When people think of fantasy, many immediately bring to mind a medieval setting – castles and dragons, wizards and elves. While that time period and those archetypes are certainly very common, thanks in large part to the influence of Tolkien, there are so many other options for creating a fantasy world.
Worldbuilding is my favorite part of fantasy, both as a reader and a writer. I love to see how an author has conceived of the political, economic, social and religious systems in their world and how those structures link with the characters and plot. As a reader, I’m hungry for new and different backdrops, societies and mythologies. With an entire planet full of cultures to draw from and thousands of years of human history in which to place stories, sometimes it’s hard to understand why diverse settings are not more frequently created.
Song of Blood & Stone takes place in what I like to call an alternate 1920’s-esque world. The technology of that time period is present: cars, phones, and electricity; but there is also magic, called Earthsong, which is possessed by one group. This world has undergone centuries of war, and there is a deep divide filled with mistrust and fear between those who wield magic and those who don’t.
The story could really take place in any era, the technology is not the focus, but the early twentieth-century type time period just felt right for these events and characters. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, but it’s one of the few aspects of the story that’s been the same since the very first draft.
I love escaping to another place and time and experiencing the very real magic of losing yourself in an alternate world. What’s your favorite part about fantasy worlds? What time periods or places would you like to see more of?
Song of Blood & Stone
by L. Penelope
The girl looming above Jack looked like a mirage. She’d marched directly to his hiding place behind a cluster of coarse shrubbery and stood, peering down, head cocked at an angle. He went to stand, years of breeding kicking in, his muscle memory offended at the idea of not standing in the presence of a lady, but apparently, his muscles had forgotten the bullet currently lodged within them. And the girl was Lagrimari—not strictly a lady, but a woman nonetheless—and a beautiful one, he noticed as he squinted into the dying light. Wild, midnight curls floated carelessly around her head and piercing dark eyes regarded him. Her smooth skin was a confectioner’s delight. His stomach growled. When was the last time he’d eaten?
Her presence meant he was still on the Lagrimari side of the mountain range bordering the two lands and had yet to cross the other, more powerful barrier keeping him from his home of Elsira: the Mantle.
The girl frowned down at him, taking in his bedraggled appearance. From his position lying on the ground, he tried his best to smooth his ripped uniform, the green fatigues of the Lagrimari army. Her confusion was apparent. Jack was obviously Elsiran; aside from his skin tone, the ginger hair and honey-colored eyes were a dead giveaway. And yet he wore the uniform of his enemy.
“Please don’t be scared,” he said in Lagrimari. Her brows rose toward her hairline as she scanned his prone and bloodied body. Well, that was rather a ridiculous thing to say. “I only meant that I mean you no harm. I . . .” He struggled with how to explain himself.
There were two possibilities. She could be a nationalist who would turn him in to the squad of soldiers currently combing the mountain for him, perhaps to gain favor with the government, or she could be like so many Lagrimari citizens, beaten down by the war with no real loyalty to their dictator or his thugs. If she was the former, he was already dead, so he took a chance with the truth.
“You see, I was undercover, spying from within the Lagrimari army. But now there are men looking for me, they’re not far, but—” He paused to take a breath; the effort of speaking was draining. He suspected he had several cracked or broken ribs in addition to the gunshot wound. His vision swam, and the girl turned into two. Two beautiful girls. If these were his last moments before traveling to the World After, then perhaps he was not as unlucky as he’d always thought.
He blinked rapidly and took another strained breath. His mission was not complete; he could not die yet. “Can you help me? Please. I’ve got to get back to Elsira.”
She stole an anxious glance skyward before kneeling next to him. Her cool hand moved to his forehead. The simple touch was soothing and a wave of tension rolled off him.
“You must be delirious.” Her voice was rich, deeper than he’d expected. It eased the harsh consonants of the Lagrimari language, for the first time making it sound like something he could imagine being pleasant to listen to. She carefully worked at the remaining buttons of his shirt, pulling the fabric apart to reveal his ruined chest. Her expression was appraising as she viewed the damage then sat back on her haunches, pensive.
“It probably looks worse than it is,” he said.
“I doubt that.”
Jack’s chuckle sounded deranged to his own ears, so it was no surprise that the girl looked at him askance. He winced—laughing was a bad idea at this point—and struggled for breath again. “The soldiers . . . they’re after me. I have to get back through the Mantle.”
“Shh,” she said, digging into her bag. “Hush all that foolishness; you’re not in your right mind. Though I’ll admit, you speak Lagrimari very well. I’m not sure what happened to you, but you should save your strength.”
She retrieved a jar filled with a sweet-smelling substance and began spreading it over his wounds. The constant, throbbing pain eased a notch making it easier for him to breathe.
“What is that?”
“Just a balm. Helps with burns, cuts. Can’t do any more for you right now, but you can’t stay here. Storm’s coming.”
He laid his head back on the ground, closing his eyes to savor the slight reduction in pain. “A quick rest and I’ll be back on my way. Need to keep moving, though. Need to get back.”
She shook her head. “Back through the Mantle?” Her voice was skeptical.
“And away from the Lagrimari soldiers chasing you?”
“Yes.” Her palm met his forehead again. She thought he was delusional. He wished he was. Wished the last few weeks had been nothing but the imaginings of an impaired mind.
“The Seventh Breach ended almost five years ago.” Her voice flowed over him, as cool and comforting as the balm she’d used. “We’ve had peace since then. No way to cross the Mantle from either side.”
He shook his head, aggravating the hole in his upper chest, inches from his heart where an inconvenient bit of metal was still lodged. “There are ways.”
A crunch of boots in the distance set him on alert. He grabbed the girl’s wrist to halt her while he listened. The soldiers were near.
He opened his eyes and looked into her startled ones. “Shh, they’re coming.”