Ochre vs Gold

The Splintered Land stories started with Geneve’s quest to save the world, which (spoilers!) she managed with great success! There was a cost, which sucked, but we’re now re-visiting the same world sixteen years later to see whether it was worth it.

The bedrock of the Splintered Land are its people. We met four main races in the original trilogy.

  1. Humans, the rank and file you know and love today.
  2. Vhemin, part-lizard, part-shark, part-human, and all baddass hulking barbarians hailing from the blasted plaguelands. They live about as long as humans do if they don’t get killed first. There’s a lot of killing out on the sands.
  3. Feybrind, part-cat, part human artisans and poets who make wonders. They can’t speak like we do so use Handspeak, a beautiful language a lot like Sign Language. I based much of the description of their speech on NZSL. They call themselves the People.
  4. Fairies! These are tiny mystical creatures (well, some are the size of your hand; some super-sized editions can be almost as tall as your forearm is long) who call themselves Builders. Back before the world broke, this is what they did. Need a reactor technician? Call a fairy.

Part of my exploration with the story is persecution and xenophobia. The long-lived People, for example, are better at just about everything, which put them on the firing line from, well, just about everyone. You’d think a species on the sharp end of discrimination would understand it well enough to not practice that bullshit, but no. I explore some of this in the upcoming trilogy (starting with The Copper Bard).

A returning character from The Splintered Land is Sight of Day. He’s now a warrior-poet, but he used to be a craftsman. He made weapons when he had to, but also pancakes, because he loves to make good things.

All Feybrind have gemstone-coloured eyes. They’re wonderfully luminous, and Sight of Day’s golden eyes are no exception. He has a stare than makes you feel warm all over.

The Feybrind know the effect their eyes have on us and use it when they have to. There’s no magic in it; they just look comforting, because that is how they were made.

A new character in this series is Sands Apart. She has ochre eyes, and when we meet her the first thing she tries to do is murder Sight of Day.

The why behind this takes a little time to unpack, but at the heart of it is some very specific and deep-seated Feybrind racism. Sands Apart tells us how in Feybrind society, the golden-eyed ones are better. They can do what others can’t, and it is bitterly felt by her because gold and ochre are so close to the same colour.

Gold is brilliant, and ochre is dirt. Or, that’s how she sees it.

What we learn in the story is – I hope! – that the colour of your eyes (or anything else) has very little to do with the colour of your character or your ability. Discrimination is rank nonsense as we know today, but this is a fantasy world. I wondered what would happen if you grew up with your own People telling you gold was better. And they’d also highlight – very politely, of course – how you just missed out on the genetic lottery by a few miserable shades.

Couple that with how the Feybrind are dying out by degrees as human and Vhemin edge them out of their lands, and you’ve got a problem even the beautiful People can’t think their way out of.

There’s a happy ending to all this in my series, but it’s not so easy to imagine there’s a happy ending for our conflicted peoples on our blue-green world. My wife and I talked about Ted Lasso the other day, and she said, “It’s rare that you watch a programme that makes you a better person.” I really hope you enjoy the next Splintered Land story … not least of which because I hope I can do a little Ted Lasso and show how to make things a little better.