Exploring the Worlds of Water, Air, Fire, and Stone


I know I’ve mentioned this series before, and if you haven’t taken my advice and read them yet, well… you’re missing out. But even if you haven’t read them, this series contains some of the most unique world building I’ve ever seen. So it’s definitely worth investigating for this year’s #FantasyMonth series. And I don’t think I’ve ever dedicated an entire post to them, so let’s rectify that situation, shall we?

The realms of the Death Gate Cycle started out as a single planet: our very own Earth. However, a conflict between two powerful, magical races (the Sartans and the Patryns) ended in the sundering of the world into five parts: four elemental realms and a fifth prison world where the Sartans (the winners of the conflict) sent all their adversaries.

Each of these worlds is distinct from the others, and while the Sartan set up methods of communication between the four worlds, by the time the story picks up those methods of communication have fallen into disrepair and been forgotten.

The World of Air

Arianus, the first world we enter in this saga, is one of floating continents. We travel between them via airships and a giant machine called “The Kicksey-Winsey” on the lowest continent is supposed to align the continents and provide water to everyone. Unfortunately, things went wrong, the machine never became properly active, and the Gegs (dwarves) who run the machine do not completely understand its purpose.

The World of Fire

Unlike Arianus, Pryan is basically a Dyson Sphere with the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk inside it. An inverted globe with four suns hanging in the center, the ground is covered by miles-high jungle and most of the inhabitants have never seen the ground because they live in structures built high up in the trees.

The World of Stone

Abarrach is an asteroid-like world full of volcanoes and deadly rivers of fire. Unfortunately, the volcanic fumes proved toxic and everyone living here died.

The World of Water

Chelestra is a planet covered in a water-like substance (not truly water, because inhabitants can breathe underneath the liquid even if they have regular lungs), where the people build their homes on the backs of enormous floating sea creatures.

The Labyrinth

And finally you have the prison world. A maze-like correctional facility meant to teach its inhabitants to rely on one another and care for each other, but like every other world, it has fallen into disrepair and its intent has been twisted into something far more insidious.

As you can see, quite a bit of world building has happened in this series. What are the things that make this world building unique and impressive?

History -

One of the strengths of this realm is that it is set in our own Earth’s far-distant future. The history of this place, then, is our own history, as well as our present. This allowed the authors to make tiny references to very familiar things in an amusing and entertaining way that doesn’t seem out of place. “Gandalf” and “Luke Skywalker” are both mentioned briefly, and these instances are fun and add to some of the mystery of a certain character.

Multiple Races -

This series involves Humans, Elves, Dwarves (Gegs), Sartans, and Patryns. The first three are kind of your basic fantasy trio, with Elves and Dwarves being very similar to Tolkien’s variety, though there are differences, as the Gegs aren’t craftsmen or warriors, they are kind of the world’s mechanics.

Then you have the “magical” races. (Although the elves have magic, and some humans have attained magical knowledge and become powerful wizards, neither is on the same level as the Sartans and Patryns). The magic system of these two races is actually pretty cool. It is a rune-based magic. The Sartans perform the runes by singing and dancing, while the Patryns tattoo the runes on their skin and use their voices to activate the runes. Both use the magic to affect a possible outcome in any given scenario. The more unlikely the outcome, the more difficult the magic is to perform.

Giving it a purpose -

There are reasons why the earth was split apart, and each of the four worlds has a larger purpose in the grand scheme of things. They were not supposed to be separated and then exist without contact with the other worlds. Arianus was supposed to be a center of industry and technology, while Pryan was supposed to be a power plant for the other worlds, Abarrach should have been able to provide necessary minerals and metals for the powering of the machine on Arianus, and Chelestra was supposed to be a massive recycling plant. The four worlds were supposed to work together and for all the various people who lived on them.

Letting it fall apart -

But when we enter this saga, nothing is doing what it is supposed to be doing. Communication has broken down, most of the races don’t even know the other worlds exist, and the solving the mystery of why it has fallen apart is part of the larger overall story. The Gegs are taking care of a machine, but they’re all just going through the motions, doing the things that have always been done. They don’t know what the machine they are care for actually does, they don’t realize it’s broken, and they have zero clue how to fix it. 

There are many other things that went into the world building of this series. The creation of the two “wizard” races, the Patryn and the Sartan with their rune-magic and what happened to them is another intriguing mystery. The use of the three common fantasy races of elves, men, and dwarves and the different social systems and cultures on each of the four worlds is intricate and unique for each of the worlds. They created unique creatures for these worlds and gave them a purpose (like the sea beasts of Chelestra). To talk in depth about all of the world building that occurred in this series would take up way more time than I have, but it’s a fun realm to explore, and now that I’ve spent so much time talking about it, I want to go re-read this series for the umpteenth time. Have you read this series? (I rarely meet anyone who has… which is a shame, because it’s a fun one).

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What is the most unique realm you’ve ever encountered when reading fantasy? What made it memorable?

Have a lovely weekend! I’ll see you back here bright and early on Monday to talk about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! 

~ jenelle

Tips from the Master: Exploring The Final Empire

One of the newer names making a big splash in the fantasy book realm is Brandon Sanderson. And while anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve been…. whelmed… by most of his books that I’ve read so far, one thing I will concede without argument: Sanderson is a master world builder.

So what are some things that this author does well when it comes to creating new worlds. Today, I’m going to focus on the Mistborn trilogy because that’s the series I’m most familiar with (fewer people seem to have read Steelheart, and I still haven’t finished that series, though it’s on my TBR).

The number one thing that Sanderson does well, possibly better than most other authors I’ve ever read, is that he focuses his world building on things that will most impact the plot and characters. This makes it easier for every aspect of the world-building that we see as readers to feel like it is essential to the plot and characters in some way, and keeps us from running into anything that seems superfluous. One good example is as follows: in Mistborn, he’s said he didn’t do much with linguistics/languages since everyone would be speaking the same language, while in another series, that was something he had to think about. So, clearly, Sanderson does a great job thinking about his story and outline and making educated decisions about where to spend his time and energy when it comes to world building. But the various cultures, the map, and the magic system all work together to pull you into the world and make it real.

Speaking of magic, another strength of Sanderson’s is his ability to come up with creative and logical magic systems that follow strict rules and are clearly explained. For example, in Mistborn, there are two main methods of magical use: Allomancers and Feruchemists. The Allomancers swallow powdered metal which they are then able to “burn” internally and use it to do certain things (different metal types allow them to do different things). Most Allomancers only have the ability to burn a single type of metal, but there are rare “Mistborn” who have the ability to use all fourteen types. The Ferochemists, on the other hand, can store a physical attribute inside a metal to use it later. They wear metal on their bodies or keep it in their pockets to use later, but if they use any of their magic to enhance their ability, they must spend an equal amount of time with that ability severely weakened. So if a feruchemist uses one of his “metalminds” to enhance his vision to twice his normal range for five minutes to see if an enemy is approaching, then he must spend five minutes later in the day with only half his normal vision.

These “hard” magic systems are intriguing and quite rare within the larger speculative fiction genre. Where many authors let magic happen simply because: magic! Sanderson makes the magic system integral to his world. There is no hand-waving in Sanderson’s stories. No “wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff” here, folks! The cultures, characters, and plots often utilize the magic system as a core component to tell the story. Not only is it integrated, but each of his magic systems are set with clear boundaries of what they can and cannot do. This attention to detail and almost mathematical precision allows very unique, unorthodox magic systems become something new and exciting for the reader to enjoy, while maintaining a level of control on magic and not letting it take over his stories.

A third thing that Sanderson excels at is creating different cultures within his worlds. And from what I’ve read and heard, he does a good job at not merely copying his own ideas from series to series or world to world. He creates completely new systems and cultures for each of his worlds and this adds a level of interest to his books that helps transport the reader into these new worlds. It also makes them feel larger than life and more realistic, more like our own world, which has multiple cultures and people groups that are often quite different from one another.

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Have you read any of Sanderson’s books? Did you enjoy the world building? If you’re a fan, what is your favorite Sanderson book or series? Do you prefer a hard or soft magic system? What is your favorite fantasy culture you’ve ever encountered while reading?

Make sure you come back tomorrow, because we are going to explore one of my favorite fantasy realms: The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Have you read this series? Even if you haven’t, it’s an intriguing fantasy realm and has much to teach us about world building!

~ jenelle

Exploring Middle Earth: Why do we love it so much?

How do you talk about world building and NOT start with Middle Earth?

Well, you might be able to, but I cannot. You all know I love Tolkien. But while I could go on and on and on about characters and plot and various other things, today we are going to focus in specifically on Tolkien’s World Building.

What are some of the things he did?

And, interestingly enough, what are some of the things he didn’t do?

What Tolkien did:

Well, to start with, he created a map of the world. And there are even places on this map that don’t make it into the books (just talking about The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, here for the moment). The fact that there are places on the map OUTSIDE of the story gives the world a larger scope.

If we want to look beyond the “storybooks” for a moment, he also created an enormous history for this world and the different races living in it. That history gave him a place to “peek back into” throughout the stories, making The Lord of the Rings, in particular, feel like a realm that has been around for a while, with a real back story that the characters are aware of, much like us in our own world… even if you’re not a history buff, you probably know some historical facts and events that occurred throughout history, some in your own country, and some even in other countries, or events that had a more wide-spread scope. Giving Middle Earth a large and involved history helps the characters come alive.

He created different languages for his races. Of course, he spent a lot of time developing Elvish, but he also created a runic alphabet for the dwarves. (And, technically, he created the languages first and then wrote the world so that he’d have a realistic background for his languages… but I digress). These languages allowed him to name things and places in this world in a consistent manner, so that none of the names jump out at us as “not belonging.”



Tolkien also invested time and effort into creating different cultures. The culture of the Shire is very different from that of Laketown, which is different again from Lothlorien, Rohan, or Gondor. And yet, all of the cultures fit well within the scope of this world. They don’t feel so different from each other that they belong on completely different planets, or even different continents. They work together and each has things that draw us to them and things that could be improved upon, just like in a real world setting.

He placed different creatures in this world. It has dragons, the fell beasts that the ring wraiths ride, wargs, barrow-wights, and oliphants. In terms of sapient creatures, he inserted goblins, orcs, uruk-hai, and ents alongside men, elves, dwarves, hobbits, and wizards. All of these work together to create an intricate network of interesting characters and their interactions in this world.

What didn’t Tolkien do?

Something that Tolkien didn’t do, is that he did not create a completely new calendar or clock. (Okay, yes, he DID create a Hobbit Calendar, and you can read all about it HERE, but for all intents and purposes… he tells us that Bilbo and Frodo share a birthday and that it falls on September 22nd… and without reading any further than The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, we would be left to surmise that their Sept. 22nd is the same as our Sept. 22nd… and that would be okay). If we look specifically at The Hobbit, we see him talk about “Wednesday” and “autumn” and “winter” and we see the months “May” and “June” mentioned. When Bilbo races out after the dwarves without a pocket handkerchief he tells the dwarves that he didn’t get their note until 10:45. So we see a lot of familiar terms and times throughout the story and this actually helps to ground us in the world and gives us something sturdy and familiar to grasp hold of in this new and wondrous place.

He also didn’t delve too much into how his magic system worked. How Gandalf does the things he does is generally just accepted as “something he can do because: wizard.” Elven “magic” is described to Sam thus: it may seem like magic to Sam and the other hobbits, but to the elves, it really isn’t magic at all. Not much time is spent defining magic. It’s just something that Gandalf can do. We don’t know his limits, we don’t know why he uses his power sometimes and other times he doesn’t, but we generally accept that he knows best, as we only get to see him use that magic in moments when he knows what they are facing is truly beyond the capabilities of his non-wizard companions.

Again, we may not be sure why Galadriel can do this. But we accept that she can. 

And as far as I can remember, I don’t think Tolkien ever mentions currency. There is the dwarves’ treasure, of course, and we know that the mithril shirt is worth a “princely sum” but I don’t remember any kind of actual money ever being mentioned. I could be wrong, we’re re-reading them with the kids and I’ll have to keep an ear out… but if money is mentioned, it’s more in a general, “That’s expensive,” sort of way rather than a, “That’ll run you 12 dollars” sort of way.

So what do we learn from Tolkien when it comes to world building? Well, personally, I learned that it’s okay to focus on just a few things and do them well. I learned that it’s okay not to do some things, and that sometimes having a bit of familiarity built into the world can help a reader truly lose themselves in the story.

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What about you, dear Reader? Have you read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings? Did you enjoy your time in Middle Earth? Why or why not? What realms most appeal to you?

Make sure to come back tomorrow as we journey over to The Final Empire located on the ruined world of Scadrial. Yep, tomorrow we venture into the world of Mistborn!

~ jenelle

February is Fantasy Month: World Building

February is Fantasy Month 2

Welcome, dear Reader! I hope you are enjoying Fantasy Month so far! Our focus this month is world building, and to get started, let’s talk a little bit about world building, shall we? What is it? And why should we care about it?

Well, from an author’s viewpoint (particularly a fantasy author), world building gives you a structure in which to create your stories. It is the foundation on which you build your plot and characters. There are hundreds of different aspects to our own world that we take for granted every day, and as an author, you have to decide which of these things are the same or different in the world you are creating for your characters to inhabit. It is fun. It is exhausting. It often requires spreadsheets and charts and possibly one of those enormous cork-boards with thumbtacks and strings and…. no? Just me? Well then.

As a reader, these fantastical realms are the places you get to explore in your imagination. The minute details that you may barely even notice can often be the very things that make you want to return to that particular book again and again. Of course we love the characters, and a good plot is important, but when we’re reading fantasy (or any speculative fiction, really) we get the added delight of exploring a whole new world.


But why bother world building? Can’t an author just make it up as they go?

Well, yes. Of course you can. I did!

When I sat down to write King’s Warrior, I did very little world building at all. I just started writing. All I knew was that it was a fantasy world, with dragons, and that they had an ancient myth that the sun was actually the eye of a great dragon who flew over the world each day and disappeared into his cave at night. (This myth never made it into the book at all, except that the sun is called the Dragon’s Eye).

The main problem with writing a story without doing any world building at all was that both while writing and then again when editing I got horribly bogged down by the details of the setting that I hadn’t worked out. The minutia demanded to be ironed out before I could move on, and it often got incredibly frustrating to have to stop the flow of the story in order to name a town or figure out the currency when all I wanted to do was take my characters on an adventure.

So, learning from my previous mistake: with Turrim Archive, we did a lot more world building up front. Before I started writing I had a map, a history of the world, the political structures, some of the economic issues and concerns, unique cultures for each of the countries, and the level of technology and magic within the world before I ever started writing a word. That doesn’t mean I had everything figured out, for example, I still haven’t quite named the currency… but that is a small thing to have to figure out in edits compared to what I had to work through as I wrote The Minstrel’s Song series.

Of course, these things are helpful to ME. Your style may be completely different. You may not need to do as much world building up front, maybe you are exceptional at filling in the gaps as you go with perfect consistency, and if so… I tip my hat to you! Please, stick around and tell us your secrets!

Throughout February is Fantasy Month, we’re going to take a look at some of the well-known fantasy realms and talk about what the authors did well (and maybe a few things they didn’t do well, not to be nit-picky, but even the best fantasy realms don’t do EVERYTHING right), and then I’m going to introduce you to a new realm that my husband and I are working on. I don’t have the story figured our for this next world yet, but I am excited about meeting the characters who live there, because it’s going to be a fun realm to play in. I hope you enjoy this month and our celebration of fantasy as we take a closer look at some of our favorite realms and dive down to investigate some of the work that goes into creating such a realm!

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Talk to me, dear Reader! What are some of your favorite fantasy realms? What details help pull you into a new world when you are reading or watching a story? What missing details pull you OUT of a story? If you are a writer, do you enjoy world building? What is your favorite part of world building?

~ jenelle