The Geomancer


A Brief History of Lenayin

I've written a post on my blog about the world building that went into the land of Lenayin, from my novel 'Sasha'. Rather than posting the whole thing here, I've put in a link, and an excerpt.

'I can’t think of many fantasy novels where the people live beneath the rule of a king, but are ambivalent toward him and his authority. Because fantasy novels tend to be in love with the power of kings, and in love with the feudal system that sustains it... and sure, there is a lot of romance surrounding a position of such extreme authority. But the reality of such systems, of course, is that much of what we perceive as romance from that period of European history (picture glamorous king in crimson cloak on prancing white steed), was in fact propaganda by those kings who wanted to make themselves look good, and semi-divine, for obvious reasons.

Though power itself can be glamorous, much of the romance surrounding that power was in reality bullshit, and much of the manner in which kings actually ruled was cruel, arbitrary and unenlightened, to put it mildly. A good king could certainly be better than a bad king, but the system itself doesn’t allow much of what we would consider today ‘liberal open mindedness’ -- you’re either loyal, or you’re dead, and that applies to those living beneath good kings and bad kings alike. George RR Martin is one fantasy author who grasps this extremely well in ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. But a lot of fantasy, sadly I think, tends to swallow the propaganda whole, because the propaganda is pretty. Perhaps this just goes to illustrate that there is a statue of limitations on the offense caused by nasty political systems. Fantasy writers glorifying Nazism would get into trouble. Feudalism, not so much.

And yes, I am just stirring.


  1. I like your angle, but sometimes the propaganda is actually reality. Louis XIII is a prime example of the divine right of kings functioning quite well as a political system. The nobles we trapped in the "gilded cage" of Versailles and the peasants were trapped under the nobles. It is only with the French Revolution that the conflict between 'propaganda' and reality came to a head... so just because it is fake doesn't mean it can't provide several hundred years of prosperity and stability, and historically these become the benchmarks of a ruler's success. The relative lack of written dissent comes from the fact that most people just couldn't read or write at the time.

    Take a look at democratic capitalism and you will see the exact same trend you are arguing against with respect to feudalism. History bluntly tells us that no system is perfect and we only idealize the past because it provides some measure of visible stability/prosperity. The great appeal of monarchy/feudalism isn't necessarily its success, but in historical retrospect, its simplicity.

    Anything past feudalism suffers from the separation of powers that America is so famous for. So while functionally democracy works better than feudalism it is also terribly boring. Power is replicated by the bureaucracy and spread across numerous actors. How the hell are you going to write epic fantasy in a bureaucratic setting? You need the distinct concentration of power that feudalism provides to write focused and compellingly epic characters... and starting out writing in a geopolitical system that you hate, well, it just makes writing that much more tedious!

  2. Excellent post Alec, I agree with a lot of that. My point isn't so much about one system versus another, it's about values. I'm certainly not arguing that fantasy writers shouldn't have feudal settings, because feudal settings can be awesome... but they're most awesome, I think, when portrayed warts and all -- again, George RR Martin is the best example.

    Feudalism is terrific drama because there's usually just one person making the big decisions, and because there's succession through family inheritance, you end up with relations all fighting each other... great stuff for novels. But to ignore the pitfalls and horrors is I think to miss all the good stuff, like writing some other novel in a modern democratic setting and whitewashing over all the very obvious pitfalls that we're so familiar with today.

    But a lot of fantasy writers write about the 'idea' of power, rather than the 'reality' of power. One is pretty, the other isn't. I've always found the latter more dramatic than the former.

  3. I think that we are pretty much on the same page!

    Looking at the last paragraph in your reply though, I can only say that the contrast you are drawing out is that between different approaches yes, but also between different subgenres in fantasy. On the one hand you have traditional Epic Fantasy that requires the idealization of power to function as a narrative, and then the gritty/Noir fantasy that has been all the rage lately -- Joe Abercrombie and Brian Buckley are great examples. I always felt GRRM belonged in that category as well, but he might disagree!

    Tangentially, I would only add that Epic (glorified idea of power) Fantasy displaces and personifies dissent/opposition in the form of magical enemies, be it Trollocs or Evil Wizards. Am I making any sense?

  4. You are making sense. Having a magical evil villain actually makes some sense in an epic fantasy, because a) in a world run by magic most of the big disputes/wars are likely to be caused BY magic, and b) in face of this, other internal disagreements between people will probably shrink by comparison, the same way Republicans and Democrats would all start getting along if Sauron was about to invade California.

    So yeah, magic is often used as a standin for other forms of dispute. But personally, I usually find fights between real people more dramatic, with less of the black and white simplicity.