Author Guest Post: Meljean Brook & the Lost History of the Iron Seas

Posted May 30, 2014 by Jen in Author Guest Post, Giveaway Tags: , ,

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.

Characters like Lady Nagamochi were based on real-life Japanese female soldiers like Nakano Takeko. Image from Wikipedia/Public Domain.

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…


(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.)

Edo Castle — I based the layout of the twins’ flying fortress and the empress’s palace in the imperial city on this design. Image from Wikipedia/Public Domain.

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.

Empress Go-Jingū, who led the Japanese to Australia, was named posthumously after the legendary Empress Jingū — the choice of name was deliberate and political, so that there was a strong connection between old and new (which the people needed after such incredible upheaval, physically and culturally.) Image from Wikipedia/Public Domain.

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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you have problems with the Rafflecopter form, please email me at twimom227 (at) gmail (dot) com.

64 responses to “Author Guest Post: Meljean Brook & the Lost History of the Iron Seas

  1. MaureenE

    I have not read this series but it looks fascinating. I am wondering how long Meljean has been studying history.

      • Meljean

        Hi Maureen!

        I don’t really study history as a profession or anything — it’s just a combination of things that I’ve picked up over the years plus the more focused research necessary for the series.

        The original idea for the alternate history came from a book that I read when I was eight years old, actually — a science fiction novel called ORION, by Ben Bova. In it, the villain tries to keep Genghis Khan alive so that the Mongol Horde can complete their conquest of Europe. So that started the “What if…?” in my head.

  2. this sound really fascinating and it’s something perfect to be posted now as diversity in books was a recent topic for the BEA armchair and we were looking for succesionj.
    japan always interested me and i enjoy learning their history…. alternate universe is adding a new element and making me really curious so thank you a lot for all the explanations

    • Meljean

      Hi Miki! It’s always a bit weird to study a history and deliberately twist it, but it does make for fun reading! 🙂

  3. flchen1

    Oh wow, Meljean! You could really be writing multiple series based on the history and lost histories here! I’m actually bookmarking this to read later so that I don’t spoil myself entirely–haven’t started reading The Kraken King yet, but plan to as soon as all the parts are released 🙂

    • Meljean

      Hello, lady! 🙂 We won’t talk about how many different parts of the world needed new histories when I began writing this series, lol. Let’s just say that it took a while to build it all.

  4. Drew

    I love the Iron Seas!
    And it is, it is a glorious thing to love the Iron Seas
    I love the Iron Seas!
    {Company} It IS! Hurrah for the Iron Seas!
    And it is, is a glorious thing to love the Iron Seas
    {Company} It IS! Hurrah for the Iron Seas! Hurrah for the Iron Seas!
    -Sung to the tune of The Pirate King by Gilbert and Sullivan

  5. Wanda C.

    What made you decide on this particular part of history? It is definitely a different twist. Not many people are familiar with it.

    • Meljean

      Oh, I think our comments crossed! I mentioned above that I’d read a book by Ben Bova when I was eight, and one of the “What if…?” premises kind of stuck in my head for a long time. So that’s why I used it. I’d thought about it for so long, I might as well finally write about it!

  6. UnaReads

    I have read the first two books in the series plus one of the novellas. I have the third book giving me the “stink-eye” from my TBR pile. I LOVE this world! Thank you for sharing the history, I absolutely love and appreciate the thought that goes into this. I am waiting until The Kraken King is a complete novel and them I’m so getting it. Thank you as well for the giveaway opportunity! Hope you have a great weekend!

    • Meljean

      Thank you — and I hope you love both Riveded and The Kraken King when you get to them!

  7. Joylyn

    I have to say that your books make me want to go and take a few history classes! I love how you interweave the actual history with your Iron Seas history. Thank you for sharing this world with us!

    • Meljean

      Haha, well — I guess that’s the fun part: what isn’t real, I get to make up. The tricky part is trying to make it seem real enough … and that always relies on using bits and pieces of genuine history as inspiration.

  8. Colleen Champagne

    I want to read all them in one fell swoop! I love Meljean’s writing.

  9. kaitnolan

    Okay I officially want you as my history teacher. Because that was FUN! 😀 I’ve always been delighted by how well you strike the balance between giving the information without overwhelming the reader–a lot of steampunk I’ve read goes off into massive infodump worldbuilding tangents. You walk the line beautifully.

    • Meljean

      It’s a tricky one. I’m not always happy with how much I can give (like I would have still liked to get into both the Red City and the imperial city a bit more. But maybe in the future?)

      • Meljean

        …I’m not saying he would get one. And I’m not saying that I ended the story a certain way so that I could set such a thing up. But, maybe.

        (Really, though, it’s all about inspiration and time to write it. I have lots of one, not a ton of the other.)

  10. Thais Lopes

    and that is why this series is one of my favorites ever. and i don’t usually have patience with romance, so that’s really saying something lol. it’s simply incredible how the alternative history is well built – amazing!

    • Meljean

      Oh, thank you! And I’m glad the romance part is working for you, too 😀

    • Meljean

      Thank you! It’s always fun to talk about the stuff that never makes it into the books. 🙂

  11. Katie G.

    I LOVE this series. It’s all three of my favorite genres — romance, scifi / fantasy, and historical — all wrapped up in one! How many books are you planning to write in it? (I’m hoping it’s a really large number!)

    • Meljean

      I’m not really sure. I have one more under contract, but I hope to write more than that. It just all depends on what my publisher and I decide would be the best way to move forward. But I hope it’s a lot more, too!

  12. Michele Taylor

    I stumbled upon the Iron Duke one day and have been hooked on this series since. The alternate t history has been fascinating and I look forward to each new novel. I have been enjoying the serial of the kraken king and although I was frustrated initially with the serial format I am going to miss my weekly installments after this Tuesday. I’ve just been looking forward to them each week.

    • Meljean

      Oh, I’m glad! I know the format frustrated quite a few readers, so it’s a huge relief that, in the end, the weekly installments were also something to look forward to.

      I structured it a lot like a TV mini-series and tried to keep that in mind as I wrote it — giving enough to move the story forward every time and offer a big enough chunk that readers felt they weren’t just given a tease, yet still leave enough to lead into the next episode. Most novels are more like movies, I think — intended to be taken in all at once.

      • Katie G.

        I’m a high school English teacher, and I was working through the research paper process with my students while the first six parts were coming out. I didn’t have time to read a whole book, but I used each installment of The Kraken King as a little reward for myself if I got my grading done each week! So I like it! 🙂

      • Meljean

        That’s how I usually am with novellas, especially — I don’t have much time to read, but it’s nice to reward myself with a short one now and again.

  13. Readsalot81

    Wow, that was impressive! Now that you’re almost done with the serial format, what worked for you and what didn’t? Would you do it again with a different world or setting?

    • Meljean

      Actually, everything about the serial worked for me. I was really surprised by how it changed the way I wrote the story, along with the framework of the narrative — and for THIS story, it was the right change.

      Would I do it again? That depends on the story, honestly. Many, many books wouldn’t work that way. Like, I couldn’t imagine cutting The Iron Duke into eight parts; it’s not the same at all. This genuinely was structured and written completely differently than I’ve written any of the novels.

      So…yes? Maybe? But only if I felt it was right.

  14. Stephanie Fredrick

    I have been so eager to start this series. Seen so many great reviews.
    I was wondering what is the craziest thing you have done in the name of research?

    • Meljean

      Looked up schematics for a 747 jet, so that one of my heroines could kill a demon on it.

      Ha, I know that doesn’t sound crazy! But this was in the wake of 9/11 and a writer’s internet search history often looks really incriminating. I’ve had to learn how to build bombs, to break into safes and pick locks, to do all kinds of really illegal stuff. I’m kind of surprised that men in black suits haven’t knocked on my door yet. 😀

  15. Electric Landlady

    Reading the Kraken King has made me really keen to read some of Zenobia’s stories – are you planning to publish any of them? Loving the series!

    • Meljean

      Not really. A part of me thinks it would be fun, but I also know that the stories wouldn’t be romances, so that’s not as fun for me!

      I also suspect that Zenobia is a much better writer than I am. 😀

  16. Nikki618

    Such a detailed history. It is awesome to hear about what happened in this part of the world since the first 3 books were all set in a separate part of the world. Perhaps at some time some short “histories” could be written and released? I love this world and can’t wait to get my hands on the Kraken King.

    • Meljean

      That might be fun! I currently have my world guide, but maybe it would be something fun to add to the end of any upcoming stories. I’ll think about it!

  17. One of the main reasons that I became addicted to the Iron Seas novels was the intriguing political plots in all the stories and of course the wonderful characters. I admire and respect authors that take time to research and create stories like the Kraken King, I love a good romance but no book is really great if there isn’t a great plot in it. All of the Iron Seas novels have all that I look for in books, an intriguing and well elaborated plot, a set of very well developed characters, the descriptions are wonderfully done and are able to transport me into the alternative world and of course the cherry on top is the beautiful love stories that make me sigh.

    So here is my question as I dread the last installment (mainly because it is the last one and I don’t really want this story to end) but will you write another book in which we will see Zenobia and Ariq again? I hate to think that this is farewell to these two wonderful characters.

    • Meljean

      I hope they show up again, but I don’t have any plans yet. I’d hate to never see them again, too!

      But I don’t know now whether that means they would get an epilogue story, or if they would just show up as secondary characters. It could go either way.

  18. Angela Richter

    I’m glad you colored in the history of this alternate universe, it jibes with what my mind was filling in as I was reading.

    • Meljean

      Oh, good! I hinted at a lot of this, of course, and then was explicit about some of it. But a straightforward history is always easier to grasp than when it’s given in bits and pieces through the narrative.

  19. Liz C

    Love the iron seas series. I was going to wait until the Kraken King was published as a full book before reading it … but curiosity got the best of me, O got the first part and now anxiously await each Tuesday to find out what happens next 😉 can’t wait for the last installment and the next iron seas book. Thank you Meljean 🙂

    • Meljean

      Oh, curiosity! It is a jealous and greedy mistress! 😀

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the installments! Only one more left!

  20. Jess1

    What fascinating post! I love the imagination and creativity that goes the steampunk genre, and your novels. Thanks for the contest!

  21. KrisB

    I have been holding out for the book that will have all of the Kraken King together – though it’s been tough! I truly enjoy your books and LOVE the alternative history you have created. I’m both a history buff and like to read alternative histories so am thrilled that I found your books. I hope you have several more ideas for this series and you don’t plan on ending it any time soon! 🙂

  22. Jordan R.

    Wow! I love learning all the little tidbits that are going on in the background! I can’t wait to finish the Kraken King so all this can fall into place for me!

    • Meljean

      I hope it makes everything just a little clearer! Everything that you need should be in the book itself, but a little more info never hurts!

  23. mico515

    I LOVE the Iron Seas series, although it has unfortunately
    spoiled most other steampunk for me – all the others seem so contrived! But I’ll live with that 🙂 Thanks for great storytelling!

    • Meljean

      Well, I’m not sure if I’m sorry or not! 😀 I love that you’re enjoying the series so much — but steampunk is awesome! I hope you’re able to find another series that works for you as well.

  24. AndreaA

    Meljean, it’s great to have a bit more background. Are you going to add a link to this blog to the Iron Seas basic guide? I think you should; for people who don’t get your newsletters, or those who sign up later, or those who will have trouble remembering where it was! And update the world map to indicate Krakentown, please….

    • Meljean

      As soon as I get a chance, I’ll be updating the guide with all of this information 🙂 I just haven’t had a chance yet, unfortunately.