I'm hugely excited today to welcome author Lou Anders to the blog to talk a little bit about Nightborn, the upcoming addition to his fantasy-adventure Thrones and Bones series. I'm what you might call mildly (or possibly enormously, whichever) obsessed with all things mythology related, but Norse mythology is of particular interest to me. Lou was oh-so generous as to feed my obsession by sharing a few tidbits about some of the creatures inhabiting his world, so get ready for a little Norse education, Thrones and Bones style!
Trolls, Draug, and Linnorms… oh My!
One of the things I’m most proud of in the Thrones & Bones series is what you might call my “fantasy ecology.” When it comes to world building, I want the monsters and otherworldly creatures to be as much a part of their environment as the plants and animals of the natural world. For me this means that they derive from specific cultures and locales. So you don’t find ogres outside of a French-flavored land or mummies away from the culture that embalmed and wrapped them. Since Frostborn, the first book in the Thrones & Bones series, is set in Norrøngard, a land heavily influenced by Norse myth and culture, I took pains to make sure that the creatures we encountered derived from Scandinavian myth.
This meant a lot of trolls, obviously. In fact, I didn’t realize quite how closely trolls were associated with Norway specifically until I took a research trip to the country myself. Not only are there troll statues everywhere, and the obligatory troll figurines for the tourists, but trolls are part and parcel of the land, as reflected in the names of places. Take for instance the phenomenal Troll Wall (Norwegian: Trollveggen), a massive array of jagged peaks that is part of the mountain massif Troll Peaks (Norwegian: Trolltindene) in the Romsdalen valley. Or the winding mountain road known as the Trolls’ Path (Trollstigen), which forms a dramatic part of Norwegian National Road 63. And did you know that the "Three Billy Goats Gruff" is actually a Norwegian fairy tale? It’s called “De tre bukkene Bruse.” I never knew that and thought it was an English tale.
But what are trolls exactly? Originally they were synonymous with giants, and referred specifically to giants in a derogatory way. The “jotunn" of Norse myth sometimes worked with and other times against the gods. Many of them even married into the divine pantheon, so you could almost think of “troll” as a slur against the giants when the gods weren’t feeling well disposed towards them. But over time, trolls came to be regarded as their own unique beings, a category of spirits of the land. Dwellers in caves and mountains, trolls are usually depicted as strong but slow-witted. They can come in all sizes, from very small ones to enormous monstrosities the size of hills. They can be dangerous, but some can be almost kindly. The most surprising thing I learned is that trolls don’t necessarily turn to stone in the sun. In some accounts, a troll turns to stone when it dies, which is why the mountain slopes of Norway are littered with boulders.
While I learned new facts and corrected some misunderstandings about trolls, the draug was a creature I’d never encountered before beginning my research.The word draug means “again walker”, literally “one who walks after death.” Draug aren’t mummies or zombies, but intelligent, malevolent creatures that dwell in their burial mounds waiting to mess with any unfortunate living being who wanders too close. Draug can appear corpse-pale, dark blue, or maroon. Some draug can turn to smoke and move through solid rock. Some draug can swell to enormous size, large enough to swallow men and horses whole. Some can shape shift into animals (though often the animal in question has broken bones or bleeding flanks). And some can enter your dreams. My favorite form taken by a draug is a cat that comes to your bedroom at night and sits on your chest. It then gradually grows heavier until you suffocate! It is often a mean or greedy person that turns into a draug at death, but a good way to keep a draug from rising is to install a “corpse door”, which is magical protection against its being able to leave its grave.
Probably the most exciting of Norse creatures is the linnorm, the Norse equivalent to dragons, with certain differences. Linnorms are more serpentine than other European dragons. The name means “constrictor snake.” They can be winged or wingless, and are sometimes limbless or have only forelimbs. In case you ever encounter a giant serpent and need to tell what it is, remember that European dragons generally have four limbs and less serpentine bodies. In Frostborn, we meet an enormous and ancient linnorm named Orm. He lives in the ruins of the city of Sardeth, having devoured the inhabitants long ago. He’s serpentine and winged, though I deliberately didn’t disclose his number of limbs.
This brings me to another aspect of Thrones & Bones that pleases me. It’s always been a pet peeve of mine when a fantasy realm or an imaginary city appears to exist in complete isolation. Real world history isn’t like that and an imaginary place shouldn’t be either. There are always bits of a particular culture that are borrowed or stolen from neighbors, intersections with people and places from far away. So in Frostborn we hear of other realms and we encounter foreigners, like the mysterious soldiers who ride wyverns—two legged, bat winged serpents that come from another country entirely. In fact, Orm himself isn’t actually a native Norrønian. We learn he appeared in Norrøngard over a thousand years previous, which makes him an immigrant.So he’s not technically a linnorm at all! (Though as he’s lived in Norrøngard for over a millennium, maybe we should cut him some slack). We’ll learn more about where he’s from and why he left in the sequel, Nightborn. But all through Frostborn I worked in asides pointing to other cultures, neighboring countries, and the way the history of distant lands sometimes intertwines with that of Norrøngard (my co-lead’s famous sword Whitestorm was actually forged far away before becoming a legendary weapon in his own country). I hope this gives the book and the series a sense of believability and reality, the feeling that other stories might be going on elsewhere on the map beyond the confines of the tale we’re telling at present.
Meanwhile, in Nightborn, we’ll meet another set of creatures from Norse myth—the svartálfar, the dark elves! Dwellers under the earth, the dark elves are actually pale-skinned, but called dark for their black hair and eyes. They live in caverns beneath the Svartálfaheim Mountains and are rarely seen on the surface. But something has drawn them up into the sunlight. As to what, you’ll have to read the books to find out!
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(releases July 14 from Crown Books/Penguin Random House)
Twelve-year-old Desstra is in training to join the Underhand, the elite agents of the dark elves. But her graduation is jeopardized by the betrayal of a teammate. Things go from bad to worse when she is sent far from home on a secret mission, under the supervision of this same rival, whose approval she must win if she is to graduate and realize her life's dream.
Karn is trading in the city of Bense, when he is snatched into the air by a wyvern. The creature carries him across the wilderness straight to the Blasted City, to Sardeth, home of the dragon Orm. Is Karn about to be a dragon's dinner?
Fate doesn't have anything so easy in store for him. The great dragon tells Karn he believes a second Horn of Osius exists, hidden across the continent in the city of Castlebriar. What's more, Orm has previously sent Thianna Frostborn on a mission to recover the horn, but her wyvern returned without her. It seems Thianna has run afoul of the dark elves. Now Karn must rescue his friend and together they must uncover the horn before the dark elves get ahold of this powerful relic.
With only a dragon's blessing to aid them and a mysterious riddle to guide them, Karn and Thianna must race the dark elves to a prize that could alter the fate of nations.
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Lou Anders drew on a recent visit to Norway along with his adventures traveling across Europe in his teens and twenties to write Frostborn and Nightborn, combining those experiences with his love of globe-trotting adventure fiction and games (both tabletop and role- playing) However, he has yet to ride a wyvern. With the addition of characters Desstra and Tanthal, Anders hopes that his second book in the Thrones and Bones series will continue to appeal to boys and girls equally. Anders is the recipient of a Hugo Award for editing and a Chesley Award for art direction. He has published over five hundred articles and stories on science fiction and fantasy television and literature. A prolific speaker, Anders regularly attends writing conventions around the country. He and his family reside in Birmingham, Alabama.