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Science Fiction and Fantasy

Canadian author Jes Battis, writing as Bailey Cunningham, launches a new urban fantasy trilogy this month, one with a fascinating and unusual fantastical roots. Read what he had to say about it.

Pile of Bones is a portal fantasy, in which two worlds—contemporary Canada, and a realm analogous to ancient Rome—are linked by Wascana Park in the city of Regina. The characters, at first, treat this secret world as if it were a live–action RPG, complete with quests and experience. The protagonists are four graduate students who use the park's magic to escape their academic lives. But they soon discover that these worlds overlap in ways that are dangerous. The silenoi—creatures that are a cross between a mythical satyr and a hungry werewolf—are invading Regina to expand their hunting territory. The traditional boundaries between the worlds are on the verge of failing. The space beyond the park is ruled by matriarchs, known as Basilissae, many of whom are corrupt and hungry for power. Magic operates not as a system of spells, but rather through a relationship with the lares, who are elemental spirits: gnomoi, salamanders, and undina. The spirits of the air were thought to be extinct, but they might yet return.

I conceived the Parallel Parks series as a crossover fantasy novel told from the perspective of four academics: Andrew, Shelby, Carl, and Ingrid. Each of them has a different specialty, and a unique way of looking at the world, so the narrative can be seen as four linked novellas from their points of view. I wanted to tell an adventure story that focused on characters who were a bit nerdy: The Big Bang Theory meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The chapters alternate between worlds, so the story combines elements of both urban and epic fantasy. In the beginning, the protagonists have only begun to explore one city in the realm beyond the park: Anfractus, the City of Infinite Alleys. But there are other cities, which have grown too dangerous to reach, where untold treasures and nightmares are waiting.

The people of Anfractus worship Fortuna, the goddess of chance, whose ever–spinning wheel determines their fate. The wheel also defines the system of guilds, or gens, along which labor is divided. On the light side of the wheel, there are the day gens, which include warriors, bards, and builders. On the dark side of the wheel, there are the night gens, which include courtesans, thieves, and assassins. The gens have always cooperated, but if the Basilissa of Anfractus has her way, these old alliances will be shattered. At first, the protagonists believe that they are merely playing 'characters' within this world. But they soon discover that these shadows have their own personalities, their own motivations, and Fortuna knows their darkest desires. The city runs on games of chance, but the stakes are life and death. The wheel never stops turning.

The protagonists must conceal their adventures in the world beyond the park, even from their own families. As they learn more about the history and politics of the park, their once–ordinary lives are put into serious jeopardy. Some may be unable to keep the secret, while others come close to losing themselves in a world every bit as vivid and dangerous as ancient Rome. In this fantasy, the geeks are the heroes, but can they balance writing a thesis with fighting in an arena, or talking to a fire–breathing salamander? Only time can tell how the park will change them, or what secrets they will learn about its fantastic origins.

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Pile of Bones
Pile of Bones

Bailey Cunningham

Paperback: Mass Market

$7.99

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