The Fallen Blade came out of a single image in my head of an impossibly-beautiful boy chained naked in darkness to the bulkhead of a ship. He snapped awake to reveal amber-flecked and inhuman eyes. The ship was in the Venetian lagoon and I realised the boy knew no more about himself than I did.
That gave me Tycho, although I didn’t then know what species of inhuman he was or what origin story lead him to being the first Vampire into Europe and the survivor of the last Viking outpost in North America.
After ten SF novels I realised I was about to write fantasy!
Venetian first, Christian second…The Venetians had no hesitation living up to that maxim. They transported Crusaders to the Middle East, but called ahead to protect their Middle Eastern trade deals by telling those living there that the western armies were coming. Half of Venice is built from bits looted from elsewhere. The Duke’s palace and cathedral alone use pillars stolen from mosques, synagogues and other churches. As a people the Venetians were treacherous, avaricious and two-faced and proud of it! You don’t get to build a thousand year empire and become the richest trading power in the Mediterranean by playing nice.
It’s cliché to say Venice is a fantasy in itself and there’s something unworldly about its atmosphere, that it’s a city of sex and death hiding its darkness under all that glitz and glitter, but it really is. The damn thing’s been standing in that lagoon for centuries and dying and fighting a watery death for every one of them. And I defy anyone to go there and not feel ghosts are watching.
How could I resist it as a location for a fantasy novel?
And what better time than the early 1400s – on the very edge of Renaissance greatness – when alchemists still advised princes, magic was known to exist, werewolves roamed forests and witches and the old magic were loved and feared?
But the book’s back history — of trade with the Mongols and Venice being even more of a gateway between East and West than it was – came out of a lie I was told as a child, which the person telling me thought was true.
Marco Polo introduced spaghetti to Italy.
And why not? Marco was a boy who left home at fifteen with his father and uncle to travel through the Middle East and across Asia to the far shores of China two hundred years before Columbus reached America.
He went to China and the Chinese eat noodles, he came home 24 years later and the Italians now eat spaghetti; which must mean Marco brought the idea of noodles back with him…Nice idea, but history shows pasta was already known in Sicily long before this.
What Marco Polo did do was meet Kublai Khan, warlord over half the world and conqueror of China. The grandson of Genghis, Kublai launched an invasion of Japan with 900 boats the year after Marco came to his court. In our world Kublai’s fleet was destroyed by a storm. In Tycho’s, the invasion succeeded and as a reward for his part Marco Polo was granted trade concessions with China.
Venice, already obscenely rich, became richer.
The dukes, who until then were elected, were replaced by Marco Polo’s children, who elect themselves! Fantasy novels need warring empires, impossible odds, corruption and devious rulers at each other’s throats… Well, they do in my opinion. Venice already provided those for real.
All I did was turn up the dial.