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I wasn't sure if I wanted a map of the world in the front of this book or not. The problem is, if I give a world map, I risk doing it wrong. It takes a very specific set of geographic requirements for a rain forest to work, and what I wanted here was a kind of rain forest valley, irregular and out of place in the world. In the abstract, that can work—but the more details I pin down in the map, the less likely it is to be believable.
Lightsong Visits Blushweaver While She's Enjoying a Gardener's Art
One of the things I wanted to do with this book was come up with different kinds of art that the gods could enjoy—things that we wouldn't normally look at as traditional "art" but which in this world have been developed to the point that they're just that.
I liked the concept of a gardener whose art came from the movement and arrangement of pots of flowers and plants into patterns on the fly, like—as Lightsong says—the leader of a musician leading an orchestra. He directs, gesturing and pointing, and dozens of servants rush about, holding different pots. Then they set them down and retreat, leaving them for a few moments. Then it repeats, different servants rushing in with other pots and laying them in other patterns. A little like synchronized swimming, but with plants.
Vivenna notices the Tears of Edgli here, the flowers that drive Hallandren wealth and trade. I added these in an early draft, as I realized that there needed to be a cheap, easy source for all of those dyes the Hallandren use. (This was pointed out to me by my friend Jeff Creer, I believe.) The Tears offer something else as well—a reason for the wealth of the people. In early times, dye trades were extremely lucrative, and being able to control a method by which unusual dyes could be created would have been a very good basis for an economy.
I also like what it does for the flavor of Hallandren as a whole. This story happens in the place that is, in most fantasy books, far away. A lot of fantasy novels like to make their setting someplace akin to rural England, and they'll talk of distant countries that have exotic spices, dyes, and trade goods.
Well, in this world, Hallandren is that place. It's at the other end of the silk road, so to speak.
The Pahn Kahl Religion
In the Siri section, she mentions the Pahn Kahl religion, but she doesn't know what it is. This happens numerous times in the book, people getting confused about whether the Pahn Kahl are just Hallandren or being unable to describe their religion.
If you're curious, the Pahn Kahl are nature worshippers who focus on the storms of the Inner Sea as a manifestation of their unity of five gods. They believe that all Returned are men who deny the power of the gods and are forbidden entrance into heaven, yet are otherwise just men and not sinners worthy of hell—so they're given a chance to come back to have another try at life, to try to find belief this time.
Anyway, the purpose of having people so confused about the Pahn Kahl was to try to make readers vague about them in the same way. In this case, I want the reader to feel that the Pahn Kahl are unimportant, like the characters do, which is exactly the reason why the Pahn Kahl are so annoyed in the first place. If Hallandren didn't take them for granted so much, there's a good chance they wouldn't be so inclined to rebel.
Vivenna and Vasher Meet with the Idrian Workers
Now we get to see the other part of what Vasher has been doing all this time—the part that I couldn't show you earlier, since it would have made it too obvious that he had good intentions. (And that, in turn, might have spoiled the surprise that Denth was manipulating Vivenna.) He's been trying very hard to convince the Idrians not to get themselves into trouble. He's been only mildly successful.
Vivenna listening here has some things to work through. Some alpha readers had difficulty with how easily she started helping Vasher, so I've reworked that in the final draft. Hopefully you now see her struggle and her reasoning.
What she sees here is something real. She notices that most of Hallandren doesn't care about Idris or the Idrians. When I lived in Korea, I sensed a lot of resentment from the Koreans toward the Japanese. The Japanese had done some pretty terrible things to the Koreans during the various wars throughout the history of the two countries, and the anger the Koreans felt was quite well justified. The thing is, most Japanese I meet are surprised to hear how much resentment there is. It's kind of like Americans are sometimes surprised to hear how much dislike there is for them in Mexico.
When you're the bigger country, the one who historically won conflicts and wars, you often don't much notice the people you've stepped on along the way. While the smaller country may create a rivalry with you, you may not even realize that you have a rival. This is what happened with Hallandren and Idris. While some people push for war, the general populace doesn't even think about Idris—except as that poor group of people up in the highlands who sell them wool and do jobs they, the Hallandren, don't want to do.
This can be very frustrating for someone from the smaller country, like Vivenna, when confronted not with anger, but with indifference, about your feelings.
Vivenna Visits the Idrian Slums
Vivenna probably should have expected what she would find here. She knows that the slumlords, who are Idrians, run whorehouses and illegal fighting leagues. However, she deluded herself into assuming that they employ Hallandren whores or that the fights aren't all that bad.
I think this would be a hard thing to come to grips with. It's happened repeatedly throughout history—a poorer segment travels to a new country and becomes part of the lower, working class. In Korea, they were always complaining about people from Burma coming in and stealing their jobs. I remember hearing the Japanese saying the same thing about Koreans. I've heard Americans complain about all three. Things like this have far less to do with culture or race and far more to do with relative economic standing and fluency with the language/culture.
Knowing it happens, however, wouldn't make it any easier to find your own people in such a state, I think.
Notice that the Idrians here often wear dark clothing. This is partially to hold to their old ways of avoiding colors, but they tend to wear clothes that are black and dark instead of light. (Though there are some who follow the more traditional way.) However, by wearing these dark colors, they completely defeat the original stated purpose of dull clothing—that of removing color to keep Awakeners from using their art.
Would food from Hallandren be considered men or women's food in Alethkar?
Food from Hallandren I think is mostly going to be considered masculine food. Let me see-- I'd have to go and look and see at my notes what they're eating because there's a lot of Pacific islander influence on the area, not the culture, but where they are. So there's going to be a lot of fruit in their diet, but I think I mention that-- yeah I think it's gonna be mostly man-food. Actually no, I'm going to retract that, it's going to be both. They're going to be weirded out by it, because they're not-- you know, like our food, if they came here and ate, they would be weirded out by it. Number one a lot of it would be too bland. So they'd be like ehh, we're not sure.