by Intisar Khanani
I have always found settings a challenge. I have no problem with other aspects of world-building—I love thinking about magic systems, can go to town with how a government functions, and so on, but basic settings drive me batty. It takes an intense amount of work for me to figure out what the land itself looks like, and therefore what people eat, what language they speak, and so on.
In Sunbolt, we first meet our heroine, Hitomi, as she’s walking through a fish market on her way to a meeting of underground resistance effort of which she’s a part. As the story progresses, we see a little bit more of the island that is Hitomi’s adopted home: Karolene is a sultanate whose ruler and people are being held tight in the vice-like grip of the arch mage who is supposed to protect and serve them—the same mage who killed Hitomi’s father.
When I drafted Sunbolt, Hitomi spent all of one chapter in what would become Karolene—the story moved absurdly fast, and the setting of that first chapter was all but irrelevant. She walked around a dark city, and all I could tell you was it had winding streets and intersecting alleyways. And a river that didn’t make it to the final draft.
When it came time to revise, though, I knew I needed a stronger setting. I also knew that I wanted the world Hitomi inhabited to reflect our own in terms of diversity of cultures and peoples. I worked through just what I knew about Karolene, and where I could go with that: it’s a small kingdom, an island, and a trade hub. The people are dark-skinned, the climate relatively temperate…
It only took me a little while to realize I knew where Karolene was, that the place I wanted to write could only be made richer if it reflected a place I had already visited and loved. Karolene is based on Zanzibar island, of the coast of Tanzania. I had the pleasure of visiting Zanzibar about nine years prior, so it wasn’t fresh in my memory, but it was a jumping off point. Suddenly, I had a trade language—Swahili. I had a clear image of the people and the places. I even remembered a tiger shark being butchered in the fish market, an image that made it into the final draft.
Through additional research, I honed Karolene into a fantastical version of historic Zanzibar, drawing on first hand accounts from long ago, research into customs and local culture, and many, many image searches. It isn’t a perfect re-creation by any means, but I hope that as readers settle into the story, they find themselves drawn in by a land that evokes a different time and place and culture than we are typically offered in fantasy.
About the author
Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters.
Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, following the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles, an epic series following a street thief with a propensity to play hero when people need saving, and her nemesis, a dark mage intent on taking over the Eleven Kingdoms.
The Sunbolt Chronicles
Title: Memories of Ash
Series: The Sunbolt Chronicles, Book Two
Author: Intisar Khanani
Cover Designer: Jenny Zemanek
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: May 30, 2016
Publisher: Purple Monkey Press
In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.
Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.
If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.
Previous in the series:
The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.
When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.