The Fantastical Beasts of Nälu – Guest Post J.L. Mbewe

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The Fantastical Beasts of Nälu


J. L. Mbewe

Thank you so much for having me, Jenelle!

One of the things I love about fantasy are the fantastical creatures and beings we encounter. It can give the story a wild sense of wonder or terror. For today’s post, I thought I would invite you all to journey with me to the world of Nälu, where The Hidden Dagger Trilogy is set.

The world of Nälu has many fantastical beasts. No doubt, you’ll find realistic animals such as horses, goats, camels, and bears among such creatures as dragons, imps, trolls, and harpies. If we travel deeper, you’ll discover other beasties inspired from our own world as well as from movies and myths from around the world.  

Hidden Dagger

In Secrets Kept, we have a chance to glimpse the letanili from the third floor of Cuthbert’s Inn. Like a massive elephant with tusks and horns, it was a beast tamed by the Giants. Not too exotic yet.

Fleeing from imps and the men who killed her father, Ayianna and her companions travel into the cursed Inganno Forest, where she encounters a tu’yan mutat, creatures of death bred by Lord Stygian during the dark ages. After Stygian fell, a few escaped the purge and made the forest their home. They can hunt you in your dreams, confusing you, paralyzing you, and before you know it, they’re upon you. It’s a cat-like beast twice the size of a large dog with a mottled coat, a stubby snout, jagged fangs, and a pair of glowing eyes. Once you see those eyes, you know death is near at hand.

After Ayianna and her companions survive the Inganno Forest and the harpies of Nganjo, they set out across the shifting sands of Zriab desert. Here, they encounter a natural predator and an unnatural one, spurred on by the Tóas Dikon, a tainting of the true giftings, a type of dark magic, if you will. The türuza is a giant skink-like creature that lives in the sands and hunts those foolish enough to wander through the desert. The unnatural tögo or sand leeches as they were called, were sent by the Sorceress. These little humanoids are yellow like the sand with a large circular mouth filled with hooked teeth. They latch onto their victims and suck out every last bit of moisture.

In Darkened Hope, Ayianna and her friends set out to find the ingredients that will save her mother’s people from the Sorceress’s curse. Their dangerous trek takes them across steep mountains and deep into the heart of the jungle where ape-like creatures hunt them at night and Kael and Vian take on a gloru’bor, a wingless dragon the seize of a horse inspired by the Dilophosaurus from Jurassic Park.

In Curse Bound, the third and final book, Kael enters the stone maze beneath the Kha Vaaro Mountains where he discovers little cave dragons and massive carnivorous centipedes. As the battle between the Sorceress and the Alliance looms ever closer, the Sorceress opens a portal to the underworld and unleashes an army of creatures with a humanoid body covered with fur, bearing wolf heads and sharp claws.

Writing this, I’ve noticed that a lot of the creatures in Nälu are deadly and sometimes used by evil. Something that I intend to mix up a bit in my future story worlds. Ha! I hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into Nälu! 

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Tell me, what are some of your favorite fantasy creatures? 

jlmbewe-profile (2)About the author:

Writing as J. L. Mbewe, Jennette is a tale-spinning, stargazing, rock collecting, art dabbling Hufflepuff.
She loves taking readers on adventures filled with fantastical creatures and characters, all questing
about and discovering true love amid lots of peril. When she isn’t writing, she’s an undercover graphic 
designer at PalaCreative. She is currently living her second childhood with her wonderful husband and two precious children who don’t seem to mind her eclectic collections of rocks, shells, and swords, among other things. Her debut novel, Secrets Kept, was nominated for the 2014 Clive Staples Award.

Her second novel, Darkened Hope, was a semi-finalist for the 2017 Alliance Award.

Follow J. L. Mbewe around the interwebs:


~ jenelle

How to Tackle One of the Trickier Aspects of World Building…

Creation Myth

I am going to step very carefully here, because this is a tricky topic. And of course it’s right here in the middle-ish of our month-long exploration of world building, but it can be an important bit to consider:

Who or what are the deities, otherworldly powers/beings, planes of existence within your world? And what do the people who live in your world believe about these things?

Now, just like with everything we’ve talked about, this question may not come into play in the story you’re writing. But if it does, it can be one of the most challenging parts of your world building.

Remember how on Friday when we were talking about history and origin stories I told you that your own world view would most likely incorporate itself into these aspects of your story? Well, when we’re dealing with cosmology, that’s even more true.

For myself, as a Christian, I always want to handle this part of my world building with care. If I’m going to imagine up a creator figure for my world, then I have to answer some questions: is this creator like the real one? Do I want this creator to reflect truths about my Creator? Do the characters believe in their creator? If not, then what do they believe in? My hope is that my stories would always point my readers in some way to my Savior, Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean I am always writing an overt allegory or inserting Bible verses into my stories. I pray over my writing a lot. I find that when I write, asking God to be a part of the process is more important than trying to fit Him into my fictional world. If He wants to be in my story, He shines through whether I intend for that to happen or not.

In the Minstrel’s Song series, I wrote a series of countries that basically had forgotten about their creator. Throughout the stories, some of the characters are reminded of him and come to serve him, and by the final book it becomes clear that he had a plan all along and servants carrying out his plans and that the characters were never as alone as they felt… but I don’t want to give away any spoilers!

In Turrim Archive, I have six different countries and the people all believe fairly different things. Though there is an actual Creator of this world, most of the people in the world don’t know about him. I even wrote up what the various people groups believe, even though none of this may ever play into the actual story… I like knowing where everyone is coming from. It helps me make sure they are acting and speaking in character.

The people of Dalma are hardworking and pragmatic. There is not much that is fanciful about them. They are farmers and shepherds. Custom and tradition is important to them, but not at the expense of common sense. Mostly agnostic.

A much flashier and superstitious culture, the Ondourans believe in several gods and have temples scattered throughout the city where the devout can leave gifts in attempt to garner favor. The inhabitants of the city range from mildly superstitious to extremely devout. 

The Telsumans believe firmly in a creator, but they also believe that he is distant and uninterested in the affairs of his creation. Like a blacksmith who crafts fine weapons and tools and then sells them with no intent to stay informed of their path beyond his door. They do not wish to anger him, but mostly figure that it would take rather a lot to gain his attention.

The three countries of the Igyeum has been informed that the Ar’Mol is a god, or at least, the ruler placed over them by the creator, and that they should obey him as though he wielded the power of the heavens. Some truly believe that this is the case. However…

The Maleians also believe in a creator, but they perceive him as equal parts angry and passive… there is little kindness in their interpretation of him.

The nomadic tribes of Palla believe in spirits, both good and bad, who waft about in concert with the desert winds.

In secret, some of the older and more traditional Valleians believe heavily in spirits and three planes (heavenly, earthly, netherworld). Much of their belief system is linked to nature, and their holy places are found in nature (clearings, tops of hills, mouths of rivers) rather than built by human hands.

But religions and belief systems are only part of today’s discussion. Another important aspect of figuring out the cosmology of your world has to do with the various planes of existence. Now, your world may only have a single plane of existence. Or it might have several. If you are writing a story with the fae or a portal fantasy, you’ll have to figure out how these worlds intersect and where.

Let’s take a look at Revelod for a second. My husband created this handy little “map” for me so that I could envision the worlds within worlds. Remembering that this started as a D&D world, it has quite a few different planes of existence to explore:

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The map that I showed you the other day all exists in that blue circle in the center, the Middle Realm. Attached to that are the Morofell and the Wylderfell, homes of fae-like creatures both light and dark. Perhaps these are the dominions of the Seelie and Unseelie hosts… or something else… I haven’t decided yet. But they cross over with the Middle Realm and are connected to each other.

Then there are the planes of Air, Water, Fire, and Earth… These are essentially the realms from which elemental power is drawn.  They may be traversed, but only at great peril to the traveler as they are the natural realm of elemental beings not physical beings. Whether or not there are established dwellings, cultures, or creatures in these locations is not known as there have been no successful mapping efforts for these realms as no traveler has ever returned from these locations. (Sounds like a fun place to send my characters on a quest… no?)

The Astral and Ethereal Seas are sort of in-between places, separating the physical and elemental planes from the both Arimoth (the home of the Ari) and Vanimoth (the prison for the Vanimor). The notable exception to this sort of “nothingness” in these planes is Easamoth, a floating continent… I don’t know what’s on that continent or why it’s there, but I’m sure there are plenty of stories that could be told about it!

Now, you may not need anything quite this complex. Believe me, most of my worlds don’t! But again, it all depends on the story you’re writing. Lots of books have worlds and planes of existence that intersect/overlap in unique and interesting ways. I’ve included a few examples below:

The Star Fae trilogy by Sarah Delena White is a great example of how this sort of “two worlds sitting next to each other and affecting each other” thing can be handled.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis have multiple different worlds, and in The Magician’s Nephew, we get a glimpse into a “wood between worlds” that sort of connects them all and allows for travel between them.

The Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl is another great example of physical and fairy realms coexisting side by side with tenuous ties between them.

The Magic Kingdom of Landover by Terry Brooks is another example I love of a world-within-a-world/outside-a-world, where the MC, Ben Holiday, is able to find a magical entrance along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and steps through it into a kingdom full of magic and mystery… and problems! But while this world is solidly connected to ours… it is very much outside of it, as well.

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What are some books you’ve read that involve hidden or unseen worlds in them? Do you have any favorite portal fantasies (books that start in our world and then end up in a magical land)? 

Make sure to come back tomorrow, as we will have fantasy author J.L. Mbewe joining us to take us on an expedition around her realm of Nälu. It’s an incredible world, and one I am excited to have her introduce you to!

~ jenelle

Creating a History for Your Story

World Building History (1)

History may not be your favorite subject in school. So many names and dates and battles… they can start to blur together a bit. Or maybe you love history. Maybe the exploits of those who lived before us fascinate you and you can’t get enough of it. Either way, if you are a fantasy author, history is something you will probably find yourself needing to consider at some point in your writing.

Just like you have to pick a size and scope for your world, you will have to determine how much history you need to create and know for your story. Some stories may require you to create vast amounts of history and a lengthy timeline, while other stories will require very little.

Some basic questions you may need to ask as you begin writing might be: Where does the world come from and what has it been through? Do you have an origin story for your world? Do you need one? What are the recent events leading up to the beginning of your story?

Not every world needs an origin story.

I know, Tolkien is probably rolling over in his grave as I utter those words. But the size and scope and length of your story may not demand an origin story for your realm. But it’s the truth.

Take, for example, my recent pieces of flash fiction that I wrote about my space-trucking duo: Blake and his android counterpart, Earl. In just under 2,000 words, there isn’t a lot of time or space to create a history. I had to do some research into a few things for the technological aspects of the stories, but I literally have nothing documented about the history of the galaxy/universe they live in. I do plan to expand them into a novel of their own some day, and when that day comes, I am definitely going to have to do some more world building… but for now, it is not necessary.

With my Minstrel’s Song series, much of the timeline did not really get built until I started drafting Minstrel’s Call, the fourth book. 8,000 years of history did not come into play until I had 3/4ths of the story written, but they really helped when it came to editing the series.

With Turrim Archive, we did a lot more world building up front. I’ve mentioned before, my husband did most of the original world building for that story, and I’ve tweaked and adjusted it as the books progressed, as well as created a basic timeline that covers over 11,000 years of history, including an origin story and specific birthdays for all of my characters.

Now, for Revelod, a large world with the potential for many different types of stories, we definitely need an origin story for the world itself. An origin story will give us a good place for creating myths, legends, and idioms used by the various people groups in the world, which will help to give a sense of scope and realism to any story that takes place in this realm. Be aware that your own world view will most likely naturally incorporate itself into any world you build. That’s okay. You can also create worlds that do not reflect your own world view, of course, but you may find it more difficult.

So, for Revelod, we have the following creation story:

Veritoth did not always exist, but Orimar does.  Before time was set in its tireless march, Orimar stood alone. In his power, he chose to create for himself companions to learn, study, and discover his infinite being.  These first companions are the Ari. Their home was set into the void and Arimoth was set down, a continent traversing the newly born cosmos. It was a paradise of life and glory, light and nature, power and knowledge. Set within the continent each of the Ari held their dominion and worked and toiled with their kin and the might of the Ari wrought wonders to behold.  But, not all were content with their position.

In time, the Ari were growing powerful in their might and understanding of Orimar, and there were some among them who felt it their right and position to replace him.  Thinking their power and potential superior to their father, Aeren and Zarkus set their knowledge to the task of rebelling against Orimar.

Now Orimar was aware of their efforts and accepted their efforts for what they were. He had given them free will and would let them exercise this will, but he was not an aloof parent set in his ways or ignorant of his creation’s machinations. He limited their understanding for a time, but as with many children, Zarkus and Aeren soon discovered what none of the others had understood; the ability to kill. They had breathed life into a creation, studied it and destroyed it. And with this discovery their path was set.

At a fateful hour, they set their will upon Doran thinking to overthrow and kill the eldest among them. But Orimar expected this, and at the last moment before the arcane spell could be unleashed, he stood from his thrown in the center of Varitoth and reached into Arimoth and sundered the arcane energies. Zarkus was caught off guard and Aeren was struck by the blast of the dispelled might and she fell dead.

The rest of the Ari sensing the blast immediately arrived at the Golden Halls of Doran and saw Aeren on the marble floor the light of the Ari gone from her countenance.  In the briefest of moments, all the might of the Ari was unleashed upon themselves. The battle lasted for far longer than any can imagine. There were truces, betrayals and in the end, the fall of the Ari who sided with Zarkus. They named themselves the Vanimor for they sought to supplant their kin and their father and take ownership of Varitoth.  Orimar tired of his children’s quarreling and the destruction of so much of their wondrous works, he once again, stood before his throne and sundered Arimoth into two parts banishing the rebellion to their doom separated from him for eternity. He named their prison Oromos, and set between it and Arimoth the Astral and Ethereal seas to isolate and punish his rebellious children.

He chose to renew his creative efforts and set about crafting his greatest creation: The Middle Realms and their keepers.

Creation Myth

The Middle Realms are a complex weaving of planes of existence, some in parallel to each other, while others surround and bolster others. There are two main categories of the middle realms: the Mirror Realms and the Elemental Realms.

Orimar set his mind to their creation and laid the foundations of the Middle Realms with the establishment of the outlying Elemental Realms: Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water. Each realm distinct in its own way, they each incorporate elements of the other while establishing the cosmological focus for the elements needed to build the Mirror Realms.

With the Elemental Realms in place, Orimar again turned his mind to his creative will and from it came forth the Mirror Realms: Stratefell, Morrofel, and Wylderfell. In the center of all sits the Stratefell, though it is known mostly as Revelod by its occupants, and around it sits Morrofell: the realm of Death, and Wylderfell: the realm of Life.

When Orimar saw his creation was complete he took it in his mind to populate the realms with their caretakers, each realm to be watched, guarded, and tended to by the free people’s of Orimar.  Little did any know, that there was a greater purpose and plan set before the Middle Realms in the War between the Firstborn and Betrayers of Orimar.

As you can see, even just these few paragraphs can give you a vast array of material to draw on when it comes to writing your story and creating your characters. Do your characters believe this version of the creation story? Do they not? Why or why not? What do they believe? How does this affect their decisions throughout the story? How does it affect the way they interact with other characters? So many potential points of character development are opened up to you just from having a creation myth of some kind for your world. That doesn’t mean that all of this information will end up in any of the books set in this world. Perhaps none of this information will pertain to the stories written within this world. But I often find it helpful as the author to know these sorts of details.

Beyond the creation myth, there is also some basic history plotted out for this world already.

First Age:

  1. Orimar creates Veritoth and the Ari
  2. Fall and imprisonment of the Vanimor and the sundering of the Celestial Realms
  3. Orimar creates the middle realms and peoples
  4. Migration of the middle races across the world’s 4 continents (Humans, Dwarves, & Elves)
    • Eldoran
    • Gibaldor (Tundaran Empire & Seyberon)
    • Falkendor (Falkendale Formation)
    • Amerant (Sovereign Lands)
  5. Light War and the first breaking of Oromos (Vanimor Prison)
    • Begins with a the Vanimor forcing a gateway to the middle realms of Falkendor
    • Ends with the gate being sealed by the Ari and the creation of Sovereign Stones.
    • Sovereign Stones power the arcane era to come providing magical energy sources for spells greater than normal arcane capability.

Second Age:

  1. Rise of the Draconic Rule in Gibaldor (Tundaran Empire & Seyberon)
  2. Sacking of the Seven Kingdoms
    • Dragon Invasion from Gibaldor to Eldoran.
    • Amerant Invasion of Eldoran
    • Falkendor Invasion of Eldoran
  3. Amerant sees an uprising of mysterious strife amongst the free people’s and new monstrous creatures
  4. Gate of Oromos is breached by an enclave on Falkendor.  Vanimor are allowed to walk among the Middle Planes.
    • The Shadow War unfolds.

Grey Age: 

  1. The quiet after the storm
  2. Treaty of Falkendale

But what if you don’t need a creation story? What if you don’t need thousands of years of history and knowledge of various wars and treaties for your world and story? What if your story doesn’t require it, or you don’t have enough time in the story to get into any of those details? How much history do you really need to know?

Again, it depends on your story. Maybe you just need a sentence or two. In a short fairy tale novel I recently finished, my origin story is simple: a fictional island set nearish our own Scotland. With that brief sentence, I don’t need to come up with anything more, because the history of my characters’ world is the same as that of my own. There may be some differences (for example: the fae are real in that story… so if I expand the world into more than one book, I may have to come up with some more history and information on them, but a lot of the world building is already done, at least, when it comes to history).

And sometimes you just don’t know how much history you’re going to need until you start writing. There are plenty of stories I’ve written where the history has come together after the majority of the story was written.

If you want to bring it in a bit tighter, keeping your scope small… then there are a few things that could be helpful to know:

1. Your character’s age.

This doesn’t mean you have to know their exact birthday, though it can be extremely helpful to know that, especially if your story spans multiple years. If your character is 14 at the beginning of a 4 book series that spans 4 years and then you mention that they are 16 or 20 at the end of the series… your readers will notice. So knowing your character’s age and having an approximate idea of where their birthday falls is a great starting point. For my Turrim Archive books, I gave each of my main characters specific birthdays, even though their calendar doesn’t match up with our own.

2. Your character’s recent history.

What has happened in this character’s life? Especially right before the story starts? And what has their life been like so far? I’m not saying you have to write an entire backstory for your character, but a basic timeline of their life isn’t a bad idea.

3. A timeline for the story itself.

This is where you keep track of things like what time of year the story starts, how much time passes in your story, and what time of year the story ends. If you begin your story at the end of autumn, have a story that spans 3 weeks of time, and end the story as flowers are bursting into bloom… then either you weren’t paying attention, or seasons work very differently in your world and you should make sure your reader knows that (we’ll get into things like seasons in a later post).

Again… you can definitely write stories where you don’t need all or any of this information. These are just a few questions and ideas that are hopefully helpful things to consider as you get started in your own world building. 

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What fantasy stories have you read where you felt the author did a good job giving the world a historical depth? What are some stories where a little bit of history might have made the story better?  Authors: Do you create timelines as you write? Do you know your characters’ birthdays? 

Today’s topic leads super neatly into Monday’s discussion, when we’ll come back here to talk about creating a Cosmology for your world, so that will definitely be interesting!

~ jenelle

How Do You Decide What to Call Things in Your Made-Up World?

February is Fantasy Month 2

The Dragon’s Eye. The Spine of the World. Butterbeer. The Shire. Allomancy. The Force. Tesseract. Infinity Stones.

These names probably evoked some sort of image or memory as you read them. Well… okay, maybe not Dragon’s Eye, since I’m not nearly as well-known of an author as these others. *grin* But if you’re familiar with most of the popular fantasy stories available today, at least one of these was easily recognized.

In your own world, you will have to make decisions about what to call things, and I’m not just talking about naming characters and countries/towns here. I’m talking about all the nomenclature of your world.

Do people live in houses, huts, yurts? Does your calendar follow ours? Does your world have the same seven-day week? What about the sun, moon, and stars? How about your currency? Do they have idioms that are different from ours? Do all the common elements go by the same names, or are you going to create your own names for things?

A great example from my own recent world-building of Turrim was that my world is sort of on the brink of a technological renaissance. Certain technologies are being discovered and I had to figure out what to call some things. One of my characters designs a gun. A simple thing, really, except the word “gun” is super boring. Also, when I did some research and digging I discovered that the word “gun” came from a particularly large ballista that the men named “Domina Gunhilda” in the 14th century. The word “gun” came from that name, and though that meant the word was certainly old enough to use in my 1800s-ish setting, I couldn’t swallow the idea of that same etymology happening on this completely different world. So, I needed a new word.

When I was writing The Minstrel’s Song series, I started right away by calling the sun “the Dragon’s Eye,” and the moon, “Toreth.” I also changed the names of the seasons, “Cold Term,” “New Term,” “Warm Term,” and “Change Term.” In this way, I was able to give the world an otherworldly feel without having to rename all the things. I could keep a lot of things familiar, yet still maintain that fantasy realm feel, simply by changing a few big things.

It can be tempting, as an author, to change all the things. To rename everything. To try to go so far as to create a completely unique world with nothing familiar in it. But I would offer you a gentle warning that doing this will have several unwelcome results: 1) You’re going to have to remember all the things you changed and stay consistent (which might not be a problem, maybe your memory is flawless, you take excellent notes, and you practically live and breathe this world you’ve created and you’d never mix up any of it), but that leads us to a second unwelcome result: 2) You are going to spend all of your time describing all the things so that your reader (who does not live and breathe your world) is not lost or confused when you tell him that:

“Jeovanni walked the last few glips on the flargen until he reached the smethnew where he went inside and purchased a pint of glug to take home to his Memi so she could add flavor to their Renvalli dinner.”

Now, in this humorous example, you can probably get the general gist of what’s going on, but your interpretation might be incorrect. You might think he’s gone into a tavern to purchase ale, but maybe he’s gone into a shop to buy turmeric. And “memi” could be mother, wife, sister, aunt, grandmother, daughter, or servant, so you’ll have to make these things clear. Buuuuuuut, you proooobably don’t want your reader to have to learn an entirely new lexicon in order to be able to understand your story. You want to make this story accessible to your readers (unless you’re just writing for yourself, in which case, carry on).

So you’ll have to make decisions. What things can you change and not leave your reader clueless? What things can you keep the same to make your life easier? What things just sound wrong in the context of your world?

The other day, in a group I’m part of, an author posted a list of names of different towns in his world, asking if they sounded like they went together, or like it made sense that they all were in the same world/region. I looked at the list and it was spectacular, but one name stood out to me as “off.” I couldn’t have told you why. I didn’t comment, because I couldn’t give good advice. But I saw the same question later, and four or five other people had commented saying that the name I had felt was “out of place” was also tripping them up. A few of them were able to give reasons, but in the end, it had more to do with the way the word looked and sounded than anything truly explainable.

Sometimes you won’t even be able to explain what sounds wrong, you’ll just know it does.

Trust your instincts.

And if you’re worried your instincts are wrong, try to find places where you can get good feedback.

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Can you think of any examples from books you’ve read where common, everyday things are called something slightly different and it helped give a fantasy, “otherworldly” tone or feeling to the setting? Are there any examples of strange names or odd naming conventions that have pulled you out of stories?

Make sure to come back tomorrow, as we will be talking about adding backstory to your realm. Yes, your characters need this, but sometimes your world does, too.

~ jenelle