If you have a Harry Potter-sized hole in your reading life, Montclair author Henry Neff is here to fill it with Impyrium.
The first book in a series of fantasy novels for middle school-aged readers, Impyrium is the story of Hazel Faeregine, a 12-year-old girl who is one of a set of triplets in line for the throne of Impyrium, and Hob Smyth, a 13-year-old boy who joins the revolutionary Fellowship and becomes a spy in the royal palace. Their world is emerging from a long-ago Cataclysm, and future of the magical royal family and the non-magical people they rule is, to say the least, in peril.
Neff is launching Impyrium after wrapping up his five-book Tapestry series, which also sits comfortably alongside a young reader’s Potter collection. The new book alternates between Hazel’s and Hob’s point of view, providing a way into Impyrium for any fantasy fiction fan.
Neff talked to Baristanet about the new book and the upsides for writers of Montclair as a home base.
Baristanet: What is your Montclair background?
Henry Neff: We moved to Montclair from Brooklyn almost five years ago. I didn’t realize I was such a cliche until I popped into Bluestone, grabbed a cup of coffee and asked where I could find the nearest hardware store. The lady behind the counter asked if I was new to town. When I replied that I was, she quipped “Park Slope or the Upper West Side?” We shared a laugh over that. I had no idea the Neffs had joined a mass migration, but I’m glad that we did. We love Montclair. It’s home.
B: Is there anything in the book that local readers will recognize?
HN: I wish I could say there were specific Montclair references in Impyrium, but I’d be stretching it. The story takes place on Earth, but 3,000 years after an event called the Cataclysm ushered in a new age. If you told people in Impyrium that you came from a Pre-Cataclysm settlement called Montclair outside New York City, they would have no idea what you were talking about—and might possibly think you were crazy. New York, Paris, London, Tokyo…they might as well be Atlantis so far as people in Impyrium are concerned.
This future world is sufficiently removed from our own that I didn’t slip in any Montclair references or landmarks. There is an academic building whose clock tower was inspired by Cornell University (my alma mater) and a character glimpses subterranean ruins that turn out to be Vancouver, but that’s the extent of contemporary references.
B: How has the local community encouraged your career as an author?
HN: For its size, there isn’t a better town for writers. One could start a world-class publishing company with a deep stable of authors and illustrators drawing solely from Montclair residents. It’s inspiring, empowering and often humbling. The local talent isn’t just impressive; it’s professionally invaluable.
Writing can be a pretty solitary career. I’ve met many authors who have to travel in order to network, socialize or brainstorm with those who share their passions and creative challenges. Not me. I can just pop over to Watchung Books and glean Margot Sage-El’s wisdom as an independent bookseller. While I’m there, I might bump into an editor or publisher and chat about industry trends or get their take on a marketing idea. Writers, artists, editors, designers, literary agents…the list goes on. You name it, they live here. And we’re not talking journeymen—we’re talking superstars in their respective fields. It’s a true luxury, and I can’t overstate how much our community has helped me grow.