Today I welcome Joshua Khan on the blog to talk about his new book, Shadow Magic, and how he comes up with his fantasy world:
So, take your average fantasy world. You got your wizards and monsters and fighters and little hobbits and elves.
And everyone lives in crappy thatched hovels.
Why is that? You’ve got wizards who can reorder the reality of the universe! Your ox died? Why not get your local necromancer to bring it back to life! It’ll go up and down that field 24/7, no feeding, no maintenance (apart from hammering bits back when it rots apart). Same goes for your army. Why send live, loved men and sons and brothers off to war? They could get hurt or killed! Wouldn’t it make more sense to just use zombies? They’re past their prime and can take a lot of damage.
Leaky roof? Get the druid to grow a whole new garden up top. Problems at sea? Get a water wizard or air wizard to calm the troubles away.
That was the premise of my fantasy world. One where the wizards were in charge, and always had been. No longer the wise old man giving sage advice from the sidelines but front and centre. Basically, think Gandalf turning around to Bilbo and saying, “Just give the ring to me. I’ll call on one of my eagle mates and pop it down Mount Doom. Put the kettle on, I won’t be long.”
Once that was decided, I needed a structure. What could these sorcerers do, and what couldn’t they do? A lot of magic is based on manipulation of the Classical elements, air, water, earth and fire so that was the perfect starting point. The Chinese include Metal and the Void so I thought to add those, as Light and Darkness. So, each sorcerer has one specialism. They can use one element only. Easy peasy. It gives you an instinctive understanding of the scope of magic and its limits.
Now, as a father of daughters, and as someone raised a Muslim, then problems of the education of women in the 3rd world is something that bothers me hugely. Why cut off half the population, just because of gender? I want my girls to have as much opportunity as anyone. THAT became my theme. In my fantasy world, only men are permitted magic (i.e an education). Women are forbidden, on pain of death by fire.
My heroine is a young thirteen year old girl, raised in the kingdom of darkness, Gehenna, who decides to learn magic. And when I mean magic, for Lily Shadow it’s raising the dead, speaking with ghosts and walking in the world of spirits. She’s the ultimate goth princess.
Now I realised since I was turning the conventions all upside down (after all, Lily’s a necromancer, the traditional bad guys in fantasy) I needed a very different hero to add contrast, and be the POV for the reader. Hence the young outlaw Thorn, raised in Herne’s Forest and very much a proto-Robin Hood. He’s as different from lily as you can be. He’s a peasant, she’s a noble. He’s uneducated (in at least reading and writing), she’s a multi-linguist and historian. He’s got a stubborn sense of right and wrong, she’s too caught up in politics to tell.
Once I knew I was setting a story in a kingdom of undead, the rest became easy. Castle Gloom has no windows, it would never permit natural light in. It doesn’t have carrier pigeons, it has bats. That led to the epic Hades, the gigantic vampire bat that almost ends up taking over the story, but you can find out about him yourself.
None of this was a chore, it was insane fun, taking the conventional fantasy tropes and doing the total opposite. This is no epic quest, the heroes hardly leave the castle, and what you normally see as the heroes, the noble knights in their silver armour, are the villains, and for good reason. It’s stepping into your enemy’s shoes and discovering, hey, they’re not really that different from us.
So, take a walk on the dark side, you might enjoy it…
Thank you, Joshua!
Shadow Magic is published by Scholastic and is available online and in bookshops now