The Roaring Twenties: a time when alcohol was illegal, a fact that only made its dark power more alluring. That’s the conflict at the heart of Moonshine, a new alt-world Prohibition era fantasy by Jasmine Gower, coming in 2018 from Angry Robot Books.
Daisy’s starting a new job and stylish city life, but mage-hunters out for her dark magic threaten to destroy her vogue image.
In the flourishing metropolis of Soot City, progressive ideals reign and the old ways of magic and liquid mana are forbidden. Daisy Dell is a Modern Girl—stylish, educated and independent— keen to establish herself in the city but reluctant to give up the taboo magic inherited from her grandmother.
Her new job takes her to unexpected places, and she gets more attention than she had hoped for… When bounty hunters start combing the city for magicians, Daisy must decide whether to stay with her new employer—even if it means revealing the grim source of her occult powers.
If that description doesn’t whet your thirst, maybe this will—below, Jasmine Gower joins us to talk about how Prohitibition—and a cascade of volcanic ash—inspired the world of her novel.
Volcanoes get sort of a bad rap in fantasy. To Tolkien, mountains really only came in two flavors—Misty or Doom, and either is bad news. Volcanoes in fantasy have come to represent a fantasy quest’s endgame, often literally in the plethora of RPGs I’ve played that save the “volcano level” for elite dungeons and final bosses. Admittedly, I can see how exploding mountains evoke a sense of drama and finality, but when you live in the shadow of one (or a few), it’s really not that big a deal.
My mom recalls watching the sky turn black on the day Mount St. Helens erupted with a sort of nonchalance. In Oregon’s rural Willamette Valley, my friends and I grew up hearing sort of unconcerned soothsaying about the destructive chain reaction that would inevitably occur along the Cascade Range should even one of those snoozing volcanoes awaken (likely either the cause or the result of “the Big One”, the dreaded earthquake prophesied to level Portland and Seattle). I could see one of those volcanoes, Mount Jefferson, from my childhood bedroom in a small town settled high in the Cascadian foothills. When I moved to Portland as a college freshman, I saw Mount Hood every morning as I left for class. I’ve visited volcanic fields around Mount Bachelor, explored lava flow caves in southern Washington, picnicked by the porous cliffs of Mount Tabor tucked in the middle of a cozy Portland neighborhood. The Willamette Valley is littered with ancient signs of volcanic fury, and everyone who grew up with these rocky reminders seems to be aware that any of these mountains could again quickly become our own end-game level, but, hey, what can you do?
Maybe that’s a stereotypically laid-back Portlander response to being surrounded by several active volcanoes, but I’d rather die an awesome lava death than have to pack up and move to New England (too cold!) or the southeast (too humid!) But the reality is, I’m probably not going to die an awesome lava death, because aside from a few flukes, like my parents watching the sky turn black in 1980, volcanoes really don’t provoke final boss scenarios. They’re just another fixture of nature that happen to occasionally explode.
That’s what I wanted to bring to the Prohibition Era-inspired world of Moonshine, set in the fictional Soot City built upon land scorched by but now recovering from a series of massive volcanic blasts. But what exactly do volcanoes have to do with Prohibition? Well, they had volcanoes in the 1920s, didn’t they?
Okay, okay, I do tie it into the worldbuilding a little more directly than that. The volcanic blasts that occurred a couple hundred years before the beginning of Moonshine unearthed a mineral called thaumaturcite that’s used as the primary ingredient in mana, a syrupy liquid used by magicians to power their magic. But the cultural climate toward magicians in Soot City isn’t all that favorable, and so even with the plentiful supply of thaumaturcite, the production of mana is outlawed. (Hence, Moonshine.)
So while volcanoes don’t have anything inherently to do with Prohibition, that particular fixture of nature was useful to me when essentially reverse-engineering the world of Moonshine from the real-world Roaring ‘20s into a fantasy universe with its own history, politics, cosmology, and ecology. And the inspiration to use these particular titanic forces of nature as a centerpiece of my worldbuilding was, of course, the bizarrely chill Oregonian preoccupation with our own surrounding mountainscape. To give Soot City its own fantasy spin on the flapper scene while making it stand out from the traditional Tolkien fare, I turned, oddly enough, to what was ordinary and familiar in my own surroundings. There’s not much supernatural about volcanoes, but there’s a lot to be done with them in terms of worldbuilding, since fantasy has for so long cast them as set-dressing shorthands for evil and apocalypse.
Just like in my life growing up in the shadow of the Cascades, the volcanic setting of Moonshine has an everyday omnipresence that has nothing to do with major story events or Big Bads. Because sometimes Mount Doom really is just sitting in your backyard, and maybe it will even really erupt someday. But, like. What can you do?
Moonshine will be published in February 2018.