GUEST POST: Worldbuilding in Akrasia, by Betsy Dornbusch

I was asked to talk about world building in Akrasia, but actually, I’m going to talk about three countries of the Seven Eyes world, Monoea, Akrasia, and Brîn, because Draken is a child of two of them, neither of which is Akrasia. It is, though, important and powerful, a small continent that integrates several different races of peoples, including a principality called Brîn, and ties them together.

Hang on for a little history here. A war between Akrasia and Brîn was fought long before Draken was born. Brîn shares a continent with Akrasia and happened to include the most important port and mines. Draken’s father escaped the slaughter in Brîn to hide in Monoea, and therefore the subsequent war, and he was enslaved. When Monoea abolished slavery, he deserted his child, a bastard son of the royal family, and fled back to Brîn.

Then, much later, when Draken was an adult and sailing coastal protection routes in Monoea, Akrasia and Brîn came to die in a war they were destined to lose against the monolithic Monoea. Draken fought in that war, and afterward, in a prestigious group of soldiers tasked with rooting out the remaining enemies.

emissaryBecause of Draken’s status and favoritism from his royal cousins, he never suffered from too much overt racism in Monoea. Not that it didn’t exist, but hatreds are based more on status, family, and wealth in this largely single-race country. That Draken is biracial is secondary to his status as a distant member of the royal family, and he’s more than proved himself loyal by hunting down remaining Brînian soldiers in Monoea and otherwise serving at the pleasure of the King.

But once he is banished to Akrasia, Draken’s mixed blood becomes his greatest secret. Akrasia’s sect of religion maintains doctrine against biracial unions. All such children are enslaved or killed upon birth. The truth in the reasoning behind this is lost to time and legend, but racism is a deeply ingrained, unescapable facet of Akrasian culture. To be sure, Draken shares some of that racism. After all, he is lifelong enemies with Brîn and Akrasia. Even with all he knows, though, it takes him awhile to understand the saturation of bigotry in the culture.

I wish I could say that ten years ago when I wrote Exile, I had some cognizant, grand theme of diversity in mind. Really, I didn’t. I wrote people I thought were cool, with magic I thought was cool. Looking back, though, I realize how Akrasia reflects not only the diverse, racist cities where I grew up and spent my twenties working as a teacher and counselor, but also my own effort to make sense of these seemingly shallow hatreds that keep people apart. I taught kids of many races and I adored them all. Most of my friends and coworkers in my twenties were people of color. But I also saw institutionalized and personal racism in the schools and on the street frequently.

So while I was playing within the epic fantasy genre, I was also unconsciously studying racism. Like the cities I lived in, there is necessary interaction between the races in Akrasia, but courtesy is a veneer covering festering mistrust. Everyone in Akrasia can find something to hate about the others, mostly the varied manifestations of magic.

The Gadye are great healers, an ability they share with generosity, but they also have disconcerting insight into people and the future.

The Mance are necromancers, a warrior-priest race with close ties to the god of death. Everyone likes that they keep evil spirits under control, but prefer they keep their distance. Besides the necromancy that reminds people that death comes for everyone, their silvery skin acts as a mirror to one’s morality and integrity.

The Moonlings are secretive and reclusive, tribal warriors with powerful earth and time magic they refuse to share with others. Most people consider their diminutive size and obedience to their slave masters—when their magic is controlled—their only endearing qualities.

Brînians are sailors and traders… with a smattering of piracy mixed in. Because they controlled a powerful port, they were conquered by the Akrasians. Their magic runs only through the royal family, and is a very particular sort of magic. Only by controlling their princes and the royal magic does Akrasia manage to keep control over Brîn.  Because they fight so well and tend to flaunt their strength and wealth with bravado and attire, no one doubts a Brînian would as soon kill you as look at you.

Akrasians are hated because of their control over the entire country. What they lack in magic, they more than make up for with confidence, a few stolen magical items, and a sizeable, well-trained army. They also have a chip on their collective shoulder; legend holds they are the last race to immigrate to Akrasia and they have no real reason for being so powerful other than brute strength, even if they do claim to own the gods’ favor.

Of course, with a cast like this, the only thing to do is to toss them together and see how they interact. Draken, who despite his heritage is more racist and less cultured than he might think, collects an unarguably tropish, diverse company. They start out sharing mutual disdain but learn eventually that differences make for rich, lively friendships, and that their varied skills and magic are invaluable when war again finds Akrasia.

betsydornbuschBIO: Betsy Dornbusch writes urban and epic fantasy, science fiction, and has dabbled in thrillers and erotica. Her short fiction has appeared in print and online venues such as Sinister Tales, Big Pulp, Story Portal, and Spinetingler, and her work is in the anthologies Tasty Little Tales and Deadly by the Dozen. She’s been an editor with the ezine Electric Spec for six years and regularly speaks at fan conventions and writers’ conferences. Her first full length novel, ARCHIVE OF FIRE came out in 2012 to great reviews  and the first of her her epic fantasy series, EXILE, came out in February 2013. She’s the sole proprietor of Sex Scenes at Starbucks where you can believe most of what she writes. In her free time, she snowboards, air jams at punk rock concerts, and just started following Rockies baseball, of all things.

GUEST POST: What Inspired Osias, by Betsy Dornbusch

Under my probably annoying cry of “NEEDS MOAR OSIAS,” Betsy Dornbusch, author of Exile, agreed to write this wonderful and illuminating guest post about what inspired the character of Osias in the first place.


This is kind of an embarrassing question, even though I’m sure Ria didn’t mean it that way, because Osias started life as the worst kind of trope, and he still sort of is. Osias is an MMA, a Mystical Magical Advisor.

Yeah, that guy. Gandalf. Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander. Merlin.

Because of that, I’ve been bemused to find he’s a reader favorite. If I’m diffident about anything in Exile, Osias is it. Escaping that archetype was a struggle, a difficult trope to twist, from the start. I knew he was going to have to change. I’d never sell a book with a recycled Gandalf in it.

So the first answer to the question What inspired Osias? Insecurity.

That insecurity drove me to make Osias what he is, which I suppose is a reasonably effective, well-rounded character for an MMA. I can’t describe everything about him without giving away a lot of spoilers, but he is a necromancer sworn to the death god Korde and he helps guard a bad-ghost jail behind a great mountain range in Akrasia called Eidola.

But he certainly didn’t start out life that way. At first he was young, handsome, with pale long hair and… All right, yeah. He was an elf with wizard powers.

During the writing of Exile and my pondering how to get Osias to be anything but a young, elvish Gandalf—this was years and years ago—I was watching a guy dance to one of my favorite local bands. Older guy, long, thick grey hair to his shoulder blades. Long hair isn’t unusual where I live, which is Boulder, Colorado, but this was pretty silver hair. Osias still had that white elvish hair but when I saw this guy I started wondering if he actually had long silver hair.

Except, ugh. A silver-haired MMA? Now he wasn’t even a bad mash-up. Might as well just put a beard on Osias and a crumpled hat and a friggin’ staff. He was looking more and more like Gandalf every day. It wasn’t a plot hole, but a character hole, and it needed filling, quick.

Time to seriously rethink.

About this time I bought an antique dresser from a friend with a gorgeous old mirror. I’ve long had a fascination with old mirrors. I like to think about all the people who have looked at themselves in them. I also was mulling over another book (still unpublished) with a silver world. With seven silvery moons and moonwrought, a white metal local to Exile’s world, and me drinking so much Coors Light… Heh, that’s facetious. Okay, not so much. Anyway, it occurred when I looked at this guy’s silver hair, under the odd lights of the show with a Coors Light in my hand, what if Osias was silver all over?

Kind of like that mirror in my antique dresser.

And just like that, I got ideas for all kinds of cool magic, like reflective magic and necromancy. His glamour was sharpened. He got in deeper with the god Korde and his responsibilities increased. His knowing about Draken, because he does know things about him, suddenly made sense. He had a real role to play, his own secrets, everything. He even got a familiar, Setia.

Which really goes to show the best ideas are elegantly simple and brimming with potential, and in Osias’ case, come from an old mirror and a can of beer.

betsydornbuschBetsy Dornbusch is the author of a dozen short stories, three novellas, and two novels. She also is an editor with the speculative fiction magazine Electric Spec and the longtime proprietress of her website, Sex Scenes at Starbucks (www.betsydornbusch.com). She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Many thanks to Betsy Dornbusch for writing this piece for Bibliotropic. It was an interesting insight into the origins of a favourite character!

Exile, by Betsy Dornbusch

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – February 1, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Draken vae Khellian, bastard cousin of the Monoean King, had risen far from his ignominious origins, becoming both a Bowrank Commander and a member of the Crown’s Black Guard. But when he is falsely condemned for the grisly murder of his beloved wife, he is banished from the kingdom and cast upon the distant shore of Akrasia, at the arse-end of the world.

Compared to civilized Monoea, Akrasia is a forbidding land of Moonlings, magic, and restless spirits. It is also a realm on the brink of a bloody revolution, as a sinister conspiracy plots against Akrasia’s embattled young queen–and malevolent banes possess the bodies of the living.

Consumed by grief, and branded a murderer, Draken lives only to clear his name and avenge his wife’s murder. But the fates may have bigger plans for him. Alone in a strange land, he soon finds himself sharing the bed of an enigmatic necromancer and a half-breed servant girl, while pressed into the service of a foreign queen whose life and land may well depend on the divided loyalties of an exiled warrior…

Thoughts: Exile tells the story of Draken, illegitimate child of royalty and cousin to the King of Monoea, framed for the murder of his wife and exiled from his homeland. Hence the name of the novel. He gets caught up in a plot between the lands of Akrasia and Brin, a plot involving the gods, ancient weapons, and necromancy, and it seems up to Drake to get to the bottom of not only the threat hanging over multiple countries, but also the truth behind the murder of his wife.

Exile is full of tropes and commonly-used ideas for fantasy fiction, but what’s interesting is that it often doesn’t feel that way as the story progresses. You’ve got the illegitimate child of royalty who has a great manipulated destiny unfolding before him, a magic sword, multiple kingdoms who all believe in the same gods and all hate halfbloods. The list goes on. But you tend to get so caught up in the story that a lot of it goes unnoticed for a long time, until you’re invested in what’s happening and you want to keep reading. It doesn’t feel cheesy or overdone. It feels familiar and comfortable while still being new, something good to read for a fantasy fan looking for some solid comfort reading but also something that haven’t read before. It fits the bill quite nicely.

The book fell down in two main areas for me, things that I couldn’t overlook or that stood out so glaringly at the end that it was difficult to reconcile them with the rest of the story. The first is the transparency of the characters, particularly when it comes to their opinion of Draken. People either immediately dislike him, which isn’t that notable given the few examples in the text, or else like him and trust him right from the get-go, often for reasons that make little sense and seem largely contrived. It made sense with a few people, like Osias and Setia, and Tyrolean once he got to know Draken, but Elena? Va Khlar? A few tenuous reasons are provided, but they don’t hold up well to close examination.

Which leads right into my second problem, the idea of all the events surrounding Draken being orchestrated. Yes, orchestrated by someone who has a fair bit of power and influence, the idea that the whole plan went off essentially without a hitch? It could have all been undone by Draken drowning before he made it to shore after being kicked off the prison ship. It could have been undone by him getting pneumonia and dying on the prison ship! So many things lined up so perfectly to have Draken exactly where someone else needed him to be, not just with time and place but also people’s reactions to him, that it stretches credulity. So, a very detailed tapestry of events, but just don’t poke too hard at the image or else you’ll find that many of the threads are pretty weak.

The world-building was sufficient, though not particularly detailed. There’s the usual feuding over borders, politics, some cultural difference between nations, but most of it goes unaddressed, and what I noticed most was the similarities between them all. The biggest difference between most represented cultures in Exile are skin colour and general attitudes toward sex. Other than that, they all worship the same pantheon, all value pure blood and despise those of mixed race, and believe in similar fairy tales. Which isn’t outside the realm of possibility, given evidence of pervasive and widespread similar beliefs in the real world, but there didn’t even seem to be slight variations in myths or dialect. Not much is seen of the Monoeans, except to say that they have tanned skin and also don’t like those of mixed race, so perhaps this is something more related to the similarities between Akrasia and Brin and the reader’s perspective is simply too narrow to draw any broader conclusions.

Still, I have to applaud Dornbusch’s ability to take familiar and largely overused plot elements and turn them into something that feels original, to pad the bare bones of the story with enough unique elements that it stands out from the rest. I rated the book 3 cups, but really it’s more like 3.5, somewhere comfortably between a 3 and a 4.  It may not have been perfect, but it was still quite good, and I’d be interested in continuing with Draken’s story if given half the chance. (And not just because I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with Osias. Seriously, he’s probably the most fascinating character in the whole book!)

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)