Sunday, 4 December 2016

Level One: The Locations

As befits a story about a party of teenage trainee heroes being sent on a variety of increasingly life-threatening quests, there are a fair number of locations in The Black River Chronicles: Level One, and many more that are alluded to but not seen - at least not in this first book of the series.  Here's a look at some of the more significant...

The Black River Academy
To call it a building was misleading in itself: the Black River Academy looked more as though a dozen edifices of various functions had been thrown together, castles and libraries and temples and halls tumbled one upon another.
The Black River Academy has been around for a very long time indeed, but, like the Ship of Theseus, it's done so more by changing than by staying the same - to the point where its hard to say whether the establishment as it now exists is really the same place that was founded centuries ago as the Conto Martial Academy.
Academic life at Black River is marked by a certain steely-eyed pragmatism, as is perhaps inevitable for an organisation that spends most of its time thrusting young people into danger and preparing them for an existence of facing even greater dangers.  However, that shouldn't imply that the academy doesn't care about its students, or that efforts aren't made to keep them on the straight and narrow.  If perhaps it's not always possible to turn out heroes, Black River certainly does its best to produce graduates who lean more towards the Lawful Good end of the spectrum.  However, that's not to say they always succeed, or that there aren't those among the academy's hierarchy who have their own, less well-intentioned agendas.
There was a certain basic level of luxury expected of a wealthy Luntharbour merchant. 
As Durren's home town, Luntharbour is a place we hear a lot about in Level One without ever actually seeing.  We learn that the city houses wealthy and stolid merchant folk, who have little time for fripperies such  as magic.  They trade both inland and with the nations - such as Tia's people, the dun-elves of Sudra Syn - beyond the expanse of the Middlesea that divides the northern and southern continents.  But Luntharbour has more than its share of poverty too: at one point Durren notes the many homeless there, "the sailors too devoted to drink to take ship and the petty craftsmen whose debts had consumed their fragile livelihoods."
Growing up in a large and cosmopolitan city explains a lot, too, about Durren's reactions to the places he encounters around Black River: the academy is as far from civilization as he's been, and nearby towns such as Olgen seems barbaric by comparison to Luntharbour's grand mansions and teeming dockside.
The Monastery of the Petrified Egg
The place didn't entirely emit the sense of brooding malevolence Durren had been expecting.  In fact, with its whitewashed walls, many small windows and gently curving arches, the monastery appeared quite peaceful. 
Most who use magic consider it to be an essentially benevolent force that can be controlled with care.  But there are others who feel the need for greater diligence, lest the cosmic force known as the Unbalance should one day rupture beyond all hope of restraint.  So it once was with the priesthood of the monastery where Durren, Tia, Arein and Hule find themselves sent on their third quest: the place was devoted to the meditative practices used to heal the Unbalance, with the power of those who live there amplified by the ancient, vastly powerful artifact in their care.  But the problem with ancient, vastly powerful artifacts is that if their owners suddenly decide to start using them for evil instead of good then someone has to go and try to stop them...
The Wilderness
Durren found himself wondering if all their quests would see them transported to dark forests in the middle of nowhere. 
There are a lot of wild places in the world of Level One, and the party see plenty of them before the book is out.  Theoretically they should be where our ranger protagonist Durren is in his element - but then, this being a book called Level One, Durren's woodcraft isn't the greatest.  As it is, it generally falls to Tia and her wider first-hand experience to pick up the slack.
The Ruins
The surrounding forest had taken its toll, as branches thrust at crumbling walls and creepers dragged at the brickwork.  Still, something about the cut of the stones and the sheer extent of the damage told Durren that what he was looking at belonged to centuries long past.
To say too much about the ancient ruins the party stumble across would be a major spoiler, not just for Level One but potentially for its sequels also.  (Which is, in itself, admittedly a spoiler ... those things are tough to avoid!)  So let's just say that there are ancient ruins out in the wilds near Black River, and by ancient I mean ancient.  They might once have been anything, but they were clearly important - and the events that lead our young heroes there suggest that they're still important to at least someone.
And if you haven't yet delved into the world of The Black River Chronicles: Level One and would like to, you can pick up a copy at Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.

photo credit: thevitruvianman Newark Castle via photopin (license)
photo credit: Lucas Marcomini When in Venice, Get Lost via photopin (license)
photo credit: varmarohit Nature's Best via photopin (license)

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