Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Blitz : The Midnight Sea


5 Cool Things You Didn't Know About the Persian Empire

Hi everyone, and so excited to be here on my release day! The Midnight Sea was a very long time in the making. In fact, its first incarnation was wildly different. Although the story did have the character of Darius, a daeva with supernatural powers, it was sort of a fantasy-mystery mash-up set in contemporary times. I still like that manuscript, but something wasn't quite working. So I went back to the drawing board and decided I really needed to write the origin story of the daevas first—which meant travelling back in time more than two thousand years. This presented its own special set of challenges (see K.M. Weiland's great blog post for some tips on writing historical fiction), but it felt right so I scrapped the first draft completely and dove in.
I don't identify "The Empire" by name until the very last page, but I'm sure a lot of people will have figured it out by then so this probably isn't a major spoiler. The time period is the end of the Achaemenid era, just before the invasion of Alexander the Great, so around 330 BC. In fact, my cover is based on a real disk from that time that was unearthed during excavations in Persepolis. And unlike the distorted picture often painted by Hollywood, in which the Greeks are the heroes and the Persians are bloodthirsty monsters, many historians consider the Achaemenids to be one of the most advanced and enlightened civilizations of the time.
So here are a few interesting things I discovered in the process of creating my (highly) fictionalized world of daevas and Revenants and necromancers and other magical stuff.
The Persian Empire was the biggest of the ancient world. Yes, far bigger than Rome! At its height, nearly half of the world's population – about 50 million people – lived inside the empire's borders. That's a greater percentage than any other in history.
The Persians had the world's first bill of rights. It was created by Cyrus the Great after he conquered Babylon, when he famously allowed the Jewish people to return to Israel and to rebuild their temple at Jerusalem. It called for tolerance for all races, religions and languages; for slaves to be allowed to return to their homelands; and the restoration of destroyed temples and religious buildings.
Women also had a relatively high degree of social and legal freedoms. They owned property, were involved in managing their assets, and had jobs, sometimes as high-ranking administrators. Historical documents show that male and female workers received equal pay—something we still don't have in most countries today!
The Persians had the world's first postal system. It spanned the Royal Road system built by King Darius the Great, which stretched about 1,700 miles all the way from Sardis in Turkey to Suza in Elam. The Greek historian Herodotus described the postal system in this way: "It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day's journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed." Sound familiar?
The Persians also came up with the world's first monotheistic religion: Zoroastrianism. It is still practiced by a few million people and preaches that one should be good and honest in this life. In The Midnight Sea, Zoroaster is known as The Prophet and he goes on to play a big part in the next two books of the series (and probably beyond, when I bring the story up closer to contemporary times). As a vegetarian, I also like the Zoroastrians because they were kind to animals of pretty much every species, which really stood in sharp contrast to many of the other barbaric practices of the time.
Anyway, thanks for reading! The Midnight Sea is now available (woo-hoo!), and the sequel should be coming out by the end of the summer. Happy reading and writing!

The Midnight Sea by Kat Ross

(Fourth Element #1)
Publication date: May 10th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
They are the light against the darkness.
The steel against the necromancy of the Druj.
And they use demons to hunt demons….

Nazafareen lives for revenge. A girl of the isolated Four-Legs Clan, all she knows about the King’s elite Water Dogs is that they bind wicked creatures called daevas to protect the empire from the Undead. But when scouts arrive to recruit young people with the gift, she leaps at the chance to join their ranks. To hunt the monsters that killed her sister.

Scarred by grief, she’s willing to pay any price, even if it requires linking with a daeva named Darius. Human in body, he’s possessed of a terrifying power, one that Nazafareen controls. But the golden cuffs that join them have an unwanted side effect. Each experiences the other’s emotions, and human and daeva start to grow dangerously close.

As they pursue a deadly foe across the arid waste of the Great Salt Plain to the glittering capital of Persepolae, unearthing the secrets of Darius’s past along the way, Nazafareen is forced to question his slavery—and her own loyalty to the empire. But with an ancient evil stirring in the north, and a young conqueror sweeping in from the west, the fate of an entire civilization may be at stake…
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My eyes flew open at the crack of dawn. I groaned and rubbed my forehead. My scalp tingled, an icy, unpleasant sensation. I knew right away where Darius was and what he was doing. It was another side effect of the bond, I’d discovered. I could feel his heart beating. I knew that one of his boots was too tight. I could shut my eyes and tell you exactly where he was, even if he was hundreds of leagues away.
Why had no one told me what it would be like? I supposed Tijah did, but this was much worse than I’d expected. Much, much worse.
I threw on my new scarlet tunic and marched down to the river. Tendrils of mist swirled through the dead reeds at the edge. It was late autumn and the air had a dank chill that promised snow.
My da─ôva stood there, stripped to the waist, pouring water over his head with his right hand. He wore a gold faravahar on a chain around his neck, its eagle wings spread wide. His left arm lay at his side, grey and dead. I stared at his shoulder, at the juncture where smooth skin met rough. His Druj curse.
It slowed me for a moment, seeing that pathetic arm, but I wasn’t yet ready to forgive him for waking me. That was my excuse, anyway. Of course, what really angered me was the terrible realization that I was burdened with a sorrow not my own, but that bled me nonetheless. What really angered me was him—everything about him.
He was calmer this morning, but I wasn’t. I stopped about twenty feet away. He didn’t turn around although he knew I was there.
“It’s nice that you’re so pious,” I said. “But don’t you think it’s a little early to be down here performing the morning rites?”
He paused, then dumped the last of the water from the bowl. I felt the cold trickle down my spine and my lips tightened.
“I was taught by the magi to come at first light,” Darius said. “Did you expect to sleep in? I’m afraid that’s not the way it works for Water Dogs.” He smiled, and we both knew it was fake. “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you in some way.”
I stared at him, at the dark hair plastered across his forehead, his stubborn mouth. He looked so human. And yet there was something in the way Darius held himself, perfectly at ease in his own skin. Still but coiled, like the wolves I’d seen in the mountains.
“You haven’t offended me in the least,” I said. “I suppose you need the blessing more than I do.”
I spun on my heel and walked away, knowing I had wounded him. A small stab to my own heart. And I felt slightly ashamed. But that wasn’t the end of it. Then I felt his satisfaction at my shame. And my own anger that he knew and was glad.
And then his amusement at my anger!
I stalked off, determined to think nothing, to feel nothing, ever again.
If only it were that easy.
Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She lives in Westchester with her kid and a few sleepy cats. Kat is also the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day (Skyscape, 2014), about a world where the sea levels have risen sixty meters. She loves magic, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Preferably with mutants.
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