Every fantasy writer knows that the worlds we create are entwined with the ones in which we live. Sometimes they form a deliberate mirror, to mock or question what we hold to be normal. Sometimes the relationship is one of inspiration or a more subtle exploration of some aspect of our own existence, taken out of its familiar context.
When I started Recovery, I thought my world’s connection to reality was going to be mainly historical. I’m not sure why I jumped to this conclusion, seeing as I’d already written two books in the series which dealt with extremism and its long-term impact on a country, but hey, I’m an author. I have to tell stories to figure out the blindingly obvious. Nonetheless, as I started sketching out the setting of the new book, I looked towards the Renaissance for inspiration. I’d already established in the first book that this was a society on the edge of change—a thousand years have passed since the end of their golden age, but now trade routes are thriving, powerful city states are spreading their influence across the world, and the gods and dragons of that lost era are quite literally waking up again. I also knew that the new book was going to be based in the city of Aliann. I knew a few things about Aliann already—it was rich, it had a university, and it sat on the northern shore of an ocean lying at a similar latitude to our Mediterranean, at a point where many trade routes met. The first obvious step seemed to be researching Venice, which shared many of those characteristics.
So I did, and decided promptly that writing a fantasy version was too much fun to resist, especially when my hero is coming from a very austere background. I also found out two things which turned out to be integral to the story—the incredibly convoluted process by which a new doge was selected, and that the very first precursor to a modern newspaper was printed in 1556, less than a century after the first printing press arrived in the city. Suddenly my fantasy Renaissance city could plausibly have both an election and some sort of journalism (and a printing press, of course, a precious beautiful printing press. Early presses make me starry-eyed and incoherent with delight so I was over the moon when I realised that this story demanded one).
That was the historical context, but it wasn’t the only factor at play. I wrote Recovery between August 2015 and May 2016. I finished the first draft as the Brexit campaign gathered momentum here in the UK and was working on edits and revisions through the US Election season. Needless to say, before long it wasn’t just historical trivia that was feeding into my fantasy world. Suddenly I had not just human politicians vying for power but shadowy supernatural forces using their might to influence the election, a cramped multi-cultural city wracked by distrust and growing prejudice, a man on a mission to drag every secret in the city into the light, and a hydra that ate mortal souls causing panic amongst the electorate (ssh, it’s still fantasy). It certainly isn’t supposed to be a direct mirror to what has happened over the last two years, but I think it would have been a very different book if I had written it in a different season. If nothing else, my journalist character was originally pencilled in as a poet, which seems inconceivable now. The worlds we create are inevitably shaped by the ones in which we live, and before long the city of Aliann was crowded with protestors and mobs, pamphleteers and speech makers, politicians and pirates.
My hero, Raif, was a resistance fighter in his homeland, but now has come into this very city which is the antithesis of everything he’s grown up with. Everyone around him has a stake in what’s going on they all demand and expect different things of him. Raif has to untangle all the lies and half-truths around him, and learn a different kind of resistance—one that forces him to look beyond the masks of everyone he meets, from his enemies to those who he trusts most.
Because even the dragon he’s falling in love with isn’t telling him everything.
For a week with no council meetings, the next few days felt very political indeed. Raif spent most of his days on the move, chasing after Philammon as he dashed around the city speaking to potential electors and voters. Philammon wrote constantly—scribbling on scraps of paper as he interviewed, leaning pages against his knee as Raif rowed them through the city, setting and resetting words deep into the night until the printers came in to start inking the first frames full of type. The journal swelled to extra pages and second printings as Philammon’s hunger for knowledge spread across the city.
Everyone wanted to know what was happening, in their own districts and others. On every street corner, men gathered to argue over who should be duke, and the oldest among them, those who remembered the last election, were suddenly feted and respected.
It had always been like this, Luljeta told Raif when their paths crossed briefly in the Arsenal District, but no one had ever printed and distributed the street corner chatter before. It was weaving a strange urgency into the streets, something Raif had never felt—not the wild excitement of the night the dragon came to free Tiallat, but something slower and even more relentless that crawled under his skin and made him loath to sleep.
On the third day, the heads of the Fifty Families started announcing possible electors. The excitement in the city tripled. Philammon decided to publish details about every one of them, which kept him, Raif, and Esen dashing across the city to seek them out, even when they didn’t want to be found and were horrified by the idea of the city knowing anything more of them than their name and which family they supported. They were respectable people for the most part, merchants and lawyers who had never before encountered Philammon’s particular obsession with information.
“This is not how things are done in this city,” one of them shouted from an upstairs window, after the third time Philammon had hammered on his door.
“It’s how it’s done now,” Philammon called, but the man slammed the window down.
“Damn,” Philammon muttered. “I’m certain he’s taken both Roland and Hillaron’s money. I wanted more on him.”
Raif thought about how he would have gathered information on a powerful enemy in the resistance. It wasn’t quite the same scenario, but…. “Why not just buy some of his servants drinks and see what they say about him?”
Philammon grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “Why not, indeed? We’ll come back later. Now, where next?”
Facts and statistics, opinions and statements from the powerful, anecdotes and analysis—all spilled from Philammon’s pen to the page and then onto the press. Several times Raif arrived in the morning to find Philammon sleeping on his desk in the corner while the printing went on around him, too exhausted even to stumble to his bed in the room above the press.
“I dream words,” he said one morning as Raif shook him awake. “Type—type everywhere. Sometimes I dream it makes no sense, just letters out of order pouring over me until I am buried alive in type. It makes me hate sleep.”
“A sign you need to sleep more, perhaps?” Raif suggested.
“No, no.” Philammon staggered to his feet, glanced at the pages coming off the press, and ran his fingers through his hair, making it stand on end. “Shit, I don’t even remember writing that. I hate it when that happens.”
“Go home and sleep, even if you hate it,” Raif said. “When did you last talk to Lord Roland?”
“He was making a speech in Glassmakers’ Square yesterday. I spoke to him for five minutes afterward. He’s busy too, I’m busy, the whole city’s busy—I’ll sleep when the election’s over!”
Raif thought that a night in his lover’s arms might do more to stop Philammon’s nightmares than working himself into exhaustion, but he wasn’t going to say that.
He monitored what Philammon wrote, and although some of his headlines were still lurid, he seemed to be giving equal coverage to all the Voices who had declared an interest in the ducal throne. There were speeches involved in that process, it seemed, and Raif was sent to finagle transcripts from his fellow secretaries.
“Having fun?” Luljeta asked him.
“I am,” Raif admitted. She looked a little wild-eyed herself. “Worked out how to take over the world yet?”
“After the election,” she said. Her tone was so close to Philammon’s that he laughed.
She gave him a weary grin and said, “Kastrian’s announcing this afternoon. You’ll want to be there.”
“So he is running?”
She shrugged. “It’s very late to announce and still expect to win support, but maybe his king is arrogant.”
“Or confident he can just buy enough support,” Raif said grimly.
Resistance, exile, plague. Raif has survived them all, but now he finds himself in search of a new purpose. Traveling north to wake the dragon Arden, he hopes he has finally found a leader worthy of his loyalty, but Arden turns out to be more of a frivolous annoyance than an almighty spirit lord. Now bound to Arden’s side despite his frustration, Raif follows the dragon to the rich and influential lagoon city of Aliann, chasing rumors of the Shadow that once cursed his homeland.
With the election of a new duke at stake, Raif struggles to make sense of the challenges he meets in Aliann: a conspiracy of nixies and pirates, selkie refugees in desperate need of a champion, a monster that devours souls, a flirtatious pirate prince, and a machine that could change the world. For nothing in the city of masks is what it seems, from the new friends Raif makes to the dragon he follows—or even himself.
Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XJ55ZMV
About the Author
Amy has a terrible weakness for sarcastic dragons, shy boys with sweet smiles, and good pots of tea. She is yet to write a shy, tea-loving dragon, but she’s determined to get there one day (so far, all of her dragons are arrogant gits who prefer red wine). Amy is a quiet Brit with a degree in early English literature, which she blames for her somewhat medieval approach to spelling, and at various times has been fluent in Latin, Old English, Ancient Greek, and Old Icelandic, though these days she mostly uses this knowledge to bore her students. Amy started her first novel twenty-one years ago and has been scribbling away ever since. Despite these long years of experience, she has yet to master the arcane art of the semicolon.