books · features · shanti

The Bookish Planet: Central Asia

For those of you who don’t know, the Bookish Planet is a feature at Virtually Read where we act as ‘tour guides’ to a setting in a book. Today I’m going for a more specific setting: the Eight Realms (Central Asia) of Shannon Hales Book of a Thousand Days. It won’t have spoilers, so don’t be worried!

bookish planet

Description: The place: central Asia, the Eight Realms. Book of a Thousand Days is set on the steppes, where the winter’s are harsh and the culture is harsher. This a place where meat is in most meals (so be warned, vegetarians), ruthless clan battles leave ruin behind them and everyone rides horses. It is a beautiful place too, though. The stars here, far from the blur of light pollution, are like nothing you’ve ever seen. There is a strict hierarchy, with nobility on the top and peasants (or muckers) on the bottom. If a noble tells you to do something, you must jump to it as fast as possible.  The land is mostly dry and flat, and people travel around so that their herds can drink. To survive in this land you must be as resilient as a horse and as careful as a cat.

People: The people who live here are all part of tribes. The land is strongly demarcated into different kingdoms, each named after a god. There is an intense social hierarchy that dictates everyones’ actions. Very little mixing occurs between the social strata. Everyone believes in the gods and the Eternal Blue Sky. Dashti, Lady Saren, Khan Tegus and even Genghis Khan came from this place.

Language: The language is a tribal language, different in dialect between places. The most important terms to know are mucker (peasant); and the Gods, including Under ( god of War), Evela (goddess of sunlight and Song) and Titor (god of the Garden).

Culture: As well as belief in gods and the Eternal blue sky and a strong emphasis on trbalism, it’s important to know about the myths of the Eight Realms. There are stories about desert shamans and far off shape shifters which are very important to the political power dynamics. There is also the idea of healing songs, traditional songs that can soothe the mind and ease pain. Usually only muckers know these songs though. The Eight Realms have a heavy reliance on animals, with horses being central to them, but they also respect wolves and cats. They hate rats, like most sensible people. They get a lot of their other goods through trade, and having foreign goods is a sign of wealth.

Marriages are very important in the Eight Realms. Women are allowed to rule as head of state, but they must have a husband. In the political system, each minister is also attached to a god. Few people know how to write, so scribes are highly valued. Fighting is seen as the way to resolve problems.

Where to stay: Well, if you’re lucky enough to be invited into the palace, good for you! In towns, a lot of the houses are plain wooden structures. Traders tend to bring their own camping supplies… we recommend you to do the same.  The strict social structure means that new comers aren’t welcomed easily, so be aware of that. There aren’t any hotels. Also, if you see a tower in the middle of nowhere, it might be a good place to stay or it might just contain two frantic teenage girls. Be aware of this.

Extra Advice: Don’t refuse to marry anyone. This could get you into trouble or a tower. Be careful of wolves; they are not always what you think they are. Bring warm clothes and clothes for cool weather. A knife in the boot wouldn’t go amiss either.

So have you read any books set in Central Asia? Or been there yourself? Do you want to visit now? tell me in the comments.

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