The next big YA fantasy is here.
At least, that’s what Simon & Schuster hopes as it sets the release date and debuts the cover art for Once There Was, a fantasy novel intended for all ages from Kiyash Monsef, a California-based, Emmy-nominated producer and writer who will be making his book debut with an April 4, 2023 publishing date.
Hollywood is also pinning its hopes on this possible next big thing, with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment, the banner behind recent films Thirteen Lives and tick, tick…BOOM!, picking up the screen rights to develop a film adaptation.
Both New York publishing and Hollywood went all in for YA fantasy around 25 years ago when J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone took the world by storm, blasting the door wide open for new authors, new stories and new movies.
But in the 2010s, the genre became less magical. Potter had run its course and imitators were flooding the field, romantic vampires and hungry archers also rose and fell, and Rowling went from beloved to controversial in recent years. And despite books such as Children of Blood and Bone and Black Leopard, Red Wolf, which are critically acclaimed as well as bestsellers, the unicorn of a cross-over success remains elusive.
Perhaps the unicorn will be found in Once, which uses the idea of a veterinarian who works on mythical and magical creatures as its launching pad, and was the center of a two-book, seven-figure deal in February when Simon & Schuster first preemptively picked it up.
It was a nine-year journey for Monsef, who worked on video games, television and comics when he began writing a series of interconnected short stories centered on that veterinarian who works on mythical and magical creatures. A book coalesced when he looked into his own Iranian heritage, and into the Persian fairytales his grandmother told him at bedtime.
Once follows Marjan, an Iranian American girl working to keep her father’s veterinary practice alive after his sudden death. When a visitor reveals her father was no ordinary veterinarian and that all of the fantastical stories her father told her growing up were real, Marjan is thrown into a secret world where magical creatures are bought and sold, treasured and trapped.
She finds friends she never knew she needed — a charming British boy who grew up with a griffon and a runaway witch seeking magic and home — while trying to hide her double life from her old friends and classmates. The deeper Marjan gets into treating these animals, the closer she comes to finding who killed her father — and to a shocking truth that will reawaken her sense of wonder that also puts humans and beasts in the gravest of danger.
“S&S, and particularly my editor, Kendra Levin, instantly understood the book I was trying to write,” said Monsef in a statement. “They had a clear vision for how to get there, and then where to go next and how to bring this book into the world. I mean, look at the cover! It gives nothing away, and at the same time it captures exactly the feelings I want readers to have: the wonder, the mystery, the realness of the creatures themselves, and the strangeness of Marjan’s connection with them.”
Check out the wraparound cover, below.