I’m so excited that I have the opportunity to host Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember In Ashes, here on the blog. When I was toying with potential topics for her to talk about here I was thinking about how much setting and world-building are important to me especially with fantasy novels. It really can make or break it for me when it comes to a good vs amazing book — no matter how much I love the plot and the characters.
I was really fascinated by the setting of An Ember in Ashes (an Ancient Rome sort of fantasy world) and decided I’d love to know how she went about integrating Ancient Rome as inspiration for the world she built in An Ember in Ashes.
When I came up with the idea for Ember in 2007, I was very excited. And very nervous. I knew I had something that could be beautiful and wild and dark, if only I could get it right. I fell into my characters and plot with an obsession that hasn’t abated. I still think of them and their stories day and night.
Writing Ember took 6 years. The story revealed itself slowly to me, because I wasn’t just writing a book, I was building a world and it was very important to me that this world be authentic and true.
That meant research. One of the first things I researched were names. I wanted to imbue EMBER’s names with deeper meaning because I believe names have power. Across cultures, name meanings have such fascinating histories, so for EMBER, each race had its own naming conventions that were based on actual cultural naming conventions. I used Roman-inspired names for the Martial group, Hindi-inspired names for the Scholars, Arabic-inspired names for the Tribes and West-African inspired names for the Mariners. Every character’s name has deeper meaning. None of them is random.
Names were just a small part of the research I did for Ember. Though the book takes place in a fantasy world, that world still required consistent rules. I looked to history for inspiration. I’ve always been fascinated by Ancient Rome of the Juleo-Claudian era. I researched architecture, clothing, weaponry and military conquests from that time. I based the Martial Empire’s system of social stratification on Ancient Rome’s.
When it came to Blackcliff, Ember’s brutal military school—I dug into Sparta.
When people think Sparta, I think they often think of the Battle of Thermopylae, or that movie where ripped guys yell a lot. But Sparta was more than that. Ancient Spartan boys entered the agoge—this brutal system of training—at the age of 7, and they were bound in it until adulthood. They were cast in to the wild to fend for themselves, starved, beaten, set against each other—they were killing before they were 10 years old. I used all this to inform the creation of Blackcliff, and the merciless training that two of my characters, Elias and Helene, must survive there.
Elias and Helene, are not, of course, the only ones that must undergo brutality. In EMBER, Laia is forced to become a slave and so I knew that I had to make her experience realistic. Not doing so would be a disservice to young readers, one that I knew they would sense because it would make the book inauthentic. I read about slavery in ancient Rome as well as here in the U.S.
The goal of all of this research was to bring the world of EMBER to life. When I closed my eyes and slipped into this world, I had to see it and smell it, taste it and feel it and hear it. That, to me, was the best way of making sure that my readers could experience the same.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.
LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.
When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Her website: http://www.sabaatahir.com
Let me know what you guys thought! I’d also LOVE to know what authors that you love that do worldbuilding so well! How important IS world-building to you??