The books follow a group of teenagers who have a very unsuccessful garage band until they manage to steal instruments from the world of Faerie. The magic and beauty of fairy music can entrance humans into dancing all night, according to traditional lore. These instruments give the band the same power over their audience, attracting a massive fan base and major record labels.
A lot of this story takes place in the world of Faerie, which means I get to design my own vision of the fairy world. In fantasy or science fiction, I like to build worlds from the ground up, starting with the ecosystem. Here are some of the layers of the world, with examples:
- Ecological. What we’ve seen of Faerie so far is mostly wilderness or pastoral, with very few cities. One area of the ecosystem that was fun to design was the sugar swamp. I initially created the swamp because I needed a habitat for unicorns that was remote, wild, difficult to reach, but also unicorn-y. I came up with the idea of a swamp full of towering primordial sugarcane, which has turned the swamp water sweet over thousands of years. This attracts swarms of insects who feed on the sugar water and giant bats who feed on the insects. Hoke the Swamp Elf, one of the few inhabitants of the swamps, grows sugar beets and candy corn for himself, and he builds his log-cabin-style house out of sugarcane.
- Biological. Faerie is full of interesting plants and animals, including the muffin-trap plant, which is like a Venus flytrap that lures animals by offering a selection of pastries between its waiting jaws. Faerie is also home to a number of intelligent species that fall under the general category of “Folk,” from elves and fairies to trolls and goblins. Folk often live for thousands of years, so a fairy who is only a few centuries old is still considered a child.
- Historical. Once, Folk and humans intermingled freely on Earth (or “man-world,” as the Folk call it). Then came the Iron Age. (In folklore, fairies like iron about as much as werewolves like silver.) When humans started making iron weapons, a number of them went to war against the fairies—as the older species, fairies already inhabited the nicer spots on Earth, which attracted human invasion. After suffering terribly in the Iron Wars, the Folk retreated to their own world, closing most of the gates behind them, and doing their best to make humans forget that Folk exist.
- Economic. In lore, fairies often conjure up whatever they want, including food and drink, but I thought a more realistic economic system would heighten the reality and complexity of the fairy society. The economy of Faerie is mostly about agriculture and handicrafts, which do require some work (though magical tools and spells can be used to help production along!). This leads to division of labor, specialization and exchange, and a more interesting society. We also see some “technological” progress. The fairy library is full of old scrolls and clay tablets, but also has some fancy new crystal balls, each of which contains an entire library of information. This kind of techno-magic innovation will play an important role in future books in the series. Silver is the primary money, since fairy gold is notoriously unreliable, though gemstones are an acceptable currency, too. When the human kids steal the instruments, a troupe of fairy musicians is left with no means of making an income, making them desperate to recover the stolen instruments.
- Political. Faerie is ruled by Queen Mab, who has come to power after a prolonged war with the elves. When all the Folk left the human world to escape the humans’ iron weapons, the realm to which they retreated was known as “Aelfer,” or the Elflands. Queen Mab and her fairies conquered the Elflands and renamed the world Faerie. She is quite capricious and oppressive, especially to non-fairy races of Folk. She has closed down most of the gates to man-world and posted fearsome guardians at those that can’t be closed. The queen is irate when she learns that magical instruments have been taken off to man-world, and becomes a dangerous enemy of the teenage musicians.
These are a few examples of my approach to building Faerie, a process I’m still enjoying. Much of the story takes place in Faerie, and there’s always something new to discover there.
Now, for the first time anywhere, here’s the cover for Fairy Blues! Many thanks to Smash for having me over today!
J.L. Bryan is the author of The Paranormals series (Jenny Pox, Tommy Nightmare, Alexander Death) and other books. Fairy Metal Thunderis the first book in his new Songs of Magic series. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Christina, his baby son John, and some dogs and cats.
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