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Walking corpses and black-market liquor: the quiet life.

Teltö Phuul, Necromancer and Library Clerk, likes his days safe and predictable. Not for him the intrigues of the Viiminian Empire, a gothic monstrosity held together by sheer force of will.

Until the Empire’s dreaded secret police come knocking. Caught in a web of schemes in the diseased heart of Kuolinako, the underground Imperial capital, Teltö can trust no-one. Not the Northern theocrats who abhor Necromancy, and certainly not the Grand Chancellor, whose iron-fisted rule has kept the old order alive that little bit longer.

When one false step means torture and disappearance, this journey will change our Necromancer forever.

What makes your world special or different?

Necromancy, the ability to raise the non-decomposed dead via mental command, is a universal ability in this world. The homeland of our protagonist, the Viiminian Empire, bases its entire socio-economic and political structure around this: the undead serve as a slave labour force for factory work, essentially making them flesh robots, while the society itself is ruled de facto by a necromantic caste.

The neighbouring state, the Skeevereet Principality, regards necromancy as abhorrent, and against its religious tenets. However, whereas the Viiminan Empire is  meritocratic – enjoying complete equality of gender and sexuality – the Principality is theocratic, misogynistic, and militaristic. As such, there is much innate hostility between the two countries, with neither being particularly nice places to live.

One additional thing: the flora and fauna of this world are often New Zealand native species – pohutukawas, wetas, and so forth.

Being a New Zealander myself, I find that secondary fantasy too often uses wildlife of a Western European nature, so I felt the urge to mix things up a bit.

The setting is also implied to be Southern Hemisphere.

How does your main character fit into this world?

Teltö Phuul, the sole POV character of the novel, is a low-level necromancer from a provincial city in the Viiminian Empire. His job is to ensure that the undead at the local library stack the shelves correctly – before he gets dragged into political shenanigans.

The novel sees Teltö travel across the Empire, venturing into the underground city that is the Imperial Capital (Kuolinako), then later travelling on to Skeevereet – where he faces a massive culture shock on several levels (Teltö is not only a necromancer, but bisexual too – not an issue in the Empire, but forbidden in the Principality).

Is there a system of magic?

As mentioned above, necromancy is the ever-present magic system in this world, accessible to anyone with sufficient learning. It is taught in schools in the Viiminian Empire, with an examination system determining those qualified to join the caste – those who do become Necromancers are required to drink the Toast (which means they cannot themselves be reanimated), and wear ribbons to indicate rank. Note that necromancy does not merely refer to animating humans – fights between undead spiders are a common form of gambling in Imperial society.

The level of technology is roughly 1900-level, which is why I categorise the novel as steampunk-flavoured. There are factories, guns, railways, and copious usage of coal – the resulting smog and acid rain has long since driven the Imperial Capital underground. There are also hints of lost sciences, with the Capital featuring underground plants and trees converted from photosynthesis to chemosynthesis. Meanwhile, the Skeevereet Principality makes use of airships, but the Empire lacks access to safe gases.

What are the people who inhabit your world like?

As mentioned before, the Viiminian Empire is fundamentally organised around its magic system. Its titular Emperor, an inbred drooling cretin, was walled off in his tower some 1500 years earlier, so a Grand Council of Necromancers rules de facto in his name, presided over by an autocratic Grand Chancellor. There is a massive, lumbering, and incredibly bureaucratic administrative system beneath this, consisting of both living and undead functionaries, with the regime being propped up by a monstrously powerful secret police.

The Skeevereet Principality by contrast is a hereditary monarchy, perpetually under threat from powerful interest groups – the Northern Church, the military, and the aristocracy. The Principality places much more emphasis on blood lineage than the Empire does.

Neither Empire nor Principality are modelled off real-world cultures, though the former potentially has some similarities to Imperial China (hidebound) and the late Brezhnev-era Soviet Union (corrupt bureaucracy). The Imperial names are a bit Finnish-flavoured: Kuolinako, for instance (kuolla being the Finnish verb ‘to die’ – this is a necromantic civilisation we are talking about).

Are there any magical creatures?

The Viiminian Empire has a second sentient race – the Mnomo (singular Mnoma). These are tall, green, six-fingered humanoids inclined to eccentricity: their physiology is such that boredom causes their brains to produce a dangerous chemical that literally eats their minds. As such, the Mnomo are on perpetual hunt for new and interesting things, making them an outlet for anarchistic creativity in an otherwise ponderous and conservative society.

The Empire tolerates the Mnomo because of ancient laws. The Principality shoots them on sight.

Is there a religious system in place?

The religion of the Skeevereet Principality is misotheistic – they believe in a single Creator God, but consider that Creator to be Evil.

As such, the Northern Church holds that God must be fought, and that individuals are reincarnated until He is destroyed. In practice, this provides the Principality with yet another reason to dislike the Empire (which they consider the Mad God’s domain), and we see various interpretations of how to apply this doctrine in practice.

The religion of the Viiminian Empire is better termed a belief system than a conventional religion, in the sense that it references anthropomorphic personifications (Father Life and Mother Death), rather than deities. There is no conventional worship, but pleading with Father Life, and recognising “the Eternal Mother” is something individual characters do in stressful situations.

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