The word was soft, almost a whisper, almost lost amid the rumble and laughter of his teammates leaving the locker room at last. Brenden paused, glancing over his shoulder.
The word was soft, almost a whisper, almost lost amid the rumble and laughter of his teammates leaving the locker room at last. Brenden paused, glancing over his shoulder.
Cal stared at his reflection in the mirrored surface of the elevator, forcing himself not to look at Timmo.
Sebastien Montclair had never been so pleased to see his front door in his life.
A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale introduces us to some new places. Some of these places you may have already heard about, but others will be brand new. Arubio is one of those new places. So let’s discover a little more about it.
Arubio is located in the vast Kundalini Desert, not far from the Red Mountains. It has a typical desert clime, with hot days and low nightly temperatures. Snow isn’t unheard of, although that usually happens in the Red Mountains. The Kundalini is a sandy desert with plenty of dunes. Sandstorms are a common occurrence, but rain is relatively rare.
Arubio itself is located over a spring running underground from the mountains. It’s thus a sort of oasis in the midst of a sea of sand. The city lies a few hundred miles inland from the coast. The vast desert protects it from coastal raiders.
Plants and animal life tend to be more diverse within the city walls, as the spring feeds the oasis town and makes water more abundant than it is otherwise. Palm trees and rich, almost tropical, flora aren’t uncommon.
Arubio, the gem of the desert, is the seat of the Arubian Empire. Arubio is one of the foremost powers on the continent, although it is smaller than Rus. It usually settles squabbles with neighboring tribes and protects the people under its jurisdiction from “barbarians,” particularly nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes who live in the Red Mountains or further to the east.
The Arubian king is the head of state. The king is believed to be a divine descendant of the sun god, Helios, who created the incubi to rule over the short-lived human species. Incubi live for a millennium, and so they take a much longer-term view of development and plan for sustained prosperity.
The royal family lives in a castle in the center of the city, although they have land holdings outside of it.
Tarquin is the seventh ruler in the Aurelian dynasty, which has ruled Arubio for millennia.
Arubio is a vassal state to the more powerful Rus Empire. It often engages in war to subdue and annex new territory and expand the empire. It also engages in warfare on behalf of Rus, to enforce Rus’s own authority. Tarquin’s aunt married the Emperor Theophilus of Rus. His cousin Aleksandru is next in line for the throne.
Arubio is the only major center within the Kundalini Desert. As a result, it is a major port for trade flowing north from the south and south from Rus. The arrival of merchant caravans and nobles traveling to other parts of the empire or to court often swell the population.
Arubio is home to many different peoples. The incubi control the throne. They form a large part of the nobility. Not all nobles are incubi, and not all incubi are nobles. Giants from the Red Mountains have also emigrated to Arubio. Humans, dragons, and many others live in Arubio. Fey and Nords are almost entirely absent.
Arubio has some fairly deeply ensconced traditions. The official religion is a polytheistic one with the sun god, Helios, at the center of it. Other gods and goddesses include the moon goddess Selene and Xotil, the rain goddess.
Religious festivals mark the calendar year, punctuated by the two solstices. The summer solstice is the more important festival, although the winter solstice is also a large celebration. It celebrates the rebirth of the sun god and closes out the year. It begins with the solstice and ends with the celebration of the solar new year. The people also celebrate the lunar new year. Spring rituals include the festival of Xotil, which is more important in the southern state of Karakorum. The harvest festival and the celebration of the dead and departed mark the fall season.
The people celebrate a number of religions, however, and the state tolerates them. Those fleeing persecution see Arubio as a haven state; the state does not levy additional taxes or penalize practitioners of other religions, although tensions between groups sometimes emerge.
The people of Arubio are ethnically diverse and most of them speak several different languages. Arubian is the official language. Many people also speak Rus. Many traders find it useful to speak Karakesee, the language of Karakorum.
Dancing and drumming are important traditions in Arubio. Musical history and culture is particularly rich in Arubio, as is traditions of poetry and architecture.
Arubio is a leader in scientific thought and inquiry. The telescope was invented in Arubio, and the calculations for calendars and how large the orb is were also conducted in Arubio.
The writing system is another Arubian invention. It has since been exported and adapted to other languages.
Arubio has a trade-based economy. Most products are imports, as there are few natural resources in Arubio. Arubian industry ships finished products.
Arubio’s agriculture consists mostly of sheep farming and the raising of cattle, camels, or other beasts. The textile industry is large and rich in Arubio; many fabrics and manufactured and made in Arubio, then exported around the world. In Rus, Arubian rugs are markers of class and status.
Arubio’s most dominant industry is mercantilism, with many people involved in trade and commerce. Finance is also common, and there is also employment in education, as the Arubian state supports research and a couple of established universities. Arubio has a state-of-the-art astronomy program. Its desert climate makes it a wonderful place to study the stars and the motions of the heavens.
The black market flourishes in Arubio.
Education is generally the domain of the upper classes in Arubio. Both men and women receive an education. Boys receive a primary basic education in warfare. Girls generally become doctors, nurses, and scientists, primarily due to their attention to detail.
A well-rounded education includes studies in math, science, language and the arts, agriculture, weaving, and caregiving.
Women are full citizens, with full rights. The only catch is they cannot sit on the throne.
The gender divide is largely evident in the economy and the realm of culture. Women are generally considered to be more detail-oriented, which makes them excellent scientists and engineers. Men, by contrast, are usually considered more suited for hard or heavy labor, including warfare. Men are typically considered better politicians and lawyers. Caregiving usually falls to women.
Women’s status occasionally conflicts with respected cultural practice, such as the keeping of harems or veiling. Women do not have to veil. Tradition is for unmarried women of the upper classes to veil in public. Some theorize this started as protection against sandstorms, and it isn’t uncommon for men to wear veils during sandstorms or windy weather.
The harem tradition is still strong in noble circles, although the girls must agree and any girl who wishes to be “freed” of the harem must have her wishes respected. Abuse of the practice is rife, however, and better protections are needed. Some groups believe harems should be abolished altogether. The creation of reverse-harems, comprised of men for wealthy women, has many supporters.
Men are occasionally gifted as part of the harem. Same-sex relations aren’t unusual. The royal family, being incubi, have few strictures against sexual activity of any form and since they don’t prohibit it for themselves, do not legislate against it. Only a few practices, including rape, are illegal.
This brief overview can’t capture all of the nuance of Arubio. You can learn more in A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale, arriving May 8!
Fyodor paused, glancing up as the locker room door banged.
Mason glanced quickly at Dusty, then looked back at the phone.
One of my current projects is the first book in a new series. The first entry is A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale (tentative for an early May pub date right now). I’ve had a lot of fun with this project since it’s allowed me to get back to some of my roots as a writer. I love my athletes, but I’ve never been someone who was drawn to contemporaries. Give me historical fiction and high fantasy any day.
One of the reasons I write fantasy is because I find the “real world,” well, kind of boring. I mean, I live here. It’s not that exciting. Writing, for me, is an escape of sorts. Why would I choose to write about the realm I inhabit on a day-to-day basis? I mean, there’s an argument for writing about yourself as an actor or a model or a sports star, but why be that when you could be a queen? Or an elf or a unicorn or whatever else?
The other reason I love writing fantasy is the chance to draw on mythology. I’m fascinated by Greco-Roman mythology. Later, I began exploring other mythologies as well. Stories about fantastical creatures and realms have always appealed. And, I think, exploring these mythos allows us to engage in a form of modern mythmaking while simultaneously exploring something deeply rooted in the human condition.
Suffice to say I like big expansive worlds and fantastical creatures. In A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale, one type of mythological creature is the fey.
First, why use the word “fey”? Within the story, “fey” is both the plural and the singular form. “Faery” is occasionally used, but it’s considered older and outdated.
The term “fairy” is commonly used within literature to refer to fairy tales, which is why I evoked it in the title. This isn’t your typical Cinderella story.
The term evolved around 1250-1300, from Middle English, when the spelling was “faierie.” Since spelling wasn’t standardized until the late 1700s, different versions of the word arose in common English usage. Edmund Spenser used “faerie” in his 17th century poem “The Faerie Queene.”
The term comes down from Old French, “fay-ierie,” meaning “enchantment” or “fairyland.” The modern spelling, fairy, has also been hijacked to become an offensive term for a homosexual man, particularly one who acts in a stereotypical feminine way.
The term “fay” (or fey) and the spelling “faery” is somewhat more “authentic,” and is usually preferred by folklorists who try to separate out modern notions of “fairies” from the older and more traditional concepts in folklore. Disney gives us Tinkerbell and calls her a “fairy”; folklorists look at the conceptualization of “fay” in Celtic mythology.
The term “fay” is singular. The plural is sometimes formed by making it “fey,” although “fey” is actually an adjective. The word indicates someone has been “enchanted,” oftentimes put under a spell by a fairy. “Fey” can also be used to describe creatures with magical powers more generally.
Why use “fey” as both plural and singular, and not fairy, faery, or even fay? Quite simply because it has the right connotations without any of the confusion of the other terms. It’s even gaining popularity among groups of enthusiasts who wish to discuss fairies and like creatures under one umbrella term.
The world of A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale has some loose parallels to our own world. The various nations can be mapped onto various ancient civilizations.
The name of the fey homeland, “Fiddach,” is actually an ancient name for Scotland. The fey are a northern-dwelling people who live in some proximity to Rus, Norcross and the Nords, among other peoples. This roughly approximates the geography and cultural groupings of northern Europe.
Fairy lore is closely associated with the peoples of the British Isles, particularly with the Celts. The fey of Fiddach actually speak a language rooted in Celtic/Gaelic languages. Viridian, one of the main characters, indicates as much when he discusses the titles used to address royalty and nobles among the fey.
The Monarchiete and the Monarchiere, Cyan and Jonquil, rule Fiddach. Currently, however, Fiddach is subservient to Rus in the east, the seat of the Rus Empire.
Fiddach is a northern realm and experiences short summers and long, harsh winters. It’s rich in minerals and timber.
In this realm fey are human-sized creatures, although they’re typically slender, fine-boned, and dainty. They’re humanoid, but they also have insect-like features. They have large eyes, antennae, and enormous butterfly-like wings.
Fey begin with no sex. They’re referred to with the pronoun “fen.” Fey children change from nymph to adult by cocooning, often for a period of ten years. During this time, they develop their adult sex and their wings.
Adult males and females are relatively similar. Males have slightly larger wingspans, usually with more brilliant colors. All fey have color-themed names, which they are born with. The name usually corresponds with the color of their adult wings. Fey mothers “intuit” the names of their children before they’re born. The fey interpret this as a form of divine knowledge. The gods distribute names.
Fey are unable to stomach human food. They exist solely on nectars, syrups, fruit juices, fresh fruit, and flowers (in that order of preference). The males also ingest blood for additional protein, and possess specialized teeth to create puncture wounds. They also produce a sleeping powder on their wings, which lulls their victim to sleep.
Male fey are technically hermaphroditic. The males produce both sperm and eggs, which is why males require additional protein, but females do not. Fey develop their adult sex during the cocoon stage of their lives. Males develop in isolation from other fey. Male hermaphroditism appears to be a species survival mechanism; a lone cocoon would develop into a male capable of reproducing alone. In colony settings, males will mate several females before self-fertilizing to ensure the maximum number of offspring.
Some consider fey “nature spirits” of sorts. They are magic-users, and there’s some speculation they’re related to the Nords of Norcross, who are also magic-users but are wingless. Fey most often lack the power of flight, but their wings are important as social status markers, markers of reproductive ability, and as sources of medicine, particularly the sleeping powder produced by the males.
Their fantastic wings and magical abilities have made them the stuff of legends in many of the southern empires where fey are more rare. Southern fey exist, although they tend to be different from their northern cousins. Many peoples around the world value fey wings for their supposed medicinal value.
Fey are quite social and prefer to live in big colony groups. There are relatively few of them, however. Reproduction takes a long time, and young fey often die before reaching maturity. Poachers steal cocoons frequently. These people enslave or kill baby fey.
The fey have their own endemic religion, centered on a series of nature gods. The forest goddess is the most important deity, contrasted against other cultures where the sun is the primary god.
The fey religion is polytheistic, and includes deities of the forest, rivers, mountains, sea, land, sky, rain, and night and day. The fey live long lives, although they die from disease, starvation, and injury. Fey do not have a concept of the afterlife, and their pantheon does not contain a personification of death. Those who die are “taken back” to nature. They are placed back into the natural world through processes of decay. Thus, for the fey, even death is not a permanent state and in being one with nature one achieves a sort of immortality.
The fey religion is primarily a “sunny” one, punctuated with festivals and rituals for warding away evils. Fey have relatively few conceptions of “sin” or wrongdoing. They prefer to focus on harmony between all people and all aspects of nature. Fey may not necessarily see death or illness as evils. Interpersonal relationships are punctuated by reciprocity.
Nonetheless, the fey do systemically punishing wrongdoing. In fey society, the greatest wrongs are those that cause others pain or suffering, or disrupt the social status quo. Most fey consider greed quite evil, since it leaves others around you with less. Lying in order to harm someone is considered a great evil than lying to protect yourself, and lying to protect others from harm or upset is often seen as a relatively minor infraction.
Fey identify at least four genders. Fen (neither) is typically for the asexual children; “fian,” associated with those identifying as female; “fion,” associated with those identifying as male; and “fon,” associated with those identifying as both male and female. The word “fey” refers to the people themselves, in both plural and singular.
Understandings of oneself as one gender or another shift throughout the lifecycle. A male may identify as male early on in life, then later shift to a predominately female identity, depending upon sexual and reproductive roles and partnerships. All fey begin neutral, and they typically self-identify before they enter the cocoon. Most parents acquiesce to the child’s wishes.
Males and females tend to hold similar power and ranks, although males, including those identifying primarily as “fian,” sometimes discriminate against “true” females.
Only the upper classes practice marriage, since there’s an emphasis on ensuring bloodlines and lineages. Many encourage sexual freedom and see sexual openness as a way of maintaining relationships between even casual friends. Partner-swapping is frequent, and it is not unusual to find large families with three or four “pairs” of adults who change partners as desired. Parents communally rear fey children.
The issue of parentage is rarely a concern in the lower classes, particularly since both males and females can become mothers. If parentage is a true concern, a male can self-fertilize to create the desired offspring. Many fey die during their nymph or cocoon stages, so fey society has evolved to place an emphasis on reproducing the maximum number of offspring and then ensuring the maximum number survive to adulthood.
If you’re looking for these fey, you can find them in A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale, available May 2018!
Danny let the door fall shut, frowning deeply as he came face to face with his phone. It was right where he’d left it, sitting on the nightstand next to the alarm clock. It was still flashing blue—another request, another message.
The horn sounded before Luke had a chance to catch his breath, or so it seemed. He closed his eyes and followed his teammates blindly down the tunnel.
Definitions, as we’ve seen, are slippery slopes. Genres are notoriously difficult to define. Where do you draw the line between horror and thriller? Where do you draw the line between sci-fi and fantasy? How can you? Genres often overlap and intersect. The lines get blurred very quickly. We need them to help us identify the kinds of things we want to read, but they can also be easily misapplied. We may not always agree with a categorization. Someone might label something “sci-fi,” but you, as a hardcore sci-fi fan, don’t see it as sci-fi at all, but more a sort of soft fantasy or a technological thriller.