Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Year of Worldbuilding in Fantasy #8: "Southland" in Elizabeth Knox's "Dreamhunter" Series, & "Mortal Fire"


#YoW Year of Worldbuilding
#WiF Worldbuilding in Fantasy


My blogging theme for 2020 is Worldbuilding in Fantasy, chiefly because it's one of the vital elements that holds all the different strands of the genre together. Plus it's always been one of the aspects of Fantasy literature that rocks my reading and writing world.

As promised from the outset, I'm trying to look at Fantasy worldbuilding over time and across a range of subgenres. So this month I'm focusing on Elizabeth Knox's Southland, from her YA series comprising the Dreamhunter (2005) / Dreamquake (2007) duology, and the standalone, Mortal Fire (2013.)


"Southland" in the YA Novels of Elizabeth Knox

Although Elizabeth Knox's Dreamhunter / Dreamquake and Mortal Fire are secondary world Fantasy, one of the magical things about Southland is that it's a Southern Hemisphere world.
Speaking as a Southern Hemisphere dweller, the Northern orientation of most Fantasy worlds undoubtedly has the appeal of the exotic and the magical for example, snow at Christmas / New Year, which is always high summer here. 
These enchantments aside, however, and at the risk of sounding parochial, there is unquestionably something very special in a Fantasy realm that is recognizably based on not just your own hemisphere, but your own country.

For although Southland is not Aotearoa -New Zealand (NZ), there are undoubted overlaps between the two. Dreamhunter's opening, with its seaside settlement of Sisters Beach, the nearby bush with its ferns, supplejack, and whiteywoods, and the driftwood fires with the smell of nearby flax and tea tree scrub, is instantly recognizable for anyone who's spent summer at a NZ beach. 
On seeing the map of Coal Bay, those with a feel for NZ geography may also notice similarities to Golden Bay, particularly the curve of Farewell Spit. 
The author, Elizabeth Knox, makes the matter plain in her opening note to Mortal Fire:
 "Southland is a large island republic in the South Pacific, in a world very like our ownbut not completely. ..."

The "not completely" marks the boundary between the real and the fantastic, which is where the art of Fantasy begins – and there is a great deal more to Southland than the overlap to elements of the New Zealand landscape and culture.

Dreamhunter and Dreamquake are set in the early nineteenth century, in a distinctly Edwardian milieu of trains, cars with cranks, and cameras that still require tripods for ease of use. In the Southland of this era, the holiday settlement lies close by a mysterious region known as The Place, which is environmentally very different to the rest of Southland. Only dreamhunters can venture there, to capture dreams that are then publicly shared in "dream palaces", similar to the "picture palaces" of the early twentieth century in our world. 
As your may imagine, dreamhunting comes with its dangers, including the secret origin of The Place and its mysterious golems, as well as the ambitions of those who seek to use dreams to achieve authoritarian power.  
Mortal Fire is set much later, in a 1959 that closely resembles 1950s New Zealand, including the aftereffects of polio on Marli, a close friend of the protagonist, Canny Mochrie. Canny is of Southland and (Pacific) Shackle Island descent, but her mother never speaks of her father's origins or identity. 
Although the events of the Dreamhunter period are now relegated to Southland history, Canny has always been able to see something Extra in the world. When her half-brother and his girlfriend take her on a camping trip into the remote Zarene Valley, inhabited exclusively by the extended Zarene family, Canny discovers that her Extra is magic – and the valley is rife with it. The magic centres on Ghislain Zarene, imprisoned in his farmhouse for thirty years, and in unravelling his secrets, Canny discovers the key to her own identity.
In terms of worldbuilding, the magic of Southland is always fascinating. The world of the Zarene Valley is also a fascinating combination of a rural, 1950s farming community grafted onto a slightly later era commune, but where the alternative lifestyle is shaped by magic use rather than by environmental or social philosophy.
So whether you fancy a dip into a Southern Hemisphere world, or love the sound of shared dreaming and dream hunting, or the occurrence of strange and compelling magic in a remote, rural community, then Elizabeth Knox's Southland novels could be exactly what you're looking for.

Note: Mortal Fire's Canny Mochrie was one of the fantasy heroines that rocked my world, in the SF Signal post series of the same name. To find out why, click on:

Helen Lowe on the Fantasy Heroines That Rock Her World: Canny Mochrie in Elizabeth Knox’s MORTAL FIRE


Previous Months:

February: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia) by CS Lewis
March: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
April: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire
May: Palimpsest by Catherynne M Valente
June: Ship of Magic & the Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
July: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
August: Tymon's Flight (Chronicles of the Tree) by Mary Victoria

Helen Lowe's first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. The second,The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, and the sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood (Book Three), was published in 2016 and Helen is currently completing the final novel in the series. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we

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