Pliridge & Druiron
While the majority of Ashes takes place in the Denwoed, Pliridge and Druiron are the two cities that also play an important role in the story. Let's set up some basic similarities of these cities to start off with. First, both cities are ruling cities, which basically means that they are one of the larger cities in the territory of Khos, run by a ruling family and competing with other ruling families/cities for more power. Khos is divided up into ruling cities, with some merchant towns spread in between. As you might imagine, this situation makes it a pretty chaotic place to live. The ruling families live in a manor, usually somewhere close to the center of their city, although it can really be anywhere inside the city limits. Outside the manor, the cities are organized into typical sections (industrial, business, residential, etc.).
Now on to Pliridge, more specifically. Pliridge is Ember's birth place- the city her parents originally ruled over (before their untimely deaths, of course). Now, Lady Báev and her two daughters are the authority of the city. Pliridge is a relatively simplistic city. It's one of the larger ruling cities, but not the largest. Because Pliridge is close to the North Mountains, it has a harsher climate, which limits the growing season and makes the city's economic focus coal, stone, and minerals. Honestly, the best way to describe Pliridge is really a gray color scheme. It's dusty, it's straightforward, and because Lady Báev is kind of the worst, it's not the cheeriest place to spend your time. But, it is one of the more powerful ruling cities, with the potential for a lot more power to be gained.
As for Druiron, it's a breath of fresh air, especially for Ember. Druiron is where Ksa and his family live, and it is one of the wealthiest ruling cities. It's also a bit larger than Pliridge because this city does not suffer from the same limiting conditions brought by the North Mountains. Druiron also happens to be situated on the banks of the Maistal River, the largest river on the continent. In all the areas where Pliridge is dull and gray, Druiron is bright and clean and shiny. This city offers lively street fairs and a wide variety of trade goods. Druiron's wealth elevates it above Pliridge in appearance, although not necessarily in terms of morality.
So there you have it. A very brief overview of Pliridge and Druiron, both of which play an important role in Ember's adventure. Of course, there are many other ruling cities scattered across Khos, along with plenty of merchant towns, but those aren't important at this time. We'll get there.
Denwoed, the Dark Forest, the Northern Forest, Enchanted Wood... this place has many names and many secrets. It's also where the majority of the adventure takes place in Ashes. But, since the last few blog post have been about the general world, we'll have to zoom in a little. So, in the world of Ada, on the continent Divi, in the territory of Khos, right up near the base of the North Mountains... is the Denwoed.
Really, the name of the forest is just "Denwoed," since that's the name the fairies gave it shortly after the rebellion and Diov's exile. Somewhere in all the time after that, the "the" just worked its way into human vernacular and stuck. But regardless of what you call it, the forest is undeniably full of magic- from the creatures who live there, to the sounds of the trees as they move in the wind, to the hidden glens and pools of still water. It's saturated with it. If you remember from our earlier history lessons, the general population held a deep distrust of any magical creatures after the carnage of Diov's rebellion. In many cases, the creatures were hunted- either out of pure fear or for some sort of profit or sport. While the fairies and dragons could find refuge by returning to the Kingdom of Light, the other creatures had to carve out their own niches across Ada. Denwoed quickly became one of those places, since it wasn't suitable for human settlements with the dense trees and close proximity to the harsh mountain climate.
Many of the people in Khos are suspicious of the forest and will avoid it the best they can. It's an arrangement that works out quite well for the forest's inhabitants. The centaurs, griffins, and pixies live together peacefully, often enjoying visits from fairies and the occasional dragon. Of course, there are darker creatures that live beneath the trees as well. Fae, trolls, and wyverns are what really makes the forest dangerous. They are always ready and willing to lead those who come unprepared astray.
Still, the forest isn't as terrible as some make it out to be. For the most part, its inhabitants are creatures of light and it's your typical pretty, enchanted forest. Just... don't go alone. Maybe light a fire at night. It will most likely be just fine.
It's time for a history lesson! Once again, I'll do my best to keep this brief. And because I don't know how else to do this but to tell it like a story, that's what we're going to do.
Adonia was there before anything else. Was there, still is there, will always be there... it's not as if He's bound by constraints of time or physics. As for where "there" is, I'm talking about the the Kingdom of Light, the place outside of time and space where Adonia has his court.
The dragons were the first thing He created. They lit the fires of the sun while He formed the world beneath them. The world in its original form was one portion of land, covered in lush green vegetation and surrounded by crystal clear waters. Adonia called it Ada because it was a part of Him. Next, He created the fairies, and they, in turn, created the griffins, centaurs, and pixies as a way to share the magic of the Kingdom of Light with Ada. Adonia then created the animals to inhabit Ada, and finally, He created the humans. And He loved His creation.
But Diov did not. All the powerful fairy saw was subjects to be ruled and power to be taken. As he watched Adonia breathe life into what had been empty space, he envied His power and set his mind to become even more powerful than Adonia. Diov searched the Kingdom of Light until he found the most powerful dragon and used his magic to merge himself and the dragon into one being. But the magic Adonia had gifted him with was never meant to be used for personal gain, and so it shifted into something different, something dark. Diov knew he would find no refuge in the Kingdom of Light, so he fled to Ada.
In those days, there was a beautiful golden staircase stretching between the two lands because Adonia loved to be close to His creation. Diov crept down the staircase and hid among the humans, using a hooded cloak to hide his newly-formed horns. Not long after he arrived, he began to spread lies among the people. He told them that Adonia was withholding the true treasure and goodness from them. With his smooth voice and persuasive charm, he convinced them to storm the Kingdom of Light and take what was "rightfully" theirs. And they did.
But Diov had no loyalty to the humans and turned against them as they started up the golden staircase. Using a dark version of the same magic he used to join with the dragon, he controlled the other dragons and turned them against Adonia. The dragons scorched the land of Ada until it was black and charred. Many of the humans still on the surface were killed, and those on the staircase were trapped halfway between Ada and the Kingdom of Light.
But Adonia was not caught unprepared by Diov's rebellion, and He countered his attack. Adonia freed the dragons, and they immediately turned against Diov. Meanwhile, the fairies rescued the humans stranded on the golden staircase and brought them to safety. Adonia Himself came against Diov, defeated him, and cast him out to a sealed void called the Kingdom of Night.
In the aftermath of the rebellion, Ada was broken. The land was barren and had shattered into pieces that spread across the waters. The golden staircase collapsed, separating the Kingdom of Light from Ada. But because Adonia love His creation, He took a piece of His own heart and used it to heal the world. He infused each new growth with the tiniest bit of His essence, so it would be a testament of His love and power. He allowed dragons and fairies to travel between Ada and the Kingdom of Light to provide a connection with Him. Because many people were hostile towards magical creatures, He established human Messengers to spread His truth and love. He created night and day to illustrate how quickly light can turn to darkness and serve as a warning to resist the pull of Diov and his dark forces. (Some fairies and dragons were misled by Diov's rebellion and decided to serve him instead of Adonia. While Diov was no longer physically present in Ada, he still exerted his influence through these forces.) And when each human who loves Him and chooses to pursue His light dies, He welcomes their spirit into the Kingdom of Light to finally be connected with Him again.
The story of Ada is a story of the love of Adonia. He knows that true love requires choice, so He provides His creation with the freedom to make that choice. He knows each person and reveals Himself through the world around them, His Messengers, and the magical creatures that travel between Ada and the Kingdom of Light. Each leaf and Star and smile and breeze is a love letter from Adonia to His people.
And one day, He will return to Ada to deliver His people from Diov's grasp forever. There will be no more debate of His power, no more doubt of His love, no more question of His goodness. His victory will be complete, and His Kingdom will be eternal.
Welcome to the Dark Side
As I mentioned in my last post, there are more magical creatures than just those characterized by light. Each being has the choice to pursue either light or darkness. Because of the power in magical beings, they are physically altered by their choices. This is why Diov is now no longer a fairy or dragon, but is instead a fae and wyvern. With that being said, let's just in to what happens to those magical beings of light who choose to pursue darkness.
Wyverns: Dragons who turn to darkness are transformed into wyverns, so their front legs merge into their wings and they lose the ability to breathe fire. They possess a magic that twists and tricks human minds, so they are dangerously deceptive.
Fae: These are fairies who turn to darkness. Unlike fairies, they have no wings, their teeth are slightly more fang-like, and they cast a shadow. They possess powerful dark magic and are known for persuading people to invest more than they can afford in their dark deals.
Sirens: Although it is very rare, some mermaids turn away from the desire to serve Adonia and become bitter and hateful. When this happens, they become sirens with webbed fingers and sharp fins down the sides of their tails. They convey their bitterness and despair so strongly through song that those who hear it are driven to make it stop in any way possible.
Trolls: These guys are the only ones on this list who were not magical to begin with. Remember how I mentioned that fae are tricky with their deals? One of their most common tricks is winning the trust of whatever human comes to them and then turning them into a troll. Just for fun or whatever.
So there you have it! My as-brief-as-possible overview of the magical beings in this series. This pretty much sums up the magic involved in these stories too, since humans don't have any magic of their own. I hope this was educational, and you can come back for the next blog post when I talk about how this whole world came about.
Magic & Lore & Such
To be completely honest, I've put off writing this blog post because it's a lot of information and scattered thoughts to put into something relatively concise. But here we are, so this is my attempt to summarize the lore and magic and all that related fun stuff in this fairytale series.
Adonia: One of the things I wanted to do through this series was create an image or analogy of God and faith and the walk with Christ. Sort of like what Lewis and Tolkien did, but way less amazing. So Adonia is God. He is the absolute standard of perfection, the Creator, and the sovereign, almighty King over, well, everything.
Diov: On the other side of things is, as you may have guessed, the representation of Satan. Diov was originally a powerful fairy in service of Adonia, but he grew prideful and hungry for control over creation. In a bid to become more powerful than Adonia, he merged himself with the greatest dragon. However, Adonia defeated him and he was banished to the Kingdom of Night, where he now takes the form of a horned fae or massive black wyvern because his powers have been tainted by darkness.
Dragons: These are the first magical creatures created, used by Adonia to light the fires of the sun and stars. They were captured by Diov in his rebellion, and he used them to terrorize the people of the world, which began their lasting distrust of all magical creatures. Adonia freed the dragons from Diov's control, and they are now considered the wisest and most powerful magical creatures.
Fairies: These were the second magical creatures created, and they were designed to serve Adonia in the Kingdom of Light. They also carry important messages and provide supernatural help to humans, but their presence has been limited since humans became suspicious of the magical creatures.
Messengers: These guys are not actually magical, but are necessary context for the next two items. Messengers are humans chosen by Adonia to carry His truth to others in the world. They make this the main focus of their lives.
Unicorns: As the youngest magical creatures, unicorns were created specifically to carry Messengers on their journey. Unicorns are very elusive, mainly because they are hunted for their horns, which can be used as an inextinguishable source of light. When a Messenger is chosen, their first task is to find a unicorn to bond with.
Mermaids: If someone attempts to kill a Messenger to stop their message, they are rescued by Adonia by becoming mermaids. As a mermaid, they have a beautiful, intricate tattoo that marks the place where the killing blow would have landed. They continue to tell others about Adonia, now just throughout the waters of the world, instead of on land.
Other: Griffins, centaurs, and pixies were created by fairies as a way to spread more light and magic in the world. But again, humans are generally very suspicious of magical creatures, so these guys usually live in little groups in secluded areas.
In the interest of avoiding a super long blog post, I'll stop here for now. But if there is a side of things characterized by light, there is also one characterized by darkness, and so... to be continued...
A New Cinderella Story
Let's see... where did we leave off last time? Right. In this fairy tale, Cinderella isn't pretty. But, she's incredibly kind. And generous. And determined. And has this little bit of fire in her (I want to describe it as a soft fire, but that seems strange), and... well, you get the point. I happen to think she's a pretty great character. Anyways, here I was with this Cinderella who isn't pretty, and as it turns out, that kind of throws a wrench in the works of the typical Cinderella story.
From my perspective, a Cinderella who was not visually extraordinary in any way wouldn't catch the prince's eye. Now, if you're like me, you may be thinking something along the line of, "This prince is a real jerk if he's only worried about beauty when picking out his wife." And you would be absolutely right. Except I didn't want this particular prince to be a jerk, so I had to do some reconfiguring. I needed to figure out why the prince wouldn't choose Cinderella, why she wouldn't catch his eye, and make it a little more complex than just being that she isn't pretty. (That is, after all, kind of the whole motivation here.) That train of thought led me down a very interesting path of exploring character dynamics, complex personalities, and a pretty complicated father-son relationship.
Once all of that was established, I started to consider what would happen at the ball itself. As it turns out, she meets two of his best friends, which was not planned, but definitely a pleasant surprise. Of course, I then needed to determine who the prince would choose. He did still need a potential wife, and if he wasn't picking Cinderella, that position was open. I wanted this change to be something that set my story apart from the traditional story. Something that sparks the thought of, "Where exactly are we going from here?" And definitely something that provided the opportunity to showcase my main character's kindness. So, in this Cinderella story, the prince doesn't choose Cinderella. He chooses her stepsister.
One of my favorite things in the whole world is a good fairy tale. Seriously. If you want to win me over, tell me a fairy tale. Sweep me away with an adventure full of dragons and magic and sword fights and castles. I fall in love with a good fractured fairy tale every single time. Now, I know this might be disappointing to some of my more "purist" fairy tale fans, but really many of my favorite fairy tale takes are the Disney versions. They're so full of magic, music, and romance. And their protagonists are kind, compassionate, and courageous (among a whole bunch of other really great qualities).
So, when the idea of writing a series of my own versions of fairy tales first came to mind, it was definitely influenced by the Disney perspective. Here's the twist, though, and really my only big critique of Disney fairy tales: yes, the heroines of these stories are kind and brave and creative... but looming over all of that as the most obvious trait is the fact that they are wonderfully, unrealistically, perfectly attractive. These princesses have the perfect glossy hair, flawless complexion, and bright smiles. Even Anna, as she wakes up with her mess of bedhead, is perfectly disheveled, still portrayed just right to be relatable... yet still unattainable.
Because I appreciate authenticity, let's break down my perspective. I have glasses, for starters, which ticks off one box of something I've never seen in a Disney princess. Like most normal people, I don't have a consistently flawless complexion. My body shape is closer to a rectangle than the slim-but-curvy (how does that even work?) ideal. Thankfully, I've had people close to me, like my parents, who have always reinforced that my worth and value isn't dependent on what I look like. But what about the young people who don't have that? What about those who can't hear that narrative over everything else that tells them otherwise?
That's where I'm coming from as I embark on the adventure of writing my own versions of fairy tales. I want to challenge this focus on being physically attractive, while also emphasizing all those wonderful personality traits even further. Really, this whole thing started with a simple question (which maybe I should have mentioned before the very end of my blog post): What if Cinderella wasn't pretty? More to come on that soon...
The next step in my very professional, evidence-based, and definitely not at all designed by me and me alone process was to play some games. This step was pretty much nonexistent in the process for my previous books for a couple of reasons. First, they required less world-building because they took place in real locations. And second, I started them during times when I didn't have as much free time as I do right now. But this time, I need to do some world-building and I have some extra time, so games it is!
My go to game is pretty much any dress-up games on the internet. I discovered the value of these because I remembered once how I played them when I was younger and thought, "Hey, that would probably be rather useful for character designs!" (Except not really that coherently). So I'll use whatever dress-up character creator thing happens to match what I need for my character and use that to visualize it. This has proved to be really good at getting me in the mindset for writing, as well being a very helpful guide for drawings in my big book of characters (there's a blog post about that here).
The other game I've been using for this step is Minecraft. My brother and I discovered Minecraft years ago as a fun game to play together. It's also a great tool for world-building. Not only is it good for visualizing the layout of things, but also for how buildings look on the inside. I will say that it may not be the best tool for a situation where you need a whole world, but this book takes place in one city, so it works just fine for me.
Takeaways from this step: Well... basically that games are totally helpful to me as an author and nothing to be embarrassed about.
As my first real venture out of the fantasy genre, this book that I've just started is the first project that required me to do real research. By "real research" I mean more research than randomly searching Latin names for things or figuring out how people actually go about throwing a knife. Usually, I'm not one to be all that interested in doing research (hence the tendency to stick to things I make up myself). Not only is research time-consuming, but also, in my experience, it's not always the most fascinating or enjoyable use of time. Research can also often suggest adhering to historical accuracy, which is something I'm typically not super entertained with (my brother, on the other hand, usually insists upon it and probably wishes I would do more historical projects).
This project, on the other hand, is a delightful discovery of research that is neither boring nor dependent on strict historical accuracy. The book is steampunk, so we're looking at a Victorian society not necessarily in the historical Victorian Era and how the world would work if technology never progressed past steam power. So my first priority in research was to learn about the Victorian Era, from the politics, to the technology, to the dress and fashion. Here's where the not-so-historically-accurate part comes in. Since this book is sort of dealing with an alternate course of history and society, I took my notes and highlighted them (color-coordinating for the win!) to determine which aspects I would keep as they were, which I wouldn't use at all, and which I would evolve (as if the Victorian Era hadn't ended by the 1900s). The things I kept the same were mostly core values about working hard and the common styles of the day (because Victorian dresses are cool). The evolved concepts were more complicated political and social things, such as the fight for women's rights, poverty, and expanding national power. These things were ideal for creating a society that is far from perfect, which sets the stage for some points I'd really like to make. Plus, who isn't interested in an unjust society that thinks they've fixed all their issues? This picking and choosing and twisting of history was what really made me enjoy the research.
The other part of the research was more scientific than historical. This book also will revolve around some concepts developed by Aristotle. The idea came to me during my physics class last year (I was clearly paying very good attention to the professor), so I had some basis of knowledge. I just had to develop that knowledge further and connect it to some other science stuff and the technology available in my particular setting. Again, research with practical application and some manipulation.
Main takeaways from this step of the project: 1.) It's possible for research to be interesting. 2.) I really, really enjoy learning about history just to change it (sorry, brother dearest).