Finding My Way Into Alifros (Part One)

Gollancz is excited to bring you a week long series of posts celebrating the publication of The Night of the Swarm the final book in the Chathrand Voyage Quartet. To kick off our posts we’ve got a special message from Robert VS Redick. 

Publication week! The end of the Voyage! Thoughts and emotions are bursting out of me like magma from the depths. I want to speak to everyone, instantly. To those returning to the tale after Book III, the message is Welcome back and thank you for waiting. For newcomers, it’s Welcome aboard; did you bring your Dramamine? To all readers: The Night of the Swarm is the longest, strangest wildest ride of the four.

 Already some of you (my partner Kiran first and foremost) have been asking, Is this really the end? The answer is yes. Book IV brings the story of the Great Ship Chathrand and her crew to a decisive end…and also, no, because I’m starting to doubt that Swarm truly marks my final visit to the world of Pazel Pathkendle and Thasha Isiq.

That world, Alifros, is my real subject today. Readers often want to know about its origins. I think I’m a bit strange in that regard.

Many epic fantasists spend years at world-building before they start writing their story. Meticulous, they fill their notebooks, draft maps. They lay out histories in spreadsheets, create lexicons, pantheons, “magic systems,” family trees.

This was not exactly my approach. I too built a world for years—a good twenty years—before I started The Chathrand Voyage. That world began as a role- D&D setting. Which is to say: a chaos, a lunatic’s dream, a project engaged with optimism and boundless impracticality and never, ever, completed. Most of its wonders never saw the light of game-play. That world was my secret rose, my treasure and my curse, the thing I cradled in the darkness. Predictably, it collapsed under the weight of its own beauty. I rebuilt it, re-dreamed it, several times across those twenty years, and with each rebirth the world became more suitable for storytelling.

Along the way I also started picturing the Chathrand: a huge, ancient, magic-saturated vessel on a journey of terrible import. I thought the ship probably belonged in my secret world—but she was always at sea in those early imaginings, so who could say for sure?

And then one day I thought of Pazel. He was a “tarboy”, a bonded servant on a sailing ship, and he was struggling to survive in the heart of the very empire that had seized his homeland and burned his city to the ground. He was better schooled than his shipmates, and they hated him almost as much for that as for his ethnicity. He was holding onto the dream of finding his family. He was quick, agile, easily flustered, marked for death.

And he did not belong in that secret world of mine, at all.

This made me want to kick him right around the block.

To be continued on Wednesday . . .