If you are as big a Frozen fan as we are, you will be excited to learn that Iduna and Agnarr’s story, written by talented author Mari Mancusi, hits bookstores this week.
Frozen 2: Dangerous Secrets introduces us to sixteen-year-old Iduna. She appears to be an Arendellian village girl, an aspiring inventor, and the best friend of Prince Agnarr, but she harbors a secret – she is also Northuldra.
Ever since the day the forest fell, Arendellians have harbored a deep distrust of the Northuldra people. To add to the mystery of that fateful day, the mist over the forest refuses to part, and no one is quite sure why it descended in the first place. The only certainty in Iduna’s life is her work, her friendship with Agnarr… and that she must keep her true identity a secret.
Fortunately, Agnarr doesn't know that Iduna is the Northuldra girl who saved his life. What he does know is that he can rely on Iduna for support, advice and much-needed chocolate, as he grapples with his royal responsibilities and the expectations of assuming the Arendellian throne. But when Iduna and Agnarr’s friendship develops into something more, how will she balance the weight of her secret with the weight of his crown?
After publishing our review of Frozen 2: Dangerous Secrets, we were delighted to chat with Mari about how she explored all that came before Elsa and Anna’s epic adventures; what it is like collaborating with Disney, and how Mari’s nine-year-old aspires to meet Kristen Bell one day!
Jess Salafia Ward: Mari, thanks so much for chatting with us!
Mari Mancusi: Thank you for having me! I’m always up for chatting about Frozen and Disney!
JSW: Frozen 2: Dangerous Secrets, based on Disney’s Frozen and Frozen 2, will be released on November 3! How do you feel?
MM: I’m really excited to finally have the book released into the world. I was originally hired to write the novel over a year ago, before Frozen 2 had even come out, so Iduna and Agnarr’s story has been a part of me for a long time. Now, finally, I can share it with the fans.
JSW: How did you find out you were selected to write this book for Disney and what was your first thought when you found out?
MM: My agent emailed me saying something like, “If a Frozen book were to drop into your lap, would you have the bandwidth? As if that was even a question! I had already been writing for Disney, doing independent books, but this was next level! Not only was it for their number one animated franchise, but also one of my personal favorites! I mean, I had cosplayed as Elsa so many times! Now I got to write about her parents? (Incidentally I had also cosplayed as Evan Rachel Wood’s character in Westworld and Evan voices Elsa’s mother. So we’ve come full circle here!) Let’s just say it was a very good day.
JSW: Tell us a little bit about the sorts of conversations you had with your Disney liaisons about story, worldbuilding, etc?
MM: My editor and the filmmaker liaisons had already brainstormed some initial ideas on what the book should look like before I came on board and that definitely helped jumpstart the process. (For example, they wanted a first-person story with alternating points of view, which, in hindsight, really brought an intimacy to the story that I think a third person narrative would have lacked.) But at the same time they were also very open to my ideas and thoughts and were always willing to brainstorm or answer questions about Frozen lore. It was definitely more of a collaboration than books I’ve done in the past, which I really appreciated. My editor and I became really close and still are, now that the book is finished. I would love to work with her again!
JSW: You use all the tools given to you by Disney’s Frozen and Frozen 2 and not only embellish it in a thoughtful, consistent and inviting way, but you also build on it for the purposes of developing the preceding chapter in Elsa and Anna’s story and the beginnings of the relationship between their parents, Iduna and Agnarr. What are some of your favorite parts of the Disney films that you chose to include in the story you wanted to tell in Dangerous Secrets and why?
MM: Elsa and Anna’s love for chocolate, which they clearly got from their parents, the origins of the “conceal don’t feel” mantra, how Agnarr knew about the trolls and their powers, the origin story of a certain comfort item of Elsa’s, and, of course, the fateful voyage at sea and what those final moments must have been like for Iduna and Agnarr, knowing they’d never see their daughters again. Those are all from the first film. In Frozen 2, I was able to incorporate even more—delving deeper into scenes that appeared briefly on screen. Iduna saving Agnarr’s life, the vision of her hanging upside down from the tree and asking Agnarr what he was reading, the moment where she tells Agnarr she has to tell him something about her past and he says, “I’m listening.” We see them so briefly in the film and without much context. It was exciting to be able to take those flashes and build them into actual connected scenes.
JSW: There are also a lot of unique Mancusi additions too. For example, Agnarr’s apprehension about taking the throne and Iduna’s work as an inventor. How did these and other story and character choices come about as part of the planning process?
MM: One thing my editor and I felt very strongly about was that Iduna had to be her own person, with her own hopes and dreams and accomplishments. She couldn’t just hang around, waiting for her prince to come. By giving her a career, she was able to grow as a person on her own and stand on her own two feet, which I think shows her inner strength and perseverance. For Agnarr, I wanted his apprehension to kind of mirror Elsa’s later. Both of them lost their parents when they were young and thus didn’t have a natural transition to power. Both of them want what’s best for their people, but they aren’t always sure the best way to go about it.
JSW: Fans know some of the characters in Dangerous Secrets from Disney’s Frozen films. How do you develop Disney characters while ensuring they don’t stray too far from traits, speech, movement, etc. that we know and love from their portrayal in the Disney films?
MM: Let’s just say I watched the films a lot. I could probably recite the scripts by heart at this point. I think eventually I just really internalized each character and their personality traits, which allowed me to insert them into new scenarios and have them act and speak appropriately. Much like any fan fiction writer might do, but in a more official capacity.
JSW: Similarly, how do you go about introducing new characters? Do you “trial” characters during the brainstorming process to determine if they are a good fit or does it happen more organically as part of plot?
MM: Though most characters in Dangerous Secrets will be familiar to fans, there were a few new characters introduced in the book: Johan, the inventor, King Nicholas and Princess Runa, some of the townspeople, etc. It’s hard to talk about how they were developed without giving too much plot away, but I do feel like they had to feel organic to the Frozen ‘verse for them to work in the story. I think Princess Runa was my favorite new character to write, as she seems like a familiar trope to start out with but ends up revealing a lot more depth. I could write a whole other book just about her!
JSW: Besides Iduna and Agnarr’s relationship, what other relationships were important for you to explore in this story and why?
MM: I really loved Iduna’s relationship with Gale, the wind spirit and I also loved exploring Agnarr and his mother’s relationship (or lack thereof). Before now, all we knew was that his mother was named Queen Rita. To reveal her backstory and show how it shaped Agnarr’s life and even Elsa’s life later on proved to be an interesting deep dive that I hope fans will appreciate.
JSW: Themes in this book include love, loss, belonging, and of course, secrets. What do you think are the key takeaways, and what themes resonate most with you, from Dangerous Secrets and why?
MM: I think the theme of “found family” is an important one and it’s also a theme we see often played up in the films. On the opposite end, we’ve got the “conceal, don’t feel” mantra that both Agnarr and Iduna (and later Elsa) internalize at different moments in the book–until we get to the eventual realization of how much harm that idea has wrought. It was important to me (and the filmmakers) that Agnarr and Iduna aren’t perfect. And even if they mean well and love each other and their children, they didn’t always make the right choices. I like writing flawed characters that don’t tie up naturally with a bow at the end. It feels more like real life.
JSW: Without giving too much away, what is your favorite scene or chapter in Dangerous Secrets and why?
MM: I loved writing the scene of Agnarr and Iduna journeying to the Mist. They’re best friends at this point, but they haven’t admitted their love for one another, even though it’s quite obvious to the reader. They’re just cute and fun and playful together and it warms my heart. Even knowing what’s coming, I can enjoy these stolen moments of joy. On the other end, I’m evil, so I appreciate the tragic tear-jerking moments at the end as well. I still can’t read the final few paragraphs of the book without choking up a little.
JSW: Who is your favorite character in this story and why?
MM: It had to be Iduna. She’s so determined and brave and smart and she goes through so much, but somehow, she endures it all and finds herself and her true love. She definitely has the makings of a true Disney princess!
JSW: What non-Disney resources did you look to for inspiration?
MM: I researched a lot about Norway and its villages and their traditional customs and clothing, since they were the inspiration behind Arendelle. I also researched the Sami, who were the inspiration for the Northuldra. I still haven’t gotten a chance to try Kransekake, the traditional Norweigan wedding cake, but it’s on my bucket list after including it in the book!
JSW: What are your likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, that you can you share with us about this Disney project compared to other writing projects you have done previously?
MM: I very much enjoyed the collaboration between myself and my editor and the filmmakers. They were very open to my ideas and, at the same time, were always available to answer questions or clarify Frozen lore. My original books were always solo endeavors where it was up to me to work everything out myself. So this was very refreshing and fun. I truly feel that this book was a team effort between myself and my awesome editor Heather, who loves the world of Frozen as much as I do.
JSW: You are a mom, a video gamer and an avid cosplay enthusiast. You have mentioned in previous interviews that your young daughter is very helpful in proofing some of your writing. How else do these roles influence your writing, if at all?
MM: I think I am, first and foremost, a fan and therefore I understand fan culture. I know what readers want in a tie-in story like this and I hope I was able to deliver it. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading a story in a world you love and finding it ringing inauthentic. Like the author is just going through the motions and really doesn’t appreciate or love the world as much as you do. I hope my love for the Frozen ‘verse radiates from every page of this novel and every Easter Egg or nod or wink to the films will spark joy in the readership.
And yes, my nine-year-old is an avid reader and Frozen fan and actually caught an error in the book we had all missed, thankfully before the book was printed! Luckily, she accepts payment in pizza and ice cream! She’s a huge Anna fan and really wants to meet Kristen Bell someday!
JSW: What is next for Mari Mancusi?
MM: I actually have been doing quite a few middle grade books as of late. I had one come out in May with Little Brown Young Readers called Dragon Ops, which is basically Jurassic Park meets Ready Player One where three kids get trapped in the world’s very first augmented reality theme park and have to play through the game to make it out alive, all while being hunted by an AI dragon who is determined to win the game at any cost. The second book in that series: Dragons vs. Robots, comes out in spring of 2021. As a gamer myself, it was a joy to write.
JSW: What do you ultimately hope readers get out of Dangerous Secrets (besides making them cry!)?
MM: I hope it will answer all their lingering questions from Frozen 2 and that they will come to ship “Agduna” as much as I did after writing their story.
Frozen 2: Dangerous Secrets is now available online and in bookstores everywhere.