Echoes from Amalcross: First map of the Distant Reaches & message from Robert Frankel
Plus, a reader vote and a Q&A with author Henry Leeker
Robert Frankel: “House of the Dragon” Burns Bright
We’re now two episodes into House of the Dragon, HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel series, and my reservations about the show’s potential and relevance have evaporated. The network’s have, too: After canceling its first $30 million stab at a prequel and then racking up a record-setting 20 million views of House of the Dragon’s debut episode, HBO renewed the show late last week.
Some viewers call House of the Dragon “domestic,” but I find it thrilling. Evicted are the overwrought fantasy machinations of the parent show’s latter seasons (for now) to make room at the table for medieval intrigue and family dysfunction, with a large spare bedroom for the gratuitous sex/violence/nudity we know and love.
I’m also enjoying the show’s exploration of the history behind Game of Thrones and its source material. Within any story, there’s always great content that must be edited down or away entirely for narrative economy and focus. Genre fiction is especially susceptible to this, it seems to me, because of all the work that goes into making the speculative world feel real. Author Chris Diggins alludes to this in his Q&A when speaking about world-building.
Last week, we featured a ballad I wrote called “Rishne at the Bone Gates.” Early on, when Creator/Co-Editor Benjamin Reeves and I were discussing what the piece would be, we knew we wanted to explore some of the deeper history and lore of the Distant Reaches. We wanted to unpack the mythos of the world without the feeling of something you’d skim over in a tome’s fifth or sixth appendix.
I landed on a form akin to a mythic retelling, but as a fantasy short story: expanded to give greater understanding of the technology, social mores, and religious sensibilities of the Distant Reaches, however “historic” they may be (the story ends in 445 of the Amal Era, while our current Conclave of Bards takes place 366 years later in 811 AE).
We cut some content from “Rishne,” too: fun details, expansions, and tangents that spoke to the breadth of the world but didn’t truly heighten it. It’s no great loss, and I think the story’s better for it.
Besides, we want to ensure we have enough material for the prequel series in a decade.
Enter Blue Siwaar’s House of Rarities!
Hello and greetings, human one!
Since your tongue cannot speak my true Salavaster name, know me simply as Blue Siwaar, for blue is my color most resplendent.
Welcome. Please, browse my wares. Perhaps you seek knowledge and would peruse this book of ancient secrets. Or perhaps you covet fine diffwrych spice to add the sixth taste to your cuisine.
Ah, you are an explorer. I should have guessed. Your curiosity brings you here, after all. You hold a wondrous map. Very old, in fact. Shall I unroll it for you?
Beautiful, truly. Contemporary cartographers do not embellish with such enchanting detail anymore. I myself believe maps to be art. I spent many days studying them in my youth as a traveling merchant.
Now, what price do you offer for purchase?
I am sorry. You cannot afford the map. You may return to admire it as often as you wish.
Until it is sold, of course.
I hope to see you again. Good-day to you.
Ask the Author: Henry Leeker
In screenwriter and author Henry Leeker’s recent story, “The Scorched Woman’s Gift,” a desperate courier encounters an ancient being in the desert with dire consequences. Creator & Co-Editor Benjamin Reeves caught up with Leeker to learn about his inspirations, and why he loves sci-fi and fantasy short stories.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Benjamin Reeves: Your recent fantasy short story “The Scorched Woman’s Gift” is wonderfully macabre. What was the inspiration for it?
Henry Leeker: It’s about magic going awry, and that’s something that appeals to me as a fantasy writer. A lot of fantasy literature is about the benign aspect of magic, as if it’s just sort of a piece of the natural world, just like wind. But what if it had a malevolent intention? That led me to the idea of a genie-in-the-bottle story, and I wanted to write a really messed-up version.
Lead artist Shay Plummer brought this to life in his illustration. What did you think when you first saw it?
I’ve had my work illustrated before, and I always think it’s really interesting to see someone else’s interpretation of your words. I also write screenplays, and that’s the nature of that sort of writing as well. Unless you work in great detail with the illustrator, you don’t have a lot of control over how someone interprets the words. So there was pressure on my part to actually describe the setting and the creature with enough clarity that the artist could make sense of it, while also leaving enough room for the artist’s imagination to make it their own. The drawing is a good hybrid of that, and Shay did a great job.
What is your biggest literary touchstone?
Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. It is probably my favorite book, hands down. It has the best ending I’ve ever read, and I’m not going to say what it is because none of the movies get it right. Everyone should read it. It’s just such a spectacular image to leave someone on. I think that’s something about short stories in particular, because that last line can really stick with you, and there’s that sense that the words leave a certain amount to the imagination. It’s something I tried to do with “The Scorched Woman’s Gift.” I wanted to leave readers wondering and unsettled at the last line.
I always like sci-fi and fantasy fiction because you can step outside of your own reality and take a walk in the shoes of someone whose experience you could never possibly imagine or experience. You can walk in worlds that are completely foreign to your own. That’s what I hope people get from my story and Ballads of the Distant Reaches in general.
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