Interview with Christina , Author of The Last Refuge


Welcome to YAOTL, Christina! Please tell us a bit about The Last Refuge.


Thank you for having me!


The Last Refuge is my debut YA fantasy and the first novel in the Stealing Sanctuary series. The story centers around sixteen-year-old Kiera Vandyer’s journey after a cruel twist of fate forces her to commit the worst possible infraction. She’s trespassed over the border into Etabon, the last refuge for magic on the planet of Atterah. To conceal her crime from the all-powerful Ruling Board and escape the site’s warden, Kiera must use her strange new powers to battle for her freedom… or die trying.


I like to describe it as the dystopia of The Hunger Games meets the magical world of Narnia. Its central themes include found family, coming of age, and self-discovery.


I’m a sucker for forbidden magic. Or–magic of any sort. It relies on such strong worldbuilding. How did you construct the rules for how your own magic works in The Last Refuge?


I completely relate. I grew up loving all things magic, and the idea of it being lost or forbidden is so compelling. When I was constructing the world of Atterah, I wanted magic to weave through the fabric of the planet. I imagined it as its own character in a way, as an energy that flows in from the universe through the planet’s inhabitants to its very core. The magic is about balance, and catastrophic consequences occur when it is stifled or corrupted. There are both light and dark forces at play on Atterah, and the manipulation of energy relies on what the caster chooses to channel and their actions.


I’ve also always been fascinated by dystopian novels, so including an oppressive regime that fears magic and isolates it for control was something I had planned for from the beginning. In The Last Refuge, the world's governing body, the Ruling Board, has contained magic within the boundaries of the festival grounds of Etabon. When you cross over that barrier, you connect with your magic and transform into your magical form. As a rule, I wanted there to be an individual component to a person’s connection to their magic, meaning your form speaks to you on a deeper level. It plays with the idea of who we would become if we gave ourselves the chance to look.


So much of fiction has seeds in real life. Please tell us a bit about your dyslexia and how it inspired threads in this story.


One of my earliest memories is of being in grade school and struggling to read my assigned words aloud to the class. Hearing the other kids whisper about how I wasn’t very smart still manages to put knots in my stomach even now. When quiet reading time rolled around, I’d pick up a book and make up my own stories in my head because it was easier than admitting to the teacher that some of the words on the page didn’t make sense. I couldn’t help but feel there was something broken in me. Luckily, my teacher noticed my struggle and connected me with the school specialist who changed everything. At first, leaving the classroom to spend an hour with Mrs. Wrench every day was another reminder of my flaws, but it quickly became my favorite part of the day. Her classroom was cozy, bright, and full of tactical reading games.


Mrs. Wrench was a creative learning specialist who gave me tools to process information in a way I could understand, but more than that, she validated that my brain was different, but that didn’t make it broken. She described dyslexia to me in terms I could understand, explaining that I sensed the world differently, but that had no bearing on my intelligence. It was freeing to be seen for who I was and, in turn, helped me see I didn’t require fixing; I only needed the means to navigate the world on my terms. By the end of that year, I was reading two levels above my grade.


It takes one act of kindness to change your life. If I’d never been given the opportunity to work one-on-one with Mrs. Wrench, I’m certain I wouldn’t have developed my deep wonder and appreciation for stories. There are times when dyslexia can still make writing frustrating, but my relationship with it has transformed. I appreciate the way I perceive the world; it’s led to my vivid imagination.


Dyslexia’s profound impact on my life has influenced the throughline in The Last Refuge, that our differences are the source of our unique magic. The human experience is complex. We all encounter moments of feeling like outsiders, and the sense of being unseen by those around us can be profoundly isolating. In The Last Refuge, Kiera experiences a similar sense of being set apart even within the borders of Etabon. However, she discovers a group of beings who love and accept her for who she is and learns to lean into her gifts. In a world where loneliness is increasingly prevalent, I aimed to create a narrative of hope, emphasizing that readers are not alone in these feelings. It’s those differences that allow us to see the world through a unique lens. Each of us has the power to embrace our magic and shift the narrative to empower not only ourselves but each other.


You’re such an inspiration to young readers who are just diagnosed, especially since you’re a professional writer. What unique techniques do you find most useful in your writing process?


That’s very kind; I hope I can encourage those young readers to keep delving into stories and even writing ones of their own. Throughout my writing journey, I’ve discovered tools and techniques that have been invaluable in navigating the process. It’s important to remember that no two writers are the same, as well as the fact that dyslexia exists on a spectrum, so it’s normal to tailor techniques to fit you or even disregard them if they don’t work for you.


Depending on the day, my focus can be sharp, and on others, it’s scattered. Many writers face this challenge, and it can fluctuate from day to day. When I’m struggling to focus, I’ll shift my attention to research topics. I’ll let my mind run wild and expend that restless energy looking up subjects like character names, location inspiration, or anything that’s relevant to my current work in progress. This tactic continues to push the project forward, maintaining that positive momentum while allowing me the freedom to take a pause from the writing itself. I find that this can spark ideas for scenes, so I’ll keep a notepad close by and jot down inspiration as I go.


I’m a visual person, so when I’m working on a concept, I enjoy doodling. You don’t have to be an artist; I’m certainly not, but seeing something on a page can typically make describing it in word format simpler. For example, there’s an eclipse mark in the novel that I wanted to capture, so I sketched it out in a notebook. I also find that drawing a rough map of the world can make it easier to picture where events in the story are taking place. I recommend a dry-erase board because it’s perfect for quick sketches and can double as a space to storyboard your plot.


When it comes to the act of writing and editing itself, dictation and text-to-speech software have been a game changer. After multiple rounds of going through a story, you can skip over spelling errors and omissions, but listening back has helped me to catch those errors before sending drafts to the editor.


Overall, the best technique I’ve found is to notice how I’m feeling mentally and physically and work with it, not against it. When we get frustrated with ourselves, we may end up digging our heels in and getting stuck. If you’re feeling stagnate, don’t be afraid to pivot; try something like turning off the word count just for the day and give yourself permission to be creative without benchmarks. As writers, we can pile unrealistic expectations and rules on ourselves. Don’t let fictitious rules of what a writer “should be” hold you back or define your writing journey. From experience, it’s not only fun to dance outside the lines of expectations, but it's brilliant for a creative breakthrough.


“Magic” in literature allows for some incredible scenic writing and drama–so many unexpected moments. But it usually symbolizes something else. For Kiera, it seemed to me to symbolize her truest inner self. Do you agree?


I love this question, and I’ll try to answer it without giving too much away about what Kiera transforms into when she crosses into Etabon. Yes, her magical form does symbolize who she is within. I wanted her magic to embody freedom from societal constraints. From the beginning of the novel, Kiera is battling the tension between reason and passion. As a dreamer, she’s drawn to magic but has remained firmly grounded in maintaining the façade she’s been forced to present to society out of survival. I imagine her form as the guardian, for the mystical aspect, and for its wild fluidity.


So much of young life involves a bit of healthy defiance of social norms. Even contemporary fiction for young readers features this to a great extent. How does it show up in The Last Refuge?


The ability to question, reflect, and form independent opinions is fundamental to cultivating a healthy sense of self. In Kiera’s case, this is a challenge as the Ruling Board not only expects conformity but demands it. Early in life, Kiera must conceal her magical dreams; she and her mother agree that it’ll be their secret. As she grows into a young adult, her small acts of defiance continue, like smuggling home a stray puppy and quietly gathering independent information outside the Ruling Board’s propaganda. When Kiera faces the warden of Etabon, she opposes the status quo that a fighter must be ruthless to come out on top in the arena. There are times throughout the story where the easiest path would be to choose cruelty, but strength comes in all forms, and Kiera is drawn to compassion to speak truth to power.


Kiera finds herself battling for her freedom literally, but also metaphorically as well. Can you speak to this a bit?


Kiera has grown up in a world where the systems and people in power use fear and intimidation to fragment society. They choose to exploit their people by maintaining scarcity and turning them against each other, making it nearly impossible to unify and create change. Before Kiera crossed the border into Etabon, she desperately tried to fit into this system's framework. Her desire to understand her connection to magic is considered shameful and even dangerous, so she’s hidden and suppressed the truest parts of herself to survive.


When Kiera crosses into Etabon, she’s thrust into the arena and must physically fight for her life and the chance to regain her freedom. During this process, she’s forced to confront her internalized oppression as well. The longer Kiera spends within Etabon, the more she sheds the narrative and reconciles her true self.


She comes to the realization there can’t be true freedom within the confines of the current system. Initially, wielding her power scares her, but she learns that embracing her magic can mean empowerment without power over others. Kiera’s mind opens to the idea that another path can exist. There is a possibility of a world where compassion isn’t weakness, but strength and a unifying force.


You’ve packed so much into The Last Refuge –the search for self, themes of resilience and inner strength (as well as the themes already mentioned). What do you most hope young readers will take from the book?


I hope young readers take away a sense of belonging and wonder from The Last Refuge. My goal is to immerse them in a world where they can escape into the lush worldbuilding and twists and turns of Kiera's journey. Growing up, stories provided a safe place for me to dream and grow. I want to create a similar space for readers in my novels, a place where they’re free to find themselves and feel seen in these stories.


The Last Refuge is the first in a trilogy. What’s next in the series? Any teasers?

Yes, book two in the trilogy is headed to the editor soon. It will focus on the choices Kiera will be forced to make and the internal battle of the light and dark within herself. She will unravel secrets about her past and her future. To save the ones she loves, Kiera will not only have to call upon her magic like never before, but she must rely on the bonds that she'll forge throughout her trials. There's a darkness growing within the borders of Etabon, and if it's unleashed upon Kiera's world... not even the deepest love or strongest magic will set the scales of light and dark to rights again.


Where can we find you?


Thanks for taking the time to get to know me and my story! You can find me on Instagram @christinabacilieri and TikTok @christinabacilieriauthor and news of upcoming books in the Stealing Sanctuary series at my website 



  1. Definitely my kind of book. I just ordered a copy. When I'm done, I'll review and give to my local library.


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