CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 1 The Dark World

Jeffrey Overstreet - photo by Matt Sumi

“A darkly complex world populated by a rich and diverse cast of characters, in which glimpses of haunting beauty shine through.” So said R. J. Anderson, author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter and Wayfarer in her endorsement of Jeffrey Overstreet‘s The Ale Boy’s Feast.

As I read this final edition of the Auralia Thread series, I am struck by how apropos that simple description is. Today I want to think a little bit about what created the darkness of this world.

Going back to the beginning of the series, I see darkness in the political structure. Rulers are autocratic, and punishments are merciless. Consequently there is a great divide between the privileged and the “criminal element,” poor people who are left to fend for themselves without the protection of government services.

In conjunction with this divide is rampant prejudice, within particular houses, or feudal realms, based on economic and social standing, and between the various houses of the land known as The Expanse.

In addition, there is darkness in this world’s history. One of the houses has fallen to ruin because its people have succumbed to a madness that turns them into dreaded beastmen. The effect on the remaining houses is decidedly negative. They shore up their defenses against raids and have less and less to do with outsiders.

A third element that creates the dark tone of these books is the various dangers that encroach. There are dangers from outside the “civilized” communities, but there are also traitorous dangers from within. Each seems to grow as the series progresses.

Another source of darkness is the false religion, and the seers who teach it, that holds sway over one of the houses. Those following the seers are powerful but unprincipled. They pose a threat to every good character in the story.

Along with this aspect is the unknown of the “childish superstitions” that most adults deny — the existence of the Keeper and the reality of the Northchildren. Belief and disbelief create division and suspicion. At times, the most rational of people can’t tell if they are dreaming or experiencing something from a realm beyond.

Finally, the bleak landscape creates darkness. Even if Deathweed weren’t devouring all living things and turning The Expanse into a wilderness, places like The Eastern Heatlands and the Forbidding Wall still produce an atmosphere of gloom and foreboding.

Quite a dark world, indeed. But then there are those “glimpses of haunting beauty.”

I’ll take a look at that aspect next time.

For your enjoyment, spend some time with others discussing this fourth of four, the White Strand in the Auralia Thread.

Check marks are direct links to tour-related articles.

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NOTE: Tour participants, the Amazon link you received for our featured book is broken. You may use this one, or another of your choosing.

Fantasy Friday – World Building

I’ve been thinking about world building a bit more as I’ve worked on the pre-writing for my next book, the one after The Lore of Efrathah. I don’t know a lot about it yet, but I’m already getting the idea that it will have different world building components than the largely rural journey-quest epic I’m finishing.

Thinking about world building has also made me wonder what a non-fantasy writer has to do regarding world building. A fantasy world is something a writer builds from the ground up.

True, some fantasies take place in this world but have fantasy components. That kind of jigsaw-puzzle world building might be harder than the ground-up kind. I don’t know.

I suppose the contemporary world building has to do with selecting places and visiting them to get facts right. Historical world building might be hardest of all because it is ground up but must be true. Lots of research required!

I’ve done some research for my world building, but for the most part, because I’ve been privileged to travel a lot, I relied on what I knew about different places.

The hard part was that I didn’t know what I was doing when I started. So I hadn’t thought through what I should do to create some language elements. I had no intention of actually making up a new language—just writing a few words here and there.

But that soon morphed to include a few lines of poetry and song, greetings, blessings, and on and on. Of course, there needs to be some rhyme or reason to it all, so there needed to be a little basic grammar. But some of the words didn’t fit the rules. Oh, well, that’s more like real language, I decided. Lots of exceptions to the rules in English, so why not in the language of the Hidden Races?

Organizational structure was another thing I hadn’t anticipated. Who was in charge? What power does the advisory council have? What are the military rankings?

And how many people are we talking about? Is this a well-populated land or sparsely so?

How about commerce? What kinds of businesses exist in the cities? Are the people literate and if so, how important are books? Theater? Entertainment?

Questions, questions, questions—all needing answers if the world is to feel real.

Not that the author needs to inform the reader of all the answers. But if the world is to work consistently, the author needs to make it run by a cohesive set of rules. In so doing, the reader may never think about “world building.”

Except for maps. I love maps. I make maps for everything in my world because I need to see the logistics in order to make sure my characters are where I’ve said they are.

My inclination is to include every map I’ve ever made in my book. Won’t readers want to see these maps too? Well, maybe not. I’ve read some notes in which readers say they are turned off by maps (and glossaries).

The only maps I’m turned off by are the ones that aren’t complete. Something happens in the story and I turn to the map to see where this place is in relation to the others, and it isn’t there! Horrors! That’s a map that detracts from the book if ever one does as far as I’m concerned.

How about you? Do maps help world building do you think, or hurt it?

Published in: on May 14, 2010 at 5:41 pm  Comments (7)  
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