One of the best things about being a fiction writer is the ability to set stories literally anywhere on earth, in space, on other worlds and in world that never existed outside of your own imagination. For me, that means I can choose a setting at geographically interesting places.
I’ve always loved maps. I must have spent years, cumulatively, staring at particular places on the map or globe whose shape fascinated me. Like the place where three major Asian rivers, the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween, approach, then diverge, in southeastern China.
I have indulged this quirk in my new book, The Children of the Seventh Son, by setting it in one geographical location that has fascinated people for millennia: the Bosporus Strait, the narrow body of water that links the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, and thence the Dardanelles Strait and the Mediterranean.
It’s the site of one of the most important cities in history: Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, and now called Istanbul.
According to legend, Roman Emperor Constantine I chose the spot because it was eminently defensible: roughly triangular, protected on one side by the Bosporus Strait and another by an inlet and ideal harbour called the Golden Horn. He constructed walls along the third side and built an immense palace, the kind only a Roman Emperor could. Later, Emperor Theodosius II built the formidable Theodosian Walls that remained impregnable for another thousand years.
As the link between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, and the trade route between Europe and Asia, Constantinople became immensely rich and grew to one of the largest cities in the world.
Looking for the boot
When I was in grade one or two, I remember being told the easy way to find Europe on a world map was to “look for the boot,” which I now know referred to Italy.
But when I was six, for whatever reason, I did not recognize Italy as a boot. What I saw was a shoe with its tongue pulled out: the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov being the tongue.
The closer I looked, the more fascinated I became: the Crimean Peninsula, which has been a geo-politically strategic hot spot for millennia; the Strait of Kerch, once called the Cimmerian Bosporus — as if the Black Sea needed a Bosporus at each end.
Take a close look at the Sea of Azov. To the west, the left side, or the east side of the Crimean Peninsula, is a narrow strip of land running almost straight north-south. This is called the Arbat Strip, and the narrow, shallow body of water it encloses is called the Suvash, Russian for “Putrid.”
Apparently, this body of water is very shallow, shallow enough to wade across in many places. It also has a high concentration of organic matter — in other words, there’s a lot of stuff rotting in it, all the time. And apparently, it always emits a strong, repulsive odour.
But visually, at least to me, it’s fascinating.
The new book
Is there any wonder, then, that I’ve set my book in these two locations?
The Children of the Seventh Son is about the children of Javor, the hero of The Bones of the Earth. He settled in Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (now called the Byzantine Empire), on the Bosporus and Golden Horn. A good deal of the story takes place there, at a tumultuous time in the city’s, and the empire’s history. An Emperor is deposed by a usurper, who is later deposed, himself. There are riots over food and religion.
Later, a major section of the book happens in the Crimean Peninsula, then called the Tauric Peninsula, and on the shores of the Putrid Sea. Come on, you can’t call something the “putrid sea” and not expect a fantasy writer to use it, can you?
Do you love maps?
What’s your favourite geographical feature? Share in the Comments, and if you can, add a screen capture from a map.
Want to be a beta reader?
I have finished two drafts of the new book, already, and it’s with my premier beta reader now. But if you want can’t wait to read the story of Javor and his family (yes, he has seven children in this book), send me an email and I’ll send you the preview in the format of your choice. All I ask in return is your honest feedback on the story. Don’t worry about the typos or grammatical errors — it hasn’t been edited, yet.
Thanks, and keep on reading!