If you haven’t noticed, Bookwraiths has spent this week spotlighting Jon Sprunk’s The Book of the Black Earth series, so if you’ve missed any of it, be sure to check out my reviews of Blood and Iron, Storm and Steel and Jon Sprunk’s interview as well as enter the Storm and Steel Giveaway. Today, I’m excited to welcome Mr. Sprunk back to talk more about the wonderful world of the Black Earth, his inspiration for it, and the struggles he encountered creating creating it.
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THE LAND OF THE BLACK EARTH
by JON SPRUNK
Hello, everyone. I’m Jon Sprunk, author of the Book of the Black Earth fantasy series. The first book, Blood and Iron, was published in 2015, and the second volume, Storm and Steel, just came out this month.
I’m excited to talk about the fictional world I’ve created for my books. I’ve always loved history, especially the ancient world. Two of my favorite locations/periods were Egypt and Mesopotamia, and so I drew from both of them when creating the setting for my books, the empire of Akeshia.
For me, setting begins with the look. I’m a visual person, so I need to “see” a place in my head before I can make it my own. With Akeshia, I started with the architecture. I imagined ziggurats and palaces built of stone, obelisks and colossal statues of mythological creatures, streets paved in baked clay, brick homes, and so on. I envisioned towns encircled by high walls and bronze gates.
Description extends into geography, which in turn affects the story. Beyond the fertile valley of the Typhon River, Akeshia is flanked by large deserts. These natural boundaries protect the empire from foreign enemies, but also insulate the empire from the rest of the world, resulting in a stagnant society.
After I get the “visual” of my setting, I move to the people living there. In Akeshia, I took some elements from history and morphed them. For instance, Akeshia has a caste system that is fairly rigid with some notable exceptions. People are born into the class they will have for the rest of their lives unless they are demoted by a ruler as punishment for some disservice, or if they exhibit signs of magic.
Ah, yes. Magic: the special enzyme of a fantasy setting.
In Akeshia, magic is rare but very potent. It’s often (but not always) passed down by bloodline, so that powerful sorcerers tend to run in families. And in Akeshia, magic is tied to religion because the people believe it comes directly from their gods. So if, for example, a low-born person develops a talent for sorcery, they are immediately lifted to the highest caste – the zoanii (which translates to ‘Children of the Stars.’)
The deeper I delved into the setting, the more I realized how magic and its divinely-attributed source would change my world. Akeshia, like Egypt, is heavily invested in its religion of a polytheist pantheon of gods. Most of the lives of the common people are controlled by and devoted to the local temples. With magic being considered a gift from the gods, belief has changed over the centuries to reflect that those can use magic are likewise semi-divine. This has created a society where the most powerful magic-users have become the heads of powerful dynasties, ruling their cities like God-Kings (and –Queens).
And we can’t forget about language. Now, I’m no Prof. Tolkien, but I had fun including a little dose of the Akeshian tongue in these books. I started with words and phrases of ancient Sumerian and Babylonian (found in various reference books and internet sources) and added some Persian-inspired root words as well, curbing the language to fit how I imagined Akeshians might talk.
Lastly, building a realistic setting is all about the small details. The foods that people eat, the animals they have domesticated, the way they pray or mourn, their choices in clothing and adornment, and so on. I like to sprinkle these kinds of details throughout the story to lend atmosphere. By the time the first draft is finished, the setting is fixed in my mind like an actual place complete with sounds, smells, and sights.
So that’s how I approach setting in my books. It’s one of my favorite aspects of writing—creating a new world filled with endless possibilities and people.
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Jon Sprunk is the author of The Book of the Black Earth epic fantasy series as well as the Shadow Saga trilogy. His first book, Shadow’s Son, was a finalist for the Compton Crook Award, as well as a nominee for the David Gemmell Award for Best Debut Novel and Best Fantasy Novel.
For more on Jon’s life and works, visit him at his Website or on Twitter.
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT MY REVIEWS OF THIS SERIES
Iron and Blood (The Book of the Black Earth #1)
Storm and Steel (The Book of the Black Earth #2)
Purchase the novels at Amazon.
Awesome stuff! Thanks for all of the great Jon Sprunk post!
Glad you enjoyed it!
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