City of Tigers, by L. Chappelle: A Fantasy World Where Machines Prevail Over Magic

city_of_tigersCity of Tigers ($14.95, 280 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-973-2) is a work of fantasy by debut novelist Lena Chappelle about a street musician who conjures music out of the air, despite the disapproval of the authorities.

City of Tigers is Book 1 of a new fantasy series: Under the Sunstone.

“L. Chappelle has crafted a dark and moody journey through an alternate Earth filled with interesting characters, intriguing magic, and creative alternative technology.”

—John Patrick Lowrie, author of Dancing with Eternity

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Raised by his mother in the small town of Havlandsby, young Sigurd watches the projektors make their rounds, keeping the town lit and warm in the dark, cold winters, ensuring that water fills the wells. Their communion with the elements is as old as the world itself, but the projektors are losing their influence, and fewer of them are being born. Their duties are slowly being taken over by inanimate objects—the machinae—and the people they serve are fleeing their homes in droves for the cities.

After Sigurd’s mother dies, he joins the exodus to Tigrebyn, the City of Tigers, where he must fend for himself among the petty thieves and heartless merchants. Finally Sigurd meets Ragna, who has taken it upon herself to track and protect the remaining projektors, now punished for practicing the ancient art of projeksjon and labeled conspirators against the Crown. Sigurd’s particular art is nothing as mundane as bringing forth light, warmth, and water. Sigurd can command the very air to transform the sounds in his head into complex musical compositions, conducting an invisible orchestra of instruments and effects.

The professors at the University, who answer to the Queen, wish to use Sigurd’s gift to invent the greatest machina yet—but first they must bend the young man to their will.

Says the author, “I envisioned a world where magic is practiced that is not a form of sorcery, but a natural part of everyday life—utilitarian. It started with the question: ‘What if we never needed to invent modern technology?’ But then the secondary question arose: ‘What happens when the magic—control of the elements—goes away?’ A lot of current fantasy literature centers around post-apocalyptic worlds where technology goes away. The most human reaction, of course, is to replace what has been lost by any means necessary. Thus, the creation of ‘machina.’ From there, I imagined what sort of conflict would arise if the replacement for magic grew in popularity while some magic users still existed and were trying to earn a living. What social stigmas would be placed upon them? What kind of oppression would they fall victim to? What sort of uprising would take place? These are the questions that set the stage for City of Tigers.”

Lena Chappelle was born and raised in Seattle, WA, and received a BA in music composition from Cornish College of the Arts. She has written music for game soundtracks, dance choreography, and more. Most notably, she has contributed to critically acclaimed PC game Guild Wars 2 as a designer and composer. City of Tigers is her first novel. Click here to keep up with Lena.

Keep Reading for an excerpt:

It is becoming very warm. Sigurd loosens his collar, unfastening the first button. The motion shakes the droplet free, and it falls, landing directly on the incomplete chord. The ink runs, dragging its tail along the rest of the page. Sigurd swears. It’s enough to let the music leave his ears. Other sounds drift in to replace them. A low bass that is not a bass. A roar that is no instrument.

Sigurd tears the thin door open, eyes flitting across every surface of the burning landscape. He attempts to spring up from his kneeling position, but his foot hooks under the edge of the table, sending him sprawling halfway out of the room. He lands stomach-first on the jagged step up, pressing the air from his lungs. Gasping, he drags himself out of the side room and into the inferno. From all directions, scents of charcoal, oolong, and chai waft over him. He hears every small creak and pop of the wood expanding and bursting while the flame engulfs it in its monstrous roar. His only coherent thought is, Where am I?

Sigurd takes several short breaths, wincing from the pain they cause. Nothing serious. Just winded. Think, Sigurd! Exit. Find the exit. A loud crack like breaking bone rings out from above. Disoriented, Sigurd hears the sound of the beam falling before he sees it. It strikes a table, which collapses under the weight of the flaming mass. It is all he can do to stand his ground.

Thoom. The sound of something large crashes against what he now recognizes as the front door. Thoom. Instinctively, Sigurd dives for cover behind the front counter. With a resounding crash, the door bursts open, revealing a terrifying sight: a creature, pitch black like the stories of The First People, wide eyes reflecting the blaze. Its gaping mouth leads not to a throat, but outward into a tube, twisting around to its hunched back. It stomps into the structure, dominating the doorway, his only way out. Three more follow, their faces as grotesque as the first.

A crazy thought pops into Sigurd’s head as he crouches there, creatures on one side, stairs on the other. He remembers the words of the professor: all you do is based on lies and deception. Not true, he thinks, as he focuses his attention on the sounds around him. When he closes his eyes, rear-eyelid patterns swirl and jolt to every small irregularity in the air. The patterns begin to reform themselves into a landscape of sound. The white noise of the fire is easy to isolate. He fades its oppressive roar to a faint hum, and then it’s gone. A puzzling thought buzzes above all the rest of the chaos in his ears: Where is everyone? It was as if two versions of the teahouse existed: the one he entered, and the one now burning. What has happened?

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