Fantasy stories and exciting, beautiful cities go together like a horse and a carriage (to quote that famous song). But how to go about the business of creating one?
The short version is: watch/read your favorite fantasy film/series/book, add a bit of ancient or medieval flavor to it (a visit to the museum or an evening spent with Discovery Channel help), stir and voila. Your very own fantasy city, ready to go. – Or so it seems.
When I started writing Gods of War, most of it was about wide-open spaces vs the confines of the Valley. Since I grew up, and still live, close to the mountains, it was more or less talking from experience. I added a small miner city that was destroyed in the first book and that, too, was easy, because I only had to describe it from the outside.
I’m not, by any definition of the word, a city girl. I try to avoid going to Munich (the closest and biggest city to where I live) at all costs. Cities are big and confusing and full of people who either ignore you, bump you, or try to steal from you (as you can see, I’m a real fan). And all of a sudden (okay, by the third book), my plot has forced me to create a city where most of the story-line from Ummana takes place.
Since Ummana is a city of trade, it had to be grand. Because it’s a city of money, it also had to have a despicable, shady side. Casto’s involvement with it demanded it also be dark and threatening, but for the sake of Sic and Daran, there had to be light as well.
So I sat down and started thinking. A city by the sea, divided by a river. That makes sense. Most of the big, successful cities in history were located at some kind of waterway. Ostia Antica, Venetia, Hamburg, Troy, Crete (okay, not a city, but an island, but still, the water argument holds)…
Then I had to come up with the general structure and the buildings and, again, I stole from reality. I nicknamed Ummana the “Twin Cities”, indicating that both halves of it mirror each other. The idea with all the bridges, I got from Venetia. The blinding white walls of the houses, I took from Greek villages. Ummana is located in an area with a sunny, hot climate, so I could play around with the concept of houses with open spaces and lots of patios as part of the architecture, which was kind of fun after writing about the sturdy houses in the Valley, whose main purpose is to keep their inhabitants warm and safe from the cold.
Once I had Ummana set up in my head, only the palace was left to build. It’s set on an island in the middle of the city and I wanted it to be another mirror of the city itself, a bit like a Russian doll. At the heart of the palace, there’s the royal wing where Casto and the others take up quarters, and the throne room, where Casto is crowned king. In my imagination, the palace is like the heart of the city, from which all the impulses, good and bad alike, come that propel the plot forward. In the first two books, Casto and Love and the Stubborn, I followed a comparatively tranquil pace, concentrating on the relationship between Casto and Renaldo, because I needed their dynamics firmly established for the following books. But, as every hayseed knows, life in the city is faster, more brutal, and terribly exciting. As is the story in Ummana. I hope you enjoy it.
In war, loss is the price of victory, and the cost of love is sometimes pain.
After Renaldo and Casto finally celebrate their marriage, the time has come for revenge against the followers of the Good Mother who tried to kill Casto—though this time, the Gods of War won’t use bloodshed to take Medelina.
As a member of the Confederation of the Plains, Medelina answers to Ummana, the head of the alliance… and Casto is heir to the throne of Ummana. Accompanied by their most capable mercenaries, Canubis and Renaldo travel to Ummana to make Casto king.
They’ll face the Council of Elders, Lord Aran, Casto’s father, and Princess Anesha, Casto’s sister—none of whom are happy about the king’s return. For Casto, the city is a reminder of a terrible childhood, and Renaldo can only helplessly watch his beloved fight a seemingly hopeless battle.
Through trickery and political scheming, vengeance against the Good Mother is finally within their grasp—but their success might be bittersweet. Not everyone will return to the Valley with Casto and Renaldo.
Xenia Melzer is a mother of two who enjoys riding and running when she’s not writing stories. She doesn’t like beer but is easily tempted by a Virgin Mojito. Or chocolate. Truffles are especially cherished, even though she doesn’t discriminate. As a true chocoholic, she welcomes any kind of cocoa-based delight.
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