I know I’ve mentioned this series before, and if you haven’t taken my advice and read them yet, well… you’re missing out. But even if you haven’t read them, this series contains some of the most unique world building I’ve ever seen. So it’s definitely worth investigating for this year’s #FantasyMonth series. And I don’t think I’ve ever dedicated an entire post to them, so let’s rectify that situation, shall we?
The realms of the Death Gate Cycle started out as a single planet: our very own Earth. However, a conflict between two powerful, magical races (the Sartans and the Patryns) ended in the sundering of the world into five parts: four elemental realms and a fifth prison world where the Sartans (the winners of the conflict) sent all their adversaries.
Each of these worlds is distinct from the others, and while the Sartan set up methods of communication between the four worlds, by the time the story picks up those methods of communication have fallen into disrepair and been forgotten.
The World of Air
Arianus, the first world we enter in this saga, is one of floating continents. We travel between them via airships and a giant machine called “The Kicksey-Winsey” on the lowest continent is supposed to align the continents and provide water to everyone. Unfortunately, things went wrong, the machine never became properly active, and the Gegs (dwarves) who run the machine do not completely understand its purpose.
The World of Fire
Unlike Arianus, Pryan is basically a Dyson Sphere with the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk inside it. An inverted globe with four suns hanging in the center, the ground is covered by miles-high jungle and most of the inhabitants have never seen the ground because they live in structures built high up in the trees.
The World of Stone
Abarrach is an asteroid-like world full of volcanoes and deadly rivers of fire. Unfortunately, the volcanic fumes proved toxic and everyone living here died.
The World of Water
Chelestra is a planet covered in a water-like substance (not truly water, because inhabitants can breathe underneath the liquid even if they have regular lungs), where the people build their homes on the backs of enormous floating sea creatures.
And finally you have the prison world. A maze-like correctional facility meant to teach its inhabitants to rely on one another and care for each other, but like every other world, it has fallen into disrepair and its intent has been twisted into something far more insidious.
As you can see, quite a bit of world building has happened in this series. What are the things that make this world building unique and impressive?
One of the strengths of this realm is that it is set in our own Earth’s far-distant future. The history of this place, then, is our own history, as well as our present. This allowed the authors to make tiny references to very familiar things in an amusing and entertaining way that doesn’t seem out of place. “Gandalf” and “Luke Skywalker” are both mentioned briefly, and these instances are fun and add to some of the mystery of a certain character.
Multiple Races -
This series involves Humans, Elves, Dwarves (Gegs), Sartans, and Patryns. The first three are kind of your basic fantasy trio, with Elves and Dwarves being very similar to Tolkien’s variety, though there are differences, as the Gegs aren’t craftsmen or warriors, they are kind of the world’s mechanics.
Then you have the “magical” races. (Although the elves have magic, and some humans have attained magical knowledge and become powerful wizards, neither is on the same level as the Sartans and Patryns). The magic system of these two races is actually pretty cool. It is a rune-based magic. The Sartans perform the runes by singing and dancing, while the Patryns tattoo the runes on their skin and use their voices to activate the runes. Both use the magic to affect a possible outcome in any given scenario. The more unlikely the outcome, the more difficult the magic is to perform.
Giving it a purpose -
There are reasons why the earth was split apart, and each of the four worlds has a larger purpose in the grand scheme of things. They were not supposed to be separated and then exist without contact with the other worlds. Arianus was supposed to be a center of industry and technology, while Pryan was supposed to be a power plant for the other worlds, Abarrach should have been able to provide necessary minerals and metals for the powering of the machine on Arianus, and Chelestra was supposed to be a massive recycling plant. The four worlds were supposed to work together and for all the various people who lived on them.
Letting it fall apart -
But when we enter this saga, nothing is doing what it is supposed to be doing. Communication has broken down, most of the races don’t even know the other worlds exist, and the solving the mystery of why it has fallen apart is part of the larger overall story. The Gegs are taking care of a machine, but they’re all just going through the motions, doing the things that have always been done. They don’t know what the machine they are care for actually does, they don’t realize it’s broken, and they have zero clue how to fix it.
There are many other things that went into the world building of this series. The creation of the two “wizard” races, the Patryn and the Sartan with their rune-magic and what happened to them is another intriguing mystery. The use of the three common fantasy races of elves, men, and dwarves and the different social systems and cultures on each of the four worlds is intricate and unique for each of the worlds. They created unique creatures for these worlds and gave them a purpose (like the sea beasts of Chelestra). To talk in depth about all of the world building that occurred in this series would take up way more time than I have, but it’s a fun realm to explore, and now that I’ve spent so much time talking about it, I want to go re-read this series for the umpteenth time. Have you read this series? (I rarely meet anyone who has… which is a shame, because it’s a fun one).
What is the most unique realm you’ve ever encountered when reading fantasy? What made it memorable?
Have a lovely weekend! I’ll see you back here bright and early on Monday to talk about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!