Widows of the Empire: The Southern Islands

As we continue hurtling toward release day for Widows of the Empire, I wanted to return to the issue of geography that we touched on a couple of weeks ago. In that post I talked about the geography of the Unari Empire itself, but this time I want to journey a little further afield.

Gods of the Empire all took place on the single, large continent that dominates much of Oiwa’s northern hemisphere. Aside from that one, across which the Empire sprawls, there are two other smaller continents to the west, sort of Australia sized. The nations there have formed the Western Alliance in the years since the Port Ambs bombing and Chakat’s becoming Emperor, as a way to check his global reach.

The southern hemisphere of Oiwa is an entirely different kettle of fish, as it’s composed entirely of islands. A couple of them are largish, but nothing so grand as to earn the label “continent.” As a result, the Southern Islands (as they’re generally referred to when lumped together) are wildly diverse and independent, without any of the kind of trans-national alliances you find up north. That’s allowed Chakat to roll in with ships and Imperial Marines and cause more than a little havoc in these islands without any real consequences.

Like Ruttara Key, not much more than a speck on the map in the far southern part of the hemisphere. Sure, it would be a perfect place for some of the Port Ambs plotters to hide out, but it was also home to hundreds of ordinary people just trying to live their lives. They saw their fishing boats sunk, their villages burned, and people indiscriminately shot for doing nothing at all. At one point no one on Oiwa had heard of the place. Not so any more.

The closest you get to an alliance to rival the Western Alliances is the Relevan League, based around the city of Releva. A commercial and shipping up in the northeastern part of the islands, it’s kind of the jumping off point for travelers from the north. It’s as large as Cye, but spread up and down the coastline instead of packed into a grid of urban streets and with clear skies, given the lack of industries. Of course, everything smells of fish which, as one observer notes, is “overwhelming.”

The Southern Islands are also full of small islands, not much more than rocks jutting out of the water, that hold unknown treasures, such as ancient lost cities. Or places like the Grim Islands, so named because there’s nary any vegetation or life on them, but they do provide a good hiding place for pirates and other rabble rousers.

Given that there are thousands of islands in the south, it’s not possible to chart all of them. That’s created a fertile territory for explorers, seeking to make their name and their fortune. One of the most famous is Stanley Glass, who has won renown for several discoveries in the Southern Islands. His finds are so spectacular that they let most people overlook the horrible toll his expeditions typically take on his crew. Long-term employment isn’t in the cards when you sail with Glass – so why is Aton so willing to sign on?

Widows of the Empire
Out November 10
Wherever fine ebooks are sold

Widows of the Empire: Excerpt

Continuing on with some posts about the upcoming Widows of the Empire, here’s an excerpt from the book in which Aton goes to meet a persistent potential new client and gets quite the shock:

Aton realized that he never really liked The Ferry. It was conveniently located in Cye, a good place to get business or meet someone, but it wasn’t the kind of place he liked to hang out. Aside from slamming down a drink after a job was over, he rarely came here just for the sake of it. Now, finally, he knew why.

The place was crowded. Not because there were so many people here, but because of how the room was laid out. The long, curving bar was enormous. Tables in the middle of the room were arranged haphazardly. In addition, the bare wood interior amplified every voice in the place. Even though there were only a handful of people here, the din was distracting. He was amazed he was ever able to conduct business here. He maneuvered the obstacle course of tables and chairs to make it to his old spot in the back corner.

While he didn’t miss The Ferry, Aton could admit to himself that he missed being downtown. The new house was lovely and bucolic, but it was also quiet and isolated. He’d grown up in Cye and was used to the noise, the crowds, and the occasional stench. It’s why he’d toyed with the idea of finding a small office somewhere nearby in case he needed to handle anything that came up in the city. Truth was, however, the only business he would do was with Laffargue, and that happened at the Voisine. An empty office was an expense that didn’t make any sense.

He had arrived half an hour early, supposing that Vesper wouldn’t show until their arranged meeting time. Whatever his talents, Vesper didn’t strike Aton as one who thought of worst-case scenarios and alternatives. Like a dog with a bone, he was relentless and driven, but not particularly creative. Being early allowed Aton to control the terrain, like a general pushing his troops to secure high ground before a battle. Maybe he was overthinking it, but better to be over prepared.

He passed the time scanning the crowd. It was like any skill, one he had to practice for it to be sharp when it was needed. There was part of him that wanted to find Okun there, although he had no idea what he’d say to him. He was here for work, after all, and maybe Okun would be, too. There would be no reason for them to just have a drink together. The issue never came up, as the big, bald man never made an appearance.

Aton was just about to start clock watching when he saw Vesper slip in the front door. He looked around a few times, less like he was trying to find Aton than like he was getting the lay of the land. After a moment he held the door open and a person walked in the door. Shorter than Vesper, shorter even that Aton, the individual was wearing a deep blue floor-length cloak with the hood drawn up around the face. Aton thought it was a tad dramatic, but everyone had their quirks.

Vesper led his client through the room, slamming his leg into a chair about halfway through.

Aton suppressed a laugh.

He reached Aton’s table and tipped his cap. “Mr. Askins, glad to see you here.”

“I made a deal, didn’t I?” Aton said. He waved at Vesper to stand aside. “So who is this mystery client?”The figure behind Vesper stepped forward and lowered the hood of the cloak.

“Oh, shit,” Aton said, deflating. “Ethyna.”

Widows of the Empire
Out November 10
Wherever fine ebooks are sold

Widows of the Empire: The Unaru & the Knuria

In the run-up to the release of Widows of the Empire, I wanted to highlight a few things about the world of the Unari Trilogy (for more background on the trilogy, the setting, and the characters, see this post I did before Gods of the Empire came out). Today, we look at the two largest and most important parts of the Unari Empire – the Unaru itself and the Knuria.

Being an empire, of course, the Unari Empire is composed of several disparate regions, all brought under Imperial rule. That said, there are two main ones that occupy a lot of the history of the Empire and the books in the trilogy.

The Unaru is, essentially, the original Unari Kingdom, composed of the areas around the Imperial capital of Cye. If we’re going to analogize to the Roman Empire, then Cye is Rome and the Unaru is the Italian peninsula. It’s made up of a fairly homogenous people in terms of culture and ethnicity with historical ties to the area and to the rulers who have sat in Cye for centuries.

The Knuria, by contrast, is a vast expanse of rolling farmland and rugged hills, without any real coherent cultural identity. Conquered during the expansion of the Empire, it has had second-class status ever since. If you remember when our heroes (well, some of them) wound up near a mined out bosonimum pit in Gods of the Empire, with its crumbling mining town nearby, you can get a sense of what I mean. Likewise, if you detect a bit of West Virginia in the Knuria you’re not wrong. It’s a breadbasket and extractive resource region of the Empire. Going back to the Roman Empire comparison, the Knuria is like the other parts of Europe that the Romans eventually conquered – culturally and ethnically diverse, brought to heel by force.

An aside here to say that, when I was conjuring up the Unari Empire, I was less inspired by Rome than I was by the Soviet Union. In a way, the Unaru is like Russia proper, the Knuria like the other Soviet republics – part of the USSR, but arguably separate states – and then there are other states that are within the sphere of influence. For the Empire that includes the states north of the Knuria, where some of our heroes found themselves in the second part of Gods of the Empire.

The Unaru and the Knuria are separated by two major mountain ranges. The smaller of the two, the Rampart Mountains, is north of Cye and forms the northern border of the Unaru (along with the related Rampart River). The much larger of the two, the Granite Curtain, is a huge range that runs most of the rest of the border between the Unaru and the Knuria. They’re basically impassable, a favorite hangout for outcasts and, once upon a time, gods.

Given all that, people from the Unaru look down on those from the Knuria a bit. It’s less an active discrimination than a deep-seated belief that the Knurians are just a little less developed, less civilized. It’s the urban/rural divide writ large, as there’s no place in the Knuria that can come close to Cye.

We see that a little bit with the contrast between Aton and Belwyn, our two main characters. Aton is a Cye native, an Unaru, who really hasn’t travelled outside the city (and the surrounding area) before his current work hunting down ancient artifacts of the gods. He’s “worldly” in the sense that he grew up in a large, bustling city. Belwyn, on the other hand, is Knurian, having grown up in the small lakeside town where, at the start of Widows of the Empire, she is imprisoned. That said, they both start their stories as a little bit sheltered to the realities of the wider world. They both get an education during Widows of the Empire in a way that, I hope, broadens and deepens the world they’re moving around in.

The bottom line is that the Unaru needs the Knuria and the Knuria needs the Unaru. They may not quite realize it yet.

Widows of the Empire

Out November 10

Wherever fine ebooks are sold