Akshaya Raman on the world building process for The Ivory Key duology.
"Sometimes part of world building is realizing a really cool or fun element might not be working and needs to be removed or modified in some way to serve the story."
This post was written by Akshaya Raman, author of The Ivory Key duology.
One of my favorite aspects of writing The Ivory Key duology was getting to create the world the books take place in. The series is set in Ashoka, a country inspired by ancient India, where magic is a physical resource that’s running out and four estranged royal siblings must go on a quest to find more. But while I did incorporate elements of Indian culture and history into the series, the books aren’t historical fantasy; the world is entirely fictional which meant I had to create it from the ground up. I get asked often about what that world building process was like for me, so I wanted to share a few things I considered while working on the books.
I always have a strong sense of the general atmosphere or vibe of a world before I start writing, but I realized quickly that I needed to have a better sense of what this country physically looked like so that was really where I began. India is such a diverse country with many different languages, religions, art forms, and traditions, so I looked into different geographical regions such as the Thar Desert, the Western Ghats, and the Himalayan Foothills. I started by researching the plants and animals native to those areas, but I ended up growing more fascinated by the groups of people who settled there. The food, the wares, the motifs on textiles, and even the martial arts styles are all so specific to the cultures that developed in each of those areas, which ultimately influenced the way I set up the various provinces in my world. And though Ashoka isn’t modeled of any one state, it was important for me to ensure those regional differences were preserved in my fictional land.
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Once I had sense of what the world looked like, I spent time fleshing out the political system and the way the government worked. I knew from the start that Ashoka would have a matrilineal monarchy, but I realized quickly that decisions like that have consequences and ripple effects that need to trickle down to all levels of society. It wouldn’t make sense to have Vira as the queen succeeding her mother but not have other women in positions of power, so I made an effort to ensure that was reflected throughout the series. That’s actually one of my favorite aspects of writing a second world fantasy—I can really question assumptions about how things work and not necessarily have to carry over the beliefs and expectations from our world.
The last thing I focused on was developing the magic system. Magic is such a prevalent part of the story and I knew that if readers didn’t fully understand how it worked and why it mattered, the stakes of it running out wouldn’t feel compelling enough. When I first came up with the idea for this story, I wanted to write a world where magic was money. However, as I started to actually flesh out how that would work, I began to realize that it was both far too convoluted to explain and also didn’t make full logical sense with the way economic systems work. I ended up having to change it so that magic was incorporated into the coins they use, but isn’t the currency itself. Sometimes part of world building is realizing a really cool or fun element might not be working and needs to be removed or modified in some way to serve the story.
I really loved creating this world, and I was particularly excited to explore more of it in The Crimson Fortress. The siblings’ quest takes them on various journeys through the different provinces in the sequel, and I hope you enjoy traveling through Ashoka with them.
Get your copy of The Crimson Fortress by Akshaya Raman here.