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Thread: Nonstandard Fantasy Worlds

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    Bugbear in the Playground
    Durkoala's Avatar

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    May 2014

    Default Re: Nonstandard Fantasy Worlds

    This had to get posted during my hiatus.

    It may (or may not, it's pretty dark stuff) be a bit young for most readers, but I cannot leave it out of a list of non-standard settings. It was a huge influence on me in childhood and I still will pick up and read my copies. It's the Edge from The Edge Chronicles .

    Spoiler: Really long
    In essence, it's an apparently bottomless triangular cliff at the edge of the world. There are various environments in bands parallel to the cliff. Far away are the Deepwoods, a massive, unending forest of many types of plants and monsters, with the only civilisation being isolated villages of various races. Later books show that there are biomes even further back, but they're still forests.
    Where the Deepwoods meet the Edge is the Edgelands, where the thick trees rapidly give way to bare rock. The strange forces blowing in from Open Sky (a big part of the setting, sort of analogous to outer space or the deep ocean) create illusions and mists. It's always a haunting, inhospitable place when visited.
    Next are the Twilight Woods, possibly the most terrifying place in the Edge (trust me, there's a lot of competition). The easiest way to describe them is ‘like LoK’s Fog of Lost Souls, but with zombies.’ Anything inside the woods’ eternal mists is driven insane but cannot die, no matter what happens to them. No explanation is given for why this place is the way it is, which makes it even scarier.
    For those who survive the Twilight Woods, there is the Mire. This desert of polluted mud is filled with treacherous ground and, like most of the Edge, has its own set of monsters. (OK, one or two beasts and a lot of bandits robbing and murdering unfortunate travellers)
    Past the mud are the twin cities of the Edge. Undertown is a sprawling mess of industry, a great mixing pot of the various races. The byproducts of the factories are what created the Mire.
    Sanctaphrax floats over Undertown, chained to the ground so it doesn’t blow away. This city is a great academy of various “scientists” who study the weather and other phenomena of the sky. It’s just as vicious as any other place on the Edge: there are frequent coups and plenty of daggers and poisons held just out of sight.
    The last part of the Edge is the Stone Gardens. There are no monsters aside from the white ravens that swarm intruders, but there’s not much else either. Like the name suggests, this is where the flying rocks that drive the entire civilisation are grown. Beyond here you will only find uncountable miles of air.

    The peoples of the Edge are also quite non-standard. The trolls, for instance, are more along the lines of Scandinavian tales; short, reclusive forest dwellers. Elves are small, wizened, Yoda-like creatures that often serve as wise hermits as they have great eyesight and connected dreams, or rather, connect to the connected dreams of another species. Goblins are a broad (10-ish) variety of related species, from the hive-inspired weak, numerous Gyle Goblins to the hulking, warlike Hammerhead Goblins.
    There’s also several original peoples, such as the Shrykes, large and ferocious bird-women (much like real birds, the males are much smaller than the females) who often serve as antagonists due to their enslaving of other species. There are the Waifs, sort of like the Elves, but rather than far-sighted eyes the Waifs have ears so sensitive they can hear thoughts. Trogs are something like “normal” trolls or ogres: big muscle used for lifting. Like the Shrykes, the females seem to be larger, but this varies by breed.
    The closest breed to humans are the ‘Fourthlings’, the result of the various species interbreeding. They look rather like tolkienian elves, with pointed ears and often slender stature. They weren’t given much attention as a species (though there were plenty of fourthling characters) for a long time: their name and origins were only revealed in the ninth book and the apparent trait of their appearance being distorted by a strong family presence of a certain race was only used once, to mark a villain.
    There’s also the Slaughterers, who may or may not be a type of troll. They look very like the fourthlings, but are completely red due to working with powerful dyes. They’re treated as a separate race, but the resemblance is uncanny.

    Spoiler: Monsters
    Of course, with so many races, The Edge must have some fantastic monsters, surely? Well, the authors do have a small problem with naming their less-seen creatures ‘Wood<name of mundane animal>’ (woodpython, woodhog, woodbear, woodwasp (though these get a bit of monster cred by being used as a nightmarish assassination weapon), woodgoose, woodspider, woodect.) and a more prolific but less annoying habit of remodelling sea creatures to other habitats, but they always add in a swarm of bat-piranhas or the Muglumps, six-legged, suction-footed carnivores with bladed tails, to make up for it.
    As there’s so many of them, I’ll list the standouts, but there is a decent list on Wikipedia (contains spoilers!).

    Hoverworms are the second monster to appear in the series. Long, inflated snakes that fly by expelling air though holes on their stomachs, they inject their venom through tentacles instead of fangs. The victims swell up, glow and become buoyant; if untreated they will drift off into the sky and explode. Fortunately the antidote is well known throughout the Edge, and Hoverworms tend to pop if they are stuck with a sharp knife.

    Banderbears are a mainstay of the series. Technically, they should count as people, but as they are solitary creatures, only found wandering alone, far from civilisation, I’ve put them in the monster section. Huge, powerful beasts, they have enormous tusks and claws and are one of the strongest creatures in all the Edge, surviving the ravenous Deepwoods though their incredible strength. Despite their fearsome appearance, they are gentle and kind creatures that will help those lost in the woods. They have their own languages, a sort of sign language for face-to-face talks, and their famous long-distance yodels. Because of their nobility of spirit, they are frequently first in line when the plot calls for a moving death, and it is still so sad.
    Most people talk of Bambi’s mother dying. My childhood tearjerker was the sacrifice of the first Banderbear.

    Prowlgrins are the horses of the Edge. They’re kind of like hamsters or pigs. Big, carrion-eating, arboreal hamster-pigs. They hatch from eggs, and are small enough to fit in a hat, but in about a year they are big enough to ride. They are commonly seen around the Edge performing the kinds of jobs that horses do, except that you can ride them through trees and on people’s roofs. They can definitely be described as Ugly Cute.

    Wig-wigs are cute orange balls of fluff. They frequently gather in groups, jumping around in high spirits. Onlookers will have their spirits raised... until the Wig-wigs show you what big teeth they have, swarm the nearest animal and turn it into organic ketchup. How they eat their prey is a mystery as they suffer from the common all-mouth-no-space-for-anything-else syndrome.

    Glisters are possibly the weirdest thing on the edge, and that is saying something. Sometimes, on the very edge of the Edge or in its ancient buildings, you may catch glimpses of tiny sparkles at the side of your vision. These are the Glisters, souls on their way to be born as new life. Some of them linger, blocked by the great city of Sanctaphrax, unable to find their way onwards; they drift through the old tunnels and rooms, feeding off the emotions they find. Although they are incapable of physically harming anybody, large groups of Glisters can drive nearby people to insanity. This, and their general eeriness, makes most people avoid them.

    Two of the most notorious predators of the Deepwoods are not animals at all, but plants. The Bloodoak is a stout tree, respected by many for its power and insatiable appetite. It can be recognised by its crimson colour, tumourous bark, the constant chomping sound (caused by the ring of teeth at the top of its trunk, large enough to swallow a bull hammelhorn), and the bones lying around it.
    The Bloodoak’s partner in crime is the Tarry-vine. This long, flexible creeper lies in wait for prey around the Bloodoak. It attacks with snake-like speed, snatching victims into the air and depositing them into the Bloodoak’s waiting mouth. It’s difficult to cut, and swiftly regenerates into multiple tendrils if it is damaged.

    The greatest monster is probably the legendary Gloamglozer. As its name (‘Twilight Flatterer’, or ‘Dark Seducer’) suggests, this is a satanic archetype; a constantly lurking evil that accosts and misleads the unwary to their doom. Possibly the most supernatural creature in the Edge, its powers centre around trickery and illusion: it can shape shift at will and it uses this ability to entice the innocent along the paths it sets out for them. Although said to have ‘no great strength’, it has displayed the ability to lift victims (albeit young, scrawny boys) with little effort, disarm an experienced knife wielder bare-handed, and push over a (badly dilapidated) tower, so it’s not a complete physical pushover.
    Long, long ago, it was once part of a massive horde of demons, and is the thankfully only one still known to be alive today.

    The society found throughout the edge is mostly based on the Age of Sail, with great centres of commerce sending out ships to far away isolated communities and trading manufactured goods for treasures and resources for the great industries of home. Of course, as there are no seas on the Edge, these ships sail through the skies with the use of giant boulders known as flight-rocks.
    Flight-rocks are the foundation of civilisation on the Edge. They are grown in the Stone Gardens, on the very tip of the Edge, and captured by the academics of Sanctaphrax before being fitted into sky ships. The colder a flight-rock is, the more buoyant it becomes, so the stone pilots of the sky ships have to keep braziers burning to stop their ships from rocketing into the endless sky.
    The enormous rock that Sanctaphrax is built on is too big to be heated, too big to be chained down (the chain that connects it to the ground is to stop it from being blown away). Instead, deep in its heart, the academics have buried a chest of Stormphrax.
    These awesome crystals are in fact solid lightning, which forms in pure twilight. If Stormphrax is exposed to too much light it becomes dangerously unstable: too little and it rapidly gains weight. The crystals that anchor Sanctaphrax are kept in total darkness, and still are only able to keep the city at roughly neutral buoyancy.
    Whenever the Sanctaphrax rock starts to grow (yes, the rocks are alive and growing) too big for its current ballast(or whenever academics hungry for knowledge sneak too much stormphrax past the guards), knights are sent out in one-man (and one- prowlgrin) ships to chase storms to the Twilight Woods and retrieve shards of lightning for the city.

    There are huge tensions in the twin cities: the academies are in a constant boil of violent politics, the heads of the Leagues of Undertown hate the academics for placing themselves over those who do the real work (the Leaguesmen, of course! Certainly not their slaves!), the crime bosses try to expand their empires and the Sky pirates generally antagonise everyone. I should mention that 90% of the time the Sky pirates are the heroes, facing down the evil Leagues. It helps that they are (mostly) formed of those who rejected the slavery of the leagues and do their best to undercut the leagues’ evil prices.

    In general, though, one thing I liked (and still like) about these books was the lack of the pseudo-racism of some races being wholly Good* or Evil. There’s been Villains from about every race, and at least virtuous secondary characters for all the others, which is better than many other books. I’m looking at you, Artemis Fowl.
    *OK, except for the Banderbears: the one antagonistic one reformed in the space of a chapter
    Spoiler: Later on
    The other thing that’s great about the Edge is that the authors made a textbook World of flight rocks Phlebotonium... and then decided to see what happened if it was removed. The second (or third, depending on how you look at it, PM me for details) trilogy details the effects of a plague on the flight rocks. The Sky ships are no more, Undertown and the remnants of Sanctaphrax are ruled by a cult trying to reverse the plague, the Shrykes have set themselves as the border patrol to the Deepwoods thanks to their immunity to the Twilight woods’ effect, and new cities are being established in the Deepwoods.
    Of course, flying isn’t completely out of the picture, but the new technology is only up to making the Edge version of windsurfs or one-man dinghies.

    Spoiler: Even later (Book 10+)
    After four hundred years, the civilisation has progressed to a pseudo-Victorian (classic steampunk, minus those ridiculous goggles) state. Huge ships fly the skies again, now powered by stormphrax. The Deepwoods are now home to three great cities and numerous smaller settlements, the Mire has become a huge plain of grass after the destruction of Undertown and Sanctaphrax, the edgelands are just ignored because there’s nothing there and the Twilight woods are being mined for stormphrax—without going into the actual woods; its far safer to dig down a mile away and then move laterally to the stormphrax.
    Weaponry has also advanced: the swords of the previous ages have been replaced with guns (powered by stormphrax, of course) although there is still a market for sharp bits of metal and the cavalry is still an effective force. Unlike horses, prowlgrins can mount an attack from above and they are mostly used to defend their home city, where they know the territory.

    The technological progression of the Edge is matched by its changing fashions and social values: The First Age of Flight has long, loose clothes, a general attitude of taking what you can get from the world and all the action is done by men; the Second Age has tight-fitted clothes, with many of the villains in robes that still aren’t quite as voluminous as those of the last Age, an desire to expand out and be free from the oppressive old ways and there are some women in the ranks of the heroes who work hard to ensure their victory; the Third age’s clothing is inspired by both Victorian costumes and pioneer outfits, the people often want to seek new knowledge, women have a more or less equal standing (The first heroine has the attitude, but is rendered a distressed damsel through being shot in the head, the second is the unofficial leader of her group, even if the plot stops her doing much. Don’t worry, the same applies to the rest of the group) and some academics are putting forward the idea that the Edge is not bottomless. Proving or disproving this is... difficult.

    As you can see this series left a huge impact on me and I still love it despite its flaws (Heavy-handed villains, clear-cut heroes (there are some morally rounded characters around, it’s just that there’s quite a lot of bad baddies and good goodies), a few continuity errors and a tendency to toss the main character around so you can see the world, if you were wondering). It’s also filled with lots of gruesome deaths: nobody is safe except the main character, and even they have an expiry date. When an old character appears in a new character’s story, it’s a good idea to start preparing their funeral, assuming you can find enough to bury.

    Anyway, if you got this far, thanks for reading my long loving ramble about the Edge.
    Last edited by Durkoala; 2014-08-22 at 04:17 PM. Reason: Added links
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