The Heir of Night: Introducing The World of Haarth

Although Worldcon goers got a sneak preview several weeks back, The Heir of Night, (which is the first book of my epic The Wall of Night quartet) will be officially available for sale in Australia and New Zealand on 7 October — although UK readers will have to wait a little longer, until March 2011 — and I will definitely be celebrating! But a book coming on sale is a time for reflection, as well: not just about the path to that point, but also about the nature of the story I’ve told and what makes it special—for me, and I hope for readers ‘out there’.

One of the aspects I have always loved about Fantasy-Science Fiction (F-SF) is the door it opens into fantastic worlds. Science Fiction offers worlds such as Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Union/Alliance space of CJ Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, while Fantasy gives us Middle-Earth (Tolkien), Earthsea (Le Guin) and Bas-Lag (Miéville), to name only a very few. So it is perhaps not surprising that in The Heir of Night (Heir) I introduce my own world of Haarth.

Much of the wider Haarth world is only alluded to in Heir. The dominant landscape in this first book is the twilit and wind-blasted Wall of Night, a mountainous barrier range garrisoned by the alien and warlike Derai. The Derai keeps are also worlds in themselves, which open, like puzzle boxes, to other realms: the abandoned layers of the Old Keep and the Gate of Dreams—a place of forests and wreathing mist which may—or may not—only be accessed through the Old Keep’s secret heart …

Map of Haarth, by Peter Fitzpatrick; from The Heir of Night

Yet even on the Wall of Night there is knowledge and limited contact with the wider world of the “Outsiders’ ” Haarth. The Earl of Night’s minstrel hails from the great city of “Ij the Golden, the queen of the River”—the River being a loose federation of city states. The heralds of the Guild, whom the Derai believe function in some “form of symbiosis” also hail from the River. Other realms lie further south: these include Emer, which is famous for its armoured knights; Aralorn and Jhaine, of which the Derai know little;  and Ishnapur, the last but still great remnant of the Old Empire. The Empire fell apart in the long-ago calamity known as the Cataclysm, but once stretched from Ishnapur in the south to Jaransor in the north: Jaransor, the line of green forbidden hills that it is whispered can drive the Derai mad …

Worldcon goers who attended my reading there, also got a little taste of the Winter Country, with its hunters and shamans, where a day might be “bright-as-diamond … between blizzards, with the sky pale blue crystal and the snow stretching away forever, white and gleaming.”

And then, of course, there’s what lies on the other side of the Wall of Night …

So where did the world of Haarth come from? Ursula Le Guin, in her book on writing titled Steering the Craft, talks about pulling ideas out of the air—and ideas do often seem to spring from the ether. Influences I am aware of, which may help shape my access to that marvellous air, include:  a love of myth and legend and fairytale; “what-if” sparks from other stories and also events in the real world; the resonance of music, which strongly influences atmosphere and mood; considerable reading of historical non fiction (for fun, you know); and experience of landscape. As part of a post in the intermittent “influences on story” series on my blog, I specifically discussed the influence of my time living in Stockholm, and winter journeys to the north of Sweden, and to Finland and Russia, on the conceptualisation of the Winter Country.

Few influences on story and world building are so direct though, in my experience. I have had the vision of a twilit world and beleaguered keeps from a very early age, although the windswept crags and bitter peaks of the Wall of Night emerged from the ether a long time after that. The concept of Jaransor, a land that may itself be conscious, is also one that had been “lurking” for some time before I began writing the book. Conversely, the southern kingdoms and the romance of the long road that stretches “from Ij to Ishnapur” evolved as much from their introduction into the story as from any prior consideration.

And just in case you wonder whether there really is power in a name, take it from me that characteristics, history and function in the story, whether for characters or realms, can and do change, sometimes quite dramatically, when a name gets changed. It’s dangerous territory—but that is a blog post for another day. Today is about the world of Haarth and now, introductions made, I will leave you on its borders.

Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet and interviewer. Her first novel, Thornspell, (Knopf, 2008) won the 2009 Sir Julius Vogel Award for “Best Novel, Young Adult”, and Helen was awarded the Sir Julius Vogel for “Best New Talent” in the same year. Her second novel, The Heir of Night, the first of the adult WALL OF NIGHT quartet, is being published by Orbit in Australia/New Zealand on 7 October, with UK publication scheduled for March 2011. Helen also blogs on the first of every month on the Supernatural Underground and every day on her own Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog.