings! [Laughs.]
Na’ya: Yeah, stay out of Laitham at night unless you’re of the Night Realm. What Ailis said—You Will Get Eaten.
I hear that you ran into a bit of trouble in the Silent Woods. Do you think you came out of the experience as wiser weirns?
Ailis: Yes! Yes. Totally.
Na’ya: We were already wise though.
Ailis: Yeah! We make good life decisions.
Na’ya: That’s right. [Coughs].
From your perspectives, what does it mean to be a true friend?
Na’ya: [Crankily crosses her arms] A true friend wouldn’t cast SPELLS on you in the middle of the cafeteria! Or call you ugly! A true friend would lift you up, not tear you down!
Ailis: Lift you up, that’s right! But not with spells. That would be weird.
Na’ya: [Laughs] Oh, that’s right!
Ailis: We did levitation in spell shop last year and everyone was FLAILING. It’s a hard spell to control!
Na’ya: Remember Jasper went all the way up to the CEILING and there was a weirn nest there?
Ailis: So Much Chaos.
Na’ya: He won that fight though! Oh and do you remember? [Conversation devolves into excited yelling about the many times Jasper and his Astral were in trouble].
A version of this article appeared in the 07/06/2020 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Middle School Magic: PW Interviews Ailis Maeve Thornton and Na’ya Leiburne-Thornton