A forgotten past, a strange object, and deadly secrets.
The city of Naressina is a prosperous crossroads of the world, trading spices, salt, silks and every other commodity under the twin suns. Merchant princes rule the republic alongside the powerful guilds and the old nobility. But not everyone belongs to a guild. Most of Naressina’s non-human inhabitants don’t. Nor do the denizens of the city’s infamous Lowtown that sprawls around the harbour.
For the Wharf Rats, taking what they need from those who seem to have more than enough - and running very fast from the city watch - is a way of life. But when they break into the warehouse of a wealthy cloth merchant, the caper takes a catastrophic turn. And as their desire to avenge their dead and betrayed comrades plunges them into a bloody street war, the Rats are soon fighting for their very existence.
Meanwhile, at the scene of the crime, the city watch have found a small golden figure, wrapped in black silk. Who lost it there? The watch don’t seem to care, or maybe they have orders not to investigate further. The merchant Zîf Kaliari and his free speaking wife are determined to find out. After all, their family has the respect of both humans and their own kind, and they are well connected. Their questions are more dangerous than they realise. What if the legends of Naressina’s dark past are real?
For the lives of those they love, unlikely allies must set their differences aside and trust their enemies. Worse, they have to trust themselves.
Read the first chapter of “Black Silk”
Darkness, Death and Onions... writing “Black Silk”
The story of Black Silk has grown over a lifetime and as such has twisted, branched out and produced strange offshoots. Finally, I look at what can be called an introductory novel to a fantasy universe. However, one that does not have elves and trolls in it. I wanted to do something different, something that would not have to deal with the expectations raised by borrowing from European mythology. Leaving the familiar realms of fantasy behind, I felt free to concentrate on the story and the world of "Black Silk" with its different languages and cultures fell into place around it. This website offers a glimpse into that world beyond the book.
Back to the book. At one point, probably while I was studying English literature and listening to lectures on the British novel, I decided that what was needed was "realism" - in a fantasy novel? Yes, and no. Very many things that happen in the novel are not realistic in the sense that they cannot happen outside a fantasy setting, but I have tried to make these unrealistic things happen in a realistic way. Navigational problems on board an ocean going sailing vessel must be solved regardless, even if in a fantasy setting the solution might be different. And a good stew needs some onions! Or local equivalent.
Being a historian with an interest in social structures, I felt it necessary for there to be a realistic feel to the society I wrote about, too — mainly, I could not conceive of a traditional fantasy Thieves Guild where the members seem to follow a nightly curriculum of skills like "backstabbing" or "disarming traps", perhaps with masters teaching the students, and of course they can all climb up a building, know how to fight and can read. If they can do all that, why do they have to steal for a living? Hence the uneducated, filthy Rats of Lowtown, and with them the urban hell that was their natural environment. Drawing a lot of inspiration for the city of Naressina from actual 14th to 17th century European history, gender equality, human rights, indeed the idea of a fair society such as can be found in other fantasy works, crumpled pretty soon. In it’s place grew interesting challenges and plot points. I would like to mention that the ridiculous Special Law that applies to the non-human characters in "Black Silk" is lifted entirely from real life historical examples of such laws.
Real life history abounds with the atrocities human beings are capable of. Not only in the 20th century. The world of "Black Silk" has its own share of atrocities, and I suppose one could say that the aftermath of the past and its unresolved conflicts are at the heart of the novel. At one point, I came to feel that if I was to be honest in writing this story, it would need to look into those dark corners and take the reader into uncomfortable territory. Life is not all roses, as the saying goes, and I felt that these things - mainly injustice, violence, and prejudice - needed to be experienced by the reader for the book to be complete.
I am of the strong opinion that there must be no taboos in literature, but there always needs to be respect. And one of the greatest forms of disrespect, to my way of thinking, is silencing the victims. For example by pretending these things never happen, or if they do, then to somebody else, and that calamity can be easily avoided. I hope I have given the victims in "Black Silk" their own voice.