I am super excited to have one of my all-time favorite authors here on the blog today! Meljean Brook is here to share some of the amazing alternate history that she has created for her magnificent Iron Seas series. I find it so fascinating; I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! And, be sure to stick around because Meljean is giving away winner’s choice one of the Iron Seas series titles. Take it away, Meljean!
One of the difficult things about writing an alternate history is that nobody within that world knows it’s an alternate history – so explaining exactly how and why the differences happened within the text can be an incredible challenge.
When I conceived the series, the first and most critical break in the timeline occurred in 1241. (This is from my Iron Seas guide):
In our history, in 1241, Ögedei Khan, son of Genghis Khan and second khagan of the Mongol Empire, died just as his armies were poised to invade Vienna and continue their conquest of the European continent. Upon receiving news of the Great Khan’s death, Ögedei’s general, Batu Khan, withdrew from Europe, but did not immediately attend the council to formally elect the new Great Khan. Although Guyuk was eventually named khagan in 1246, he died shortly thereafter. Subsequent arguments over succession divided the Mongols and fractured the empire. Though each khanate was still powerful, they did not reattempt their European invasion.
In the Iron Seas history, Ögedei Khan still dies, but Batu Khan, leader of the Golden Horde, and son of Jochi—Genghis Khan’s eldest son—is named the successor over the wishes of Ögedei’s descendents and their supporters. In the civil war that follows, Batu, a brilliant strategist, crushes his opponents, but the effort prevents him from immediately returning to Europe. He relinquishes his westernmost holdings and consolidates his power in the east. His son, Sartaq, continues to strengthen the reunited empire, establishing strong civil and military presences in the outlying khanates. He is both generous and ruthless, ensuring their loyalty.
I drop bits and pieces of that history into the narrative as I go along, but honestly – unless someone is aware of the original history, they probably wouldn’t recognize the difference. Such as when Ariq refers to the above change in THE KRAKEN KING, Part VII:
She [Chinghis Khan’s wife, Börte] had given birth to their first son not long after her return. Seven centuries later, the argument over lineage still created small factions within the empire. The histories claimed there had been no question of paternity, that Jochi had been Chinghis Khan’s son, but those were only histories—and written by men who’d had reason to make that claim, beginning with Jochi’s son Batu, who had been both khagan and the greatest general the Golden Empire had known.
The incident with Börte being left behind in the hands of Chinghis (Genghis) Khan’s enemies is drawn straight from our history – this was before the alternate history began. But Batu was never the Great Khan. Unless readers knew that already, however, the difference wouldn’t really mean anything to them – and of course it would be really silly for me to have a passage in which Ariq was like, “Wow, the world would have been so different if Batu had never been Khagan,” and attempting to cue in the readers that way.
So writing an alternate history is always a balancing act between offering enough information that the readers can understand what has happened, but not overwhelming them with details that don’t really matter to the plot or the characters. Sometimes writers err by leaning too far to one side or the other (and I’m no exception.)
It was no surprise, then, when Jen emailed me and said, “Help! The relationship between the Golden Empire, Nippon, the Red City, and the rebellion is really confusing! Who are friends? Who are enemies?” (Okay, she didn’t use those exact words, but I’m trying to keep this blog post from becoming a super-long one! So I paraphrased.)
I responded with a long email, and then we thought: Hey, this might be a fun guest blog! So here you have it…
THE LOST HISTORY OF THE IRON SEAS!
(Okay, it’s not really lost. I just wouldn’t fit into the book. Pieces of it are in there, of course, because I had to give enough so that readers would know what was going on and to hint at some of the changes. But slapping a history lesson into the middle of the serial would have been awkward and boring, so I left most of it out.)
Anyone who has read the series already knew what happened in the west – the Mongol Horde invaded Europe with war machines and zombies, most of the people in Europe fled to the Americas or north to Scandinavia, and England was occupied and enslaved with nanoagents. So a lot is happening on that side of the world, and it’s already been described in the first three books.
THE KRAKEN KING is really the first time we visit the other side of the world, so this (brief) history focuses on that and how it relates to the events in the serial.
Starting a bit over 500 years before THE KRAKEN KING:
The Golden Empire (known as the Horde Empire, if you’re a westerner) became hugely powerful in the late thirteenth/early fourteenth century and they attacked Japan (referred to as Old Nippon in this story). Many of the people (including the empress) fled Japan and settled in Australia. They never really fought for independence — they just kind of ran for their lives, because that’s what you do when the Horde shows up on your doorstep.
The Nipponese and the Australians had a big war when Nippon took a bunch of land, and there were plagues and death and it was awful.
In the wake of the wars and the plagues, the Nipponese built a big red wall, marking off their territory in north-eastern Australia. They basically shut down all trade with everyone, with a few exceptions (although the cause is different, this is also what happened in real history during Japan’s isolation period, which is why I did it in the alternate history.)
Back in the Golden Empire (which now includes the Japanese islands), the rebellion against the Great Khan (the Khagan) slowly gains traction, but doesn’t really take off until later; but at the same time, the Golden Empire keeps expanding — they’re taking over Europe/England, Africa, and also moving south into the islands of SE Asia and Oceania, which is just north of Australia. So the Nipponese are all HOLY SHIT, NOT AGAIN and they go to war with the Golden Empire.
So at this point, the Golden Empire/Khagan is basically at war with Nippon on its right hand, holding back the rebellion with its left hand, it’s got its foot in England and Europe, and its other foot in northern Africa. So that goes on for a while, and all of the islands/area north of Australia are really just getting crushed because that is where most of the war between Nippon and the Golden Empire is playing out.
All this time, Nippon still has its wall up, and no one is really allowed to go IN to Nippon from outside. But they are fighting a war, right? So obviously there has to be soldiers going OUT. But after they do, they can’t go back home. So that’s where the Red City came from. It’s not TECHNICALLY a part of Nippon; it’s more like a port city that is just on the other side of the wall, where all of the soldiers and their families live (along with merchants, traders, and anyone else who can make a living in the Red City.)
Then, more recently and within Ariq’s lifetime, the rebellion in the Golden Empire grows stronger. The Khagan has to start withdrawing his troops from England, from Africa, and he’s losing ground in the war with Nippon. So he withdraws from those islands/that war, too. And Nippon doesn’t keep on pounding at them, even though he’s weak, because they have been at war for a long time, too. So they are like: Phew, that’s over.
Except of course it’s really not, completely. Because there are skirmishes here and there. It’s just that it’s not as terrible as it once was.
Then the Nipponese empress decided to open up the Red Wall and trade with Nippon. So that isolation is over and the people in the Red City can finally go in and out (although of course with restrictions, such as the quarantine.)
So that’s the general history.
More specifically, regarding the characters:
Note: the follow section contains information about the central characters of The Kraken King. There are mild spoilers for those that have not read the book.
Ariq’s mother was from the Japanese islands, but that means she was from the Golden Empire. She’s not Japanese, except racially and (somewhat) culturally. She’s a rebel fighting against the Khagan, and because she can’t stay in the Golden Empire (after Ariq’s father is assassinated) she was sent to the Red City (before the wall was opened again.) She spied for the rebellion. She told the rebellion when Nippon/the Khagan were fighting in one area, so that the rebellion could strike in another area more safely. So that allowed the rebellion to lead more devastating attacks against the Khagan, further weakening him (and leading to the end of the war between Nippon/Golden Empire as mentioned above.)
The rebels and Nippon are NOT allies. The rebellion has no interest in helping Nippon; they just want to take advantage of the war between Nippon/Khagan in order to further their own cause.
Ariq was a commander in the rebellion, but he never cared about/helped Nippon.
General Ghazan Bator is from the Golden Empire/a rebel against the Khagan — he also never cared about/helped Nippon.
Admiral Tatsukawa is from Nippon and an admiral in their navy — and he is basically loyal to Nippon, but he doesn’t think the empress should have withdrawn from the war.
So although Ghazan Bator and Tatsukawa have teamed up, it’s basically for their own interests, and doesn’t represent an alliance or anything between the rebellion and Nippon.
And there you have it! A (very) basic history that explains the relationship between these major players in the eastern part of the Iron Seas world.
Meljean is generously donating one copy of any of her Iron Seas titles to give to one (1) lucky commenter. To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form AND leave a question or comment for Meljean at the end of this post.
The giveaway is open during the time specified on the Rafflecopter form. Winner(s) chosen at random from all eligible entries. This contest is open internationally where not prohibited by law. Winner may select one book (paperback or digital) from the following titles: The Iron Duke, Heart of Steel, Riveted, or The Kraken King (ebook only). Digital copies subject to geographic restrictions. Open to participants, 18 years or older, who are legally allowed to participate in such a contest as allowed by their local laws. All federal, state, local, and municipal laws and regulations apply. Void where prohibited. No purchase necessary. By participating in the contest, participants agree to be bound by the decisions of the contest sponsor. Prize will be delivered by the author. I am not responsible for items lost in the mail. By entering this giveaway, participants agree to abide by these terms.
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