Not Just Another Fantasy World

What sets my book apart from the others?

By Scott Bury
Author of The Bones of the Earth

I set out to make The Bones of the Earth different from other fantasy novels, but at the same time, to make it the same as all the great stories.

Open almost any fantasy book, whether commercially or independently published. You’ll find a map of an imaginary land. Names of places sound English or Celtic; the farther you go from the place where the hero comes from, the stranger the place-names get.

Characters’ names follow a similar pattern. Good guys have English- or Celtic-sounding names, bad guys have Germanic-sounding names. Oh, am I describing the Game of Thrones series? Yes. Also Eragon and most every fantasy whose author was trying to be the next JRR Tolkien.

Tolkien set a very high bar: he created an imaginary world with a detailed history of its peoples. He created different species, a mythology and five languages. They’re all based on real languages and the mythology of the ancient peoples of northern Europe. Still, it took him decades to write it, and he never finished the book we now know as The Silmarillion before he died.

Most other writers fail to come close to that standard. There are a few; I haven’t read George RR Martin’s (are his middle initials yet another homage to the master?) books, so I’ll reserve judgement. The TV series shows a very complex world, so no wonder it takes him so long to write novels.

I like fantasy, I like the idea of dragons and other mythological creatures in our world. And I wanted to write a story about dragons that my sons might enjoy. But I didn’t like the fantasy model, and I did not just want to re-write Lord of the Rings.

The first thing I did was avoid the imaginary world. Fantasy writers want to have a world where magic is possible, where monsters make sense — a setting that’s believably haunted.

Well, what time was more haunted than the “Dark Ages” of the fifth and sixth centuries CE? After the Western Roman Empire fell, when learning was nearly extinguished in Europe? (At least, that’s what we learned in history class.)

Just a little research showed that wasn’t quite right; there were “barbarian” kingdoms that were fairly sophisticated, and in eastern Europe, Rome did not fall for another thousand years. We call it the Byzantine Empire today, but the people who lived in it at the time still called it Rome, and called themselves Roman — even though the city of Rome was not part of it for most of that period.

I also did not have to make up names that are obviously made up, like Eragon or Eventine. The names of my characters may sound strange to many readers, but Javor, Mstys, Boles, Photius and Hrech are all historical, all real. Some are even used today in some countries.

I also tried to evoke the oldest meaning of the myths that remain so popular. My dragons are not friendly or cute; they represent the greatest power of life, as they did for ancient cultures. Other monsters come directly from old myths and legends that most of us know today. Even “Stuhach” comes from ancient lore of eastern Europe, and the Kobolds, Krum Chimmek and their king, Goldemar, from central European cultures.

Most important, though, is what I hope makes my book similar to others: believable and likeable characters. I based all my characters on real people that I actually know. My main character, Javor, is based on my sons: he looks like the elder and acts like the younger. His mentor, Photius, is based on a university professor — except that I don’t think Professor Marlin was a skilled fencer. Other characters are based on my friends, my parents’ friends, neighbours — and yes, one is based on my wife.

See if you can guess which one.