In Arcanum, the kingdom of Carinthia falters when the magic it relies on begins to fade away.
What draws you to postapocalyptic settings and themes?
You can generate a considerable amount of drama and plot simply by picking people up out of their regular, comfortable lives and putting them in a situation where they are fish out of water. They have to either change to that new world or simply go under. I find the process of people adapting to change absolutely fascinating. I’ve had to do—obviously nothing quite as post-apocalyptic as what I put my characters through—but you get married, you have to change, you move jobs, you have to change, you have kids, you have to change. It’s that process of change, I suppose, which I’m exploring.
How did you develop the world?
I thought, if these people have the best magicians, then what is their society going to look like? If no one is ever going to attack them because they have the best magicians, and they’re not interested in invading their neighbors, then they’re all going to be very civilized, peaceable people for the most part. If you have magic you don’t really need to invent machines and have even Renaissance-level technology. So you have this wealthy, peaceful kingdom, and their best and only form of protection is slowly ebbing away. What happens when their neighbors find out?
Did the religions require a lot of research?
For the Germans’ religion, I just stuck to the Old Norse pantheon with Germanized names. From there I extrapolated, what would happen to that religion with a continuous line and a thousand years of peace? So they are nominal Odin worshippers, in the same way that in places like Britain you can talk about a post-Christian society. There’s the irminsul in the sacred grove in the center of town, and they have the priests doing something, and nominally the prince of Carinthia is the head of the religion in that area. But it’s all very civilized. They don’t go around beheading people and hanging their bodies and stuff like that.
For Judaism, yes, there was quite a lot of research to do in that. And I was very, very lucky, in that editor Joanne Kramer of Orbit UK corrected my Hebrew transliterations and was otherwise a fantastic resource. Obviously, I am bound to have got things wrong, and possibly badly wrong, for which I can only apologize in advance. But I have tried my level best to make the Judaism in pseudo-medieval Carinthia as accurate as possible. I’ve taken a lot of ideas and information from what actually happened in medieval Europe for the Jews. There’s no Christianity in this setting, and no Islam, just to sort of even things up a little. We have the polytheistic pagan Germans and the monotheistic religious Jews. That led to a fascinating and varied set of challenges, not only for me as the writer, but for the characters as well.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
Well, hopefully not back strain from lifting it!