I was asked to talk about world building in Akrasia, but actually, I’m going to talk about three countries of the Seven Eyes world, Monoea, Akrasia, and Brîn, because Draken is a child of two of them, neither of which is Akrasia. It is, though, important and powerful, a small continent that integrates several different races of peoples, including a principality called Brîn, and ties them together.
Hang on for a little history here. A war between Akrasia and Brîn was fought long before Draken was born. Brîn shares a continent with Akrasia and happened to include the most important port and mines. Draken’s father escaped the slaughter in Brîn to hide in Monoea, and therefore the subsequent war, and he was enslaved. When Monoea abolished slavery, he deserted his child, a bastard son of the royal family, and fled back to Brîn.
Then, much later, when Draken was an adult and sailing coastal protection routes in Monoea, Akrasia and Brîn came to die in a war they were destined to lose against the monolithic Monoea. Draken fought in that war, and afterward, in a prestigious group of soldiers tasked with rooting out the remaining enemies.
Because of Draken’s status and favoritism from his royal cousins, he never suffered from too much overt racism in Monoea. Not that it didn’t exist, but hatreds are based more on status, family, and wealth in this largely single-race country. That Draken is biracial is secondary to his status as a distant member of the royal family, and he’s more than proved himself loyal by hunting down remaining Brînian soldiers in Monoea and otherwise serving at the pleasure of the King.
But once he is banished to Akrasia, Draken’s mixed blood becomes his greatest secret. Akrasia’s sect of religion maintains doctrine against biracial unions. All such children are enslaved or killed upon birth. The truth in the reasoning behind this is lost to time and legend, but racism is a deeply ingrained, unescapable facet of Akrasian culture. To be sure, Draken shares some of that racism. After all, he is lifelong enemies with Brîn and Akrasia. Even with all he knows, though, it takes him awhile to understand the saturation of bigotry in the culture.
I wish I could say that ten years ago when I wrote Exile, I had some cognizant, grand theme of diversity in mind. Really, I didn’t. I wrote people I thought were cool, with magic I thought was cool. Looking back, though, I realize how Akrasia reflects not only the diverse, racist cities where I grew up and spent my twenties working as a teacher and counselor, but also my own effort to make sense of these seemingly shallow hatreds that keep people apart. I taught kids of many races and I adored them all. Most of my friends and coworkers in my twenties were people of color. But I also saw institutionalized and personal racism in the schools and on the street frequently.
So while I was playing within the epic fantasy genre, I was also unconsciously studying racism. Like the cities I lived in, there is necessary interaction between the races in Akrasia, but courtesy is a veneer covering festering mistrust. Everyone in Akrasia can find something to hate about the others, mostly the varied manifestations of magic.
The Gadye are great healers, an ability they share with generosity, but they also have disconcerting insight into people and the future.
The Mance are necromancers, a warrior-priest race with close ties to the god of death. Everyone likes that they keep evil spirits under control, but prefer they keep their distance. Besides the necromancy that reminds people that death comes for everyone, their silvery skin acts as a mirror to one’s morality and integrity.
The Moonlings are secretive and reclusive, tribal warriors with powerful earth and time magic they refuse to share with others. Most people consider their diminutive size and obedience to their slave masters—when their magic is controlled—their only endearing qualities.
Brînians are sailors and traders… with a smattering of piracy mixed in. Because they controlled a powerful port, they were conquered by the Akrasians. Their magic runs only through the royal family, and is a very particular sort of magic. Only by controlling their princes and the royal magic does Akrasia manage to keep control over Brîn. Because they fight so well and tend to flaunt their strength and wealth with bravado and attire, no one doubts a Brînian would as soon kill you as look at you.
Akrasians are hated because of their control over the entire country. What they lack in magic, they more than make up for with confidence, a few stolen magical items, and a sizeable, well-trained army. They also have a chip on their collective shoulder; legend holds they are the last race to immigrate to Akrasia and they have no real reason for being so powerful other than brute strength, even if they do claim to own the gods’ favor.
Of course, with a cast like this, the only thing to do is to toss them together and see how they interact. Draken, who despite his heritage is more racist and less cultured than he might think, collects an unarguably tropish, diverse company. They start out sharing mutual disdain but learn eventually that differences make for rich, lively friendships, and that their varied skills and magic are invaluable when war again finds Akrasia.
BIO: Betsy Dornbusch writes urban and epic fantasy, science fiction, and has dabbled in thrillers and erotica. Her short fiction has appeared in print and online venues such as Sinister Tales, Big Pulp, Story Portal, and Spinetingler, and her work is in the anthologies Tasty Little Tales and Deadly by the Dozen. She’s been an editor with the ezine Electric Spec for six years and regularly speaks at fan conventions and writers’ conferences. Her first full length novel, ARCHIVE OF FIRE came out in 2012 to great reviews and the first of her her epic fantasy series, EXILE, came out in February 2013. She’s the sole proprietor of Sex Scenes at Starbucks where you can believe most of what she writes. In her free time, she snowboards, air jams at punk rock concerts, and just started following Rockies baseball, of all things.