Blog Tour: Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West - Behind Nissera

Bristal, an orphaned kitchen maid, lands in a gritty fairy tale gone wrong when she discovers she is an elicromancer with a knack for shape-shifting. An ancient breed of immortal magic beings, elicromancers have been winnowed down to merely two - now three - after centuries of bloody conflict in the realm. Their gifts are fraught with responsibility, and sixteen-year-old Bristal is torn between two paths. Should she vow to seek the good of the world, to protect and serve mortals? Or should she follow the strength of her power, even if it leads to unknown terrors? She draws on her ability to disguise herself as a man to infiltrate a prince's band of soldiers, and masquerades as a fairy godmother to shield a cursed princess, but time is running out. As an army of dark creatures grows closer, Bristal faces a supernatural war. To save the kingdoms, Bristal must find the courage to show her true form.

Building on homages to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jane Austen’s Emma and the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, Hannah West makes a spectacular debut.


Behind Nissera:  Building the world of Kingdom of Ash and Briars 

World building is so much fun to me. So much fun, in fact, that the first draft of this manuscript was 154,000 words. That’s about 40,000 words too long to be even remotely taken seriously as a debut author!  

A good portion of those extra words were there thanks to an excessive amount of world building that should have stayed in my brainstorming notes. So it’s no surprise that I have some thoughts on different aspects of the world building process.


There are different ways for a new story to materialize. Maybe you get the premise first, and then you build the world around the characters and story arc. But in the case of Kingdom of Ash and Briars, evocative visuals led me to write the opening scene even though I didn’t know where it was going. I was studying abroad in Orléans, France, where cathedrals, cobblestones, and castles were part of my real life for the first time. It also snowed for about three solid weeks during my stay, and I’d recently been admiring the cover of Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver. The wintery images all blended to inspire a girl’s winter trek through mystical woods, and the deadly Water that determined the fate of those who dared to touch it. But then what?

My parents sent me a care package that included Disney princess pencils. While I was sitting in a two-hour French grammar class one day, I noticed that one of the little heart shapes on the pencil showed Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella together. At that exact moment I realized I could build an epic world around these tales, using that unfamiliar girl trekking through the wintery woods as the glue that held it all together. 

Servicing the Story

The need for multiple kingdoms within the realm branched out of needing separate stages for the fairytales to play out - a canvas on which to expand the politics surrounding the familiar princesses and princes.

Even though the realm of Nissera encompasses three kingdoms, it had to be small. As an elicromancer, Bristal materializes, which is similar to apparating or using portals. So I needed certain mortals traveling by horse to not be WEEKS behind her. Otherwise, the timeline would start to feel draggy. I’m not great with maps or scaling, but I decided all of Nissera had to be about the size of the U.K.
I also wanted the deep, isolated places to feel ancient, while the royal cities feel on the cusp of transitioning from a medieval period to a more Tudor-like period. This is reflected in the familiar names of the characters who hail from the royal cities (e.g., Anthony, Charles, Elinor, Rosamund), while the isolated villagers and the descendants of the elicromancers tend to draw on more ancient naming traditions (Brack, Tamarice, Drell).

The capital cities are just beginning to bridge connections with outside nations. Originally a land to the east called Perispos (comparable to Greece) played a bit more of a role. But for the sake of overall concision, some things had to go! I’m excited to start on a companion novel and explore other elements of the world.

Place Names and Language

I got ideas for several place names and terms from a Greek and Hebrew NIV concordance. Some readers may recognize Biblical symbolism, like Galgeth (inspired by Golgotha, “place of the skull”), or Darmeska (inspired by Paul’s encounter on the road to Damascus). But I didn’t necessarily set out with the goal of alluding to Biblical places. The concordance was just the perfect tool for giving me beautiful words that only needed to undergo a small evolution to take on a fantasy feel.

The concordance also helped me a bit with the fragments Old Nisseran in the novel, an ancient language that only the elicromancers still use or know due to the way certain words and phrases work in tandem with elicrin magic. As a student of French, I had fun thinking about the nuances of a new language and how the basic structure might differ from English.

World Building Advice  

My biggest piece of world building advice for fiction writers: avoid getting so wrapped up in the details of your world that you neglect your plot. You don’t want to create this incredible, fantastical world only to write a story that doesn’t let your characters PLAY in it - that will feel info-dumpy. Build the world around your plot and characters as they unfold and take life.


Hannah has been writing fantasy since kindergarten, when she penned her first tale about a runaway princess who lived on top of a flagpole with two loaves of bread. But it wasn't until she studied abroad in Orléans, France during her junior year of college that the premise for her first novel materialized. The fairy tale castles, the snowy winter days, and a Disney princess pencil that arrived in a care package from her parents provided the inspiration that allowed her to wrangle all her untold and unfinished stories into a book. 

She lives in the Dallas area with her husband, Vince, and their rambunctious blue heeler, Robb. She proudly writes articles about sustainable living and home renovation for She loves the outdoors when it's not hellishly hot, camping, and watching shows like Outlander, Game of Thrones, and Orange Is the New Black. While she may have avoided several southern clichés, she can't live without half-and-half sweet tea and can be caught saying "y'all" about a dozen times a day.  

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.