Amazon bestselling author Jussara Leal takes readers on an electrifying journey through the underworld of the Jogo do Bicho mafia in Rio de Janeiro in her new book, “Heir to the Empire”. With more than 150 million reads on the platform, Leal breaks the clichés of European and Asian mafias by presenting an intense narrative full of twists and turns.
In the dark romance, the protagonists Bruno Negão and Maia Galina, heirs of rival families, find themselves involved in a forbidden and dangerous passion after meeting during Carnival. From the points of view of Bruno and Maia, the reader is led to experience a story of love, betrayal and redemption that challenges the limits of legality and the heart.
In addition to the exciting twists and action scenes, “Herdeiro do Império” also highlights social issues such as Brazilian structural machismo, highlighting how women are underestimated in the business world and fight against male oppression. With an engaging and reflective plot, Jussara Leal once again demonstrates her mastery in captivating readers and taking them to delve deeply into her stories.
How did the inspiration come to create a dark romance story set in the underworld of Jogo do Bicho in Rio de Janeiro?
I always wanted to write about the mafia, however, I didn’t want more of the same stuff we usually find in mafia romance books, which revolve more around the Russian and Italian mafia, among others. I had never seen a Brazilian mafia novel, especially about Jogo do Bicho, so I combined my desire with the absence of the theme, and wrote Heir of the Empire.
Can you tell us more about the construction of the characters Bruno Negão and Maia Galina? What were the challenges when developing protagonists inserted in such an intense context?
Bruno and Maia are the only heirs of the two biggest bicheiros in Brazil. They will keep the entire empire built by their parents, as long as they take their place in the misdemeanor. The first big challenge is the fact that neither of them is happy with this “inheritance”. I wanted to create them like this to show another side of what can happen. Not everyone wants or is willing to enter the underworld. From then on, other challenges come, such as the fact that they are children of enemies and their parents have another person in common. I can’t say more as it will be a spoiler. Just read to understand. Haha ha .
The book covers themes such as forbidden love, redemption and revenge. How do these elements intertwine in the plot, providing a captivating experience for readers?
I balanced the forbidden well, making readers bravely root for the couple. I put a big secret in the plot, and this secret is the main point that makes their parents become enemies. Without a doubt, the discovery of this secret will surprise readers and answer many questions. Get ready for a hint of redemption, a huge dose of intensity, and a lot of adrenaline while reading.
The plot is narrated from the points of view of Bruno and Maia. How does choosing this perspective contribute to the depth of the story and readers’ connection to the characters?
I believe it brings greater proximity between the reader and the protagonists, without the need for more points of view, thus making it a more intense and exciting read.
In addition to the central plot, you highlight Brazilian structural machismo. How is this issue addressed in the context of the plot and why was it important to include it in the narrative?
Escaping again from that “more of the same” — which I see in many mafia novels — and from the old Jogo do Bicho scenario — which was duly dominated by men — I wanted to radicalize, give voice and power to a woman. I thought it was crucial to create Maia in this way, to give an extra touch of electricity to the plot.
The book also explores Carnival as a setting. How does this iconic Brazilian festival become an important element in the plot?
The big bicheiros have had a lot of influence over carnival since the 1930s. It started with the famous “Mr. Natal”, as Natalino José do Nascimento was popularly known, who became an investor and patron of Portela. And then several others emerged, such as Castor de Andrade with Mocidade, Anísio with Beija-flor, among others. Because of this, I decided to start the story with Carnival, showing the influence, dominance, disputes and serving as the setting for Bruno and Maia’s first meeting.
During the writing, were there any secondary characters who rose to prominence in a surprising way that you didn’t expect?
Two of the secondary characters are relevant to the story, because through their actions the plot begins to come to life. They are the crucial point for Bruno and Maia’s meeting, and all the problems that follow.
Amid the secrets and betrayals, what messages or reflections do you hope readers take away from “Heir to the Empire”?
I really believe that we started to reflect a little more on pre-judgments with this story. Not all people are exactly as we think, both for good and for bad. Every story has two sides.
You have already reached the milestone of more than 150 million reads on Amazon . What was this writing journey like and how did interacting with readers influence your writing?
I started unpretentiously. For about three years, I wrote for free on the Wattpad app , with no intention of making writing my career. However, precisely because of my incredible relationship with readers, they led and encouraged me to go further. Because of them, I started publishing my stories on Amazon , reached even more readers around the world, became a bestseller, and made writing my profession that I love so much.
Do you already have a release in mind? How is your planning? Can you give us a preview of what readers can expect?
I have some. My mind doesn’t stop. I’m planning to delve deeper into a detective novel that I started as part of an Amazon quick reads project , and I plan to write a college romance trilogy that takes place in Brazil, straying a bit from the college romances that take place in the US. I am passionate about Brazil, especially Minas Gerais, which will be the state I chose — once again — to tackle my new project.
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