Human history just isn't very encouraging. Throughout history, men have been stronger and more durable than women – and our societies have been patriarchal, with women rarely being more than second-class citizens at best. The barbaric treatment of women in Saudi Arabia is not much worse (if at all) than the treatment of women in Ancient Athens. And sex isn't the only dividing line. Human history tells us that the strong will eventually dominate the weak.
The world of Bookworm has one major difference to our own; a relatively small number of humans have magic. They are effectively superior to the mundanes; brute force is largely useless against them. Kings and princes only remain in power because the magicians allow it, using them as tools to ensure stability. And even magicians have their social rankings according to power. Those with little power are barely more important than a wealthy mundane merchant.
And the world also has a long history, obscured in the past. There were wars against the necromancers, wars that savaged large parts of the world. Out of the First and Second Necromantic Wars came the Empire, a magician-dominated society that is led by the Grand Sorcerer, the most powerful magician in the world, who is charged with keeping order. The world of Bookworm has accepted what is effectively a dictatorship because the alternative – hundreds of powerful magicians fighting – is worse.
By our standards, the Bookworm universe is oddly skewed. On one hand, it has swords and sorcery; on the other, science is advancing slowly, attempting to duplicate what magic can do. They have railways and may be on the verge of gunpowder. Some of the economy is remarkably advanced; parts of society seemed mired permanently in the dark ages, with royal families holding absolute power over many of their subjects. It isn't always a comfortable place to live.
At the heart of the Empire is the Golden City, the seat of the Grand Sorcerer – and the location of the Great Library, the repository of all magical knowledge. Deep inside the Black Vault, forbidden tomes – available only to the Grand Sorcerer – store the dark secrets of the ancient magicians, the ones who fought the Necromantic Wars. So much history has been lost ...
Elaine No-Kin is a very minor magician, a young girl with barely enough magic to count. An orphan, she’s little more than a mundane as far as the great and powerful magicians are concerned – and Elaine prefers it that way. She doesn't want to get caught up in great events, even the contest to determine who will succeed the Grand Sorcerer. But events conspire to ensure that she has no choice. A magical trap, hidden within a book, explodes in her face ... and when she wakes up, she discovers that all of the knowledge in the Great Library has been crammed into her head, including the forbidden knowledge from the Black Vault. All of a sudden, her life is in terrible danger. If the Inquisition finds out what has happened to her, she’s dead.
And yet knowing more than any other magician gives her an advantage. She can see more about the true workings of magic than anyone else, enough to allow her to work spells that do more for less energy. If she chooses to become involved in political affairs, she could work wonders – but even if she doesn't someone else might make the choice for her.
One thing I love about the universe I designed is that much of its history has been forgotten by the main characters. Bookworm is a fantasy world that doesn't actually have to follow our own history, not like The Royal Sorceress. Their history is remarkable – and Elaine learns secrets that the greatest magicians of ages past sought to bury, including hidden powers threatening to explode in the faces of their successors. But the greatest secret, to Elaine, is something more mundane – her own origins. It may be that the two sets of mysteries are interlinked ...
I also had a great deal of fun slipping in sly references to other fantasy novels and television shows. Why not see how many you can spot?
Bookworm is currently available in electronic format and will be out in paperback later this year. The Royal Sorceress is out in paperback now. Free samples of both books can be downloaded from http://www.chrishanger.net.
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Chris Nuttall blogs at The Chrishanger and has a website by the same name. His books can be found on Amazon Kindle. Check out his new book Bookworm and The Royal Sorceress, now in paperback.