Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Category: Novels (page 2 of 2)

Announcing the “Manaverse”

A couple of days ago I wrote a blog about my need to create a name for the fantasy setting of the Sleeping Dragon. Well, a few days later, I have it.

Ladies and gentleman, drumroll please, may I give you… the Manaverse.

What is the Manaverse? Well as the name suggests it’s a universe, but one that runs on mana, where mana is the raw force upon which magic is built. This is not a fantasy world like ours but with magic added in. No, for magic is as fundamental to this universe as physics is to ours.

Our universe runs according to four fundamental forces, gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Everything in our entire universe is ultimately derived from these, so much so that the physicist Ernest Rutherford was moved to declare that all science was either physics or stamp-collecting, by which he meant that physics revealed the underlying meaning of everything, reducing all other scientific disciplines to mere description and classification.

In the Manaverse, wizards could say much the same thing about the study of magic, for in this world, it is magic, and the fundamental force of mana that it controls which ultimately underpins every single process, natural or artificial, living or inert.

This is a magical world, but not a random or illogical one. It is a world as internally consistent and ultimately knowable as ours, but one whose forces of nature sit on an entirely different set of foundations.

It’s the Manaverse.

* * * * *

The first book set in the Manaverse, the Sleeping Dragon, will be published in February of next year. It will be followed by the Elven Lands Murders.

On The Naming Of A Series

This is something of an announcement twice over, the first announcement being of a new novel that I’ve started working on1, and the second announcement being that of the resulting marketing / naming predicament that this decision has precipitated.

The new novel, provisionally titled the Elven Lands Murders, is not so much a sequel to the Sleeping Dragon as a follow-on, set in the same world, and featuring Blade, one of Sleeping Dragon’s five protagonists in a story that, as the title suggests, is set in the Elven Lands that lie across the Western Ocean, and which involves murders.

I’m calling it a follow-on rather than a sequel because while it follows on from that story, Sleeping Dragon itself is a completely self-contained novel whose story brings all its plot threads to a full and complete close.

And that’s where I arrive at the resulting predicament. Right from the start, If Pigs Could Fly was conceived as the first book of a series. Before I typed the first word of chapter one, I’d typed the title, “If Pigs Could Fly (WKPDA I). When the first cover was designed, it bore the words “West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency: Book I”. When I uploaded the book to Amazon’s Kindle Desktop Platform and it asked me if it was part of a series and, if so, which series and number that was, I typed in “West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency” and “1”.

But Sleeping Dragon is a stand-along novel, with no sequel.

Or at least, it was. Until now.

Now I need some kind of unifying subtitle. Not necessarily a series title, but a description for the shared world that can then go onto the cover and in the Kindle subtitle. Something like S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse or C. J. Cherryh’s Alliance–Union universe. Something that allows me to put “An XXX novel” as a subtitle both on the Sleeping Dragon, and on the Elven Lands Murders.

And that’s where I’m stuck. In these blog posts I’m calling it “the world of the Sleeping Dragon”, but that’s essentially a circular reference (I’m saying that the Sleeping Dragon is set in the world that the Sleeping Dragon is set in). What I really need is something that captures the essence of the setting (which I described in the first Sleeping Dragon blog post).

And so far, nothing’s come. 🙂

1This is in parallel with Sticks and Stones, book 2 in the West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency series, and the sequel to If Pigs Could Fly. At this point, I’m not sure which novel will be first out of the gates, but the smart money should be on Sticks and Stones given that it is 90% complete in first draft, even if the reason for it being paused on 90% is that it has metaphorically fallen at the final hurdle, that hurdle being how to make the damn ending work from a narrative point of view.

Upabove: Sleeping Dragon’s Decaying Jewel

Sleeping Dragon’s origins lie more than ten years in my past, to a weekend break my wife and I took to Venice back in the autumn of 2007. This was just three months after our wedding, but full disclose compels me to admit that this was the result not of some romantic gesture by me, but of an impulsive purchase of bargain flights by my wife on some last-minute type site.

I arrived with in possession of a degree of scepticism, but that scepticism was blown away by the reality of Venice. I found it both beautiful and inspiring, though not perhaps in the way it is commonly portrayed.

To me, Venice appeared akin to the clichéd English stately home, once grand, but now crumbling, with its once wealthy owners living amidst the faded grandeur of what had once been – but with Venice, this was repeated a hundred-fold. To take a trip along the Grand Canal is to take a trip past crumbling palace after crumbling palace, the peeling paint on the epic visages revealing that this is a place that was fabulously wealthy once, but now isn’t.

Somewhere during that visit, the vague dust cloud of ideas that had been orbiting my brain’s creative centre for several weeks began to coalesce into a rounded planet of an actual idea, that idea being the “fast-forwarded fantasy world” of Sleeping Dragon. And orbiting that planet of an idea was a satellite moon of a plot-point location: a Venice-like city that sat not in the sea but instead floated in the clouds.

Upabove.

This is what I wrote about Upabove in Chapter Twenty-Five of Sleeping Dragon:

Upabove was an obsolete relic that shone with the light of ages past; a name that conjured up images of wealth, intrigue, and decadence. It had been founded a little over three hundred years ago by a group of refugees fleeing the carnage brought by the Empire’s Great Succession War. Desperate, they’d set out by carpet across the Middle Sea towards the independent lands beyond; a destination far beyond the range of that era’s early and crude flying vehicles. Reaching safety would require them to ditch in the sea while their vehicles’ mana stores recharged, in carpets not designed for ditching.

Many refugees undertook those sorts of desperate journeys, and many were never seen again. But fate, chance, and geography smiled upon this particular group, for at the halfway point of their journey they encountered a unique and hitherto unsuspected anomaly: an area a mile or so across, around five thousand feet above the surface of the sea, in which the background level of mana was more than five times the standard. The downward progress of the charge needles in their carpets, which had been moving relentlessly towards zero, halted, and then reversed. The needles began to rise, and within hours were sitting at the top, fully charged. The refugees realised they were sitting atop some kind of flaw in the world’s mana field that leaked mana like a volcano leaks magma.

People with lesser ambition, or who were less blessed in imagination, would have waited until their carpets were fully charged, and then resumed their journey, thanking the gods and fate for the good fortune that had spared them a risky and possibly terminal ditching. But these were not such people. Instead, they took the older and slower carpets and lashed them together, building a temporary shelter for the children, the old, and the sick. Then a group sped back to the Empire, returning with supplies, building materials, and people. From those ramshackle beginnings they built a floating city that they called Upabove.

Upabove grew fabulously wealthy in its first two centuries. Its skilled magical artisans were able to use its high background mana level to create items that were both better and cheaper than those produced elsewhere; its position at the centre of the Middle Sea allowed skyships and carpets to travel directly across the sea rather than around its periphery, stopping at Upabove to recharge.

Upabove was never technically an independent state; in fact it was never a state at all, consisting legally of nothing more than a collection of skyships, tethered together. But its inhabitants used their wealth and power to gain a de facto independence, registering their floating palaces under a succession of flags of convenience with border principalities on the fringes of the Empire. They called their state a republic, and themselves merchant princes. But then, some hundred or so years ago, a series of advances in magical technology rendered Upabove obsolete. Improvements in mana storage and more efficient motors meant that skyships and carpets could now fly not hundreds of miles on a single charge, but thousands. And new techniques for magical item production allowed finer items to be crafted using far less mana.

On Upabove, little appeared to change. The merchant princes continued to party as decadently as before, but now the money was flowing outward, not inward. It was said by some that it had taken the inhabitants of Upabove two centuries to earn their fortunes but less than one century to squander them. Others joked that while Upabove was now bankrupt, its inhabitants would notice this only when the drinks tab ran out. Like a neglected gemstone, Upabove started to tarnish. The magnificent palaces, now old and their maintenance neglected, showed signs of rust under layers of peeling paint. Meanwhile, Upabove’s hard-earned quasi-independence grew fragile, maintained only by the inability of surrounding governments to agree on what its new status should be. People whispered of mortgage defaults and hostile takeovers, and talked of an invasion by stealth.

But through all of this, the merchant princes partied on. Upabove might have been a relic, and a bankrupt one at that, but it was still Upabove.

And it was still magnificent.

A little late on, when Dani arrives, I’m able to give a description of Upabove itself, in an infodump made possible by virtue of a talkative cabbie:

Upabove was built like a spinning top, albeit one made from hundreds of separate pieces that merely floated in formation, connected by a spider’s web of walkways. The “disc” consisted of a ring nearly half a mile in diameter, with a rounded outer surface sculpted to deflect the strong winds that blew at this altitude; and an inner surface terraced into gardens, balconies, and public walkways. Floating inside the ring were hundreds of separate buildings, some squat, others shaped like long, thin cigars set on end with their tops and bottoms extending far above and below the ring’s protected inner space.

At the centre of the “disc” was a long, thin needle that extended both further above the ring and further below than every other part of Upabove. At its bottom were clusters of docking ports, connected to which were more than a dozen large skyships, including the one that Dani had just arrived on. At the needle’s top, a forest of communication dishes and antennas sprouted. And somewhere in between was the long narrow platform of the cab rank, upon which Dani now found herself.

A line of carpets painted in yellow and black checkers floated next to the platform. Dani stepped carefully into the first of the waiting vehicles, which was piloted by a slightly chubby man just this side of unkempt. “Far Clouds Hotel, please,” she told the cabbie. “But could you take the long way? This is my first visit here and I’d like to see a bit of the place.”

“No problem love,” the cabbie told her. “I’ll take a loop around the hoop.” The man smiled, clearly pleased with the rhyme.

The carpet glided away, passing over the floating buildings that made up Upabove’s “disc”. The cab pilot started pointing out various features. “That building there, the one that looks like it’s covered in gold – that’s the casino. And see that group over there that form a square? That’s Founders’ Place, where the Opera House is.”

Dani looked further down, at the docking platforms below. “A friend of mine said her skyship was docking at Platform Twenty-Seven. Do you know which one of them that is?”

“Ain’t any of them, love. Twenty-seven’s over there.” The cab pilot hooked his thumb back at somewhere the other side of the central needle. “It’s not down there on the hub. It’s a private platform attached to one of the buildings on the eastern side. Think your friend must have got her numbers mixed up.”

“Really? I was pretty sure she said twenty-seven.”

“Yeah? Tell you what, I’ll show it to you.”

So that’s Upabove, inspired by Venice, but subtly different: not merely a floating Venice but instead a product of the World of Sleeping Dragon’s culture and technology. I hope it sounds intriguing, and if it does, please considering pre-ordering the Sleeping Dragon at the links below.

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

The Cast of Sleeping Dragon: Dani

The cast of the Sleeping Dragon is an ensemble one, featuring five misfits bought together by circumstances beyond their understanding, who swiftly realise that only by working together can they work out just what the hell’s going on and, more importantly, just how the hell they can get out of it.

In this post we look at the woman who supplies the ensemble with a streetwise mix of skills and knowledge gained from a life lived in Empire City’s darker margins.

* * * * *

Dani fought her way out of a tough childhood spent in the care of the state after the death by overdose of her herb-addicted parents when she was still just a toddler. A loner, both by nature and circumstance, she now earns a living, albeit an illegal one, as a grifter. Not for her the cosh, or the rope and grapple: this is the Second Millennium of the Third Age and the tools she uses are somewhat more sophisticated.

Dani swung her pack off her shoulders and pulled a flat object out of one of its side pockets. It was a small, but highly powerful, portable oracle she’d got from Pete’s loaded up with a whole load of cutting edge software that she most definitely hadn’t got at Pete’s. She reached back into the pocket and pulled out an even smaller device that also hadn’t arrived on her person via any legitimate retail sales channel, plugged it into a port on the back of the oracle, then nodded at Blade.

Dani opened the oracle and ran up a general-purpose security-monitoring program available only to certified professionals in the security industry, and people like her. The screen, blank initially, gradually filled with a variety of icons of varied colours and shapes, each representing a particular device installed somewhere in the landscape before them.

“I’m guessing that means there’s stuff down there,” Blade whispered, nodding at the screen.

“Yeah.” Dani jabbed a finger from icon to icon, listing each type as she did so. “We’ve got line sensors here, forward looking motion detectors over there, a belt of general proximity stuff, and then some general comms gear. All pretty standard. Good quality. But standard.”

“Can you get us through it?”

Dani gave him a smile, then flexed her fingers. “Watch me.”

When we first meet Dani, she’s living a life she believes is the one she wanted.

The mark gave a smile and a wave as he caught sight of her. He stepped briskly up to the table and sat down, hand outstretched. “Ms Smidt,” he said to Dani, smiling. “Good to meet you in the flesh at last.”

Dani took the hand and gave it a good, firm shake. “Call me Johanna.” She tossed a twenty gold piece note onto the table and pointed towards the statue of Sir Ethelded. “How about we go and take a look at the goods?”

“You’re reading my mind,” said the mark, smiling. They walked across the paved expanse to the statue, stopping just in front of its polished marble plinth. Dani gave him some time to admire it. After a few seconds, the mark spoke. “It’s quite a sight, isn’t it?”

Dani nodded. “It is.” And to be fair, even covered in pigeon shit, it was.

“Hard to believe your bosses want to get rid of it.”

Dani leaned in, looking first left, and then right, as though checking that none of the sash-wearing old ladies could overhear. “Which is why the City Council is insisting on absolute discretion. There are still too many who don’t understand progress, who can’t see this statue for what it is: an obsolete symbol of a bygone age. They don’t see the shame in honouring a man who ethnically cleansed the East of orc, goblin, and beastman.”

The mark paused again, the expression of oily covetousness upon his face showing clearly that it was the vision of the statue set upon the front lawn of his new-money mansion that currently occupied his mind, and not the fate of any orc, goblin, or beastman. “Ms Smidt.”

“Please, call me Johanna.”

“Johanna. I want this statue. Now.”

Biting at the bait, thought Dani, time to start reeling him in. She waved a protesting hand. “This is a discreet process, not a secret one. There will be an auction. Sealed bids.”

The mark snorted. “Auctions can be talked about. Bids can be leaked. Do your bosses want this to happen or not?”

Reserved and suspicious as she is, Dani’s talents and strengths are not immediately obvious. But as time goes by, her companions comes to realise that she is someone they can rely on.

* * * * *

Just for fun, I created some mocked up RPG-style character sheets for Sleeping Dragon’s five protagonists. Here’s Dani’s:

* * * * *

Click here to read the other posts in the “Countdown to Sleeping Dragon” series.

* * * * *

The Sleeping Dragon is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle at an introductory price of 99p in the UK and 99c in the US (it’s also available in all the various international Amazons at the equivalent price in local currency). If you like what you’ve read here, then please consider pre-ordering it.

UK Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

US Link: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Dragon-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B07KWFNXVS/

The Sleeping Dragon will be published in February next year, in both Kindle and paperback formats.

* * * * *

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