Of all the characters in Blackspire, few play as prominent a role in the story as the city itself. The sprawling neighborhoods, winding streets, and crumbling architecture provide a fitting backdrop for the events of the novel and help to ground the book’s more fantastic elements in a place that feels like it might have existed somewhere in time.
The City of Blackspire
Blackspire is an incredibly large city. With a population in the millions, it easily rivals the size of modern cities in the 21st century, but its technology level is much closer to that of 12th century Europe. Surrounded by a high wall, the city can’t expand outward and so it constantly builds atop itself and crams more people into every available space. Like most cities from Europe’s medieval and early modern periods, it’s an uncomfortable, inhospitable, and often violent place.
The city’s most defining characteristic, however, is the massive spire of black stone rising from its center and gives the place its name. Visible from everywhere in the city and for many miles beyond its walls, the spire casts a long shadow over every neighborhood and is the subject of countless legends and speculation. No one knows how tall the spire actually is because its peak isn’t visible, even when observing the spire from a great distance. While there are many theories about its origins and nature, most of the city’s residents have simply accepted its presence as a natural part of the landscape.
Blackspire is loosely divided into eight clearly defined districts, each one playing a different role in the city’s political, economic, and social ecosystems. The Saven River cuts through the heart of the city, separating the wealthier northern districts from the more working class and impoverished southern areas. Some areas, especially north of the river, are protected by walls and gatehouses which require special passes to enter. Boundaries are not marked so clearly in the southern districts, but certain streets or landmarks are typically recognized as district borders.
No one has made a comprehensive, accurate map of the city. Blackspire is simply too large and chaotic for such an undertaking, and there are many who claim that the city is unmappable because it would take so long to do so that the streets will have changed by the time the work was completed. Most people find their way around by memory and habit, usually never travelling more than a short distance from their homes.
The events of the novel take place in Lowtown, the poorest of the city’s eight districts. Much like any established urban area, however, the district is further subdivided into a series of distinct boroughs. Each neighborhood has a long history, sometimes with its own set of civic traditions and political institutions. Although Lowtown forms a distinct portion of Blackspire, its residents typically identify more closely with their borough.
In that sense, Lowtown is representative of the rest of Blackspire’s districts. It forms something of a “city within a city,” complete with its own socio-economic divisions and political challenges. Without a centralized source of authority, the borough is fractured by various competing interest groups. While it’s not exactly a lawless place, order is tenuous at best, held together by a complicated framework of longstanding traditions, half-forgotten laws of dubious legitimacy, mutually beneficial corruption, and the threat of violence.
Most Lowtown citizens are simply trying to get by and provide for themselves and their families. The most fortunate of them belong to one of the city’s many guilds or work in trades shops in neighboring districts. Others hire themselves out as laborers wherever they can or try to establish their own fledgling business. Despite being the poorest of Blackspire’s districts, Lowtown has a thriving local economy that caters to residents who simply can’t afford to live elsewhere.
The History of Blackspire
Literacy rates are quite poor in Blackspire, so the city’s long history is passed down primarily through stories and legends, especially in places like Lowtown. Most people aren’t aware of events that took place just a generation earlier if they didn’t affect their neighborhood directly, but stories from the city’s past can be found everywhere. That history can be found in the names of streets, monuments, and places of business, but residents often disagree over the particulars depending upon how they heard the story.
One thing everyone can agree on is that Blackspire is an ancient place, possibly thousands of years old. The city as it stands today is both built atop the ruins of its past, with streets paving over long forgotten neighborhoods, and from those same ruins, with building material constantly being recycled over the centuries.
Some historical events loom large in the city’s culture, with songs about great battles or disasters regularly filling the taverns and winesinks. But even the most well-read citizens often struggle to provide a firm accounting of Blackspire’s history that extends more than a few centuries. Fire, war, and political upheaval have destroyed huge swaths of official records, and many of the documents that have survived are fragmentary or written in languages long forgotten by living scholars.
The Future of Blackspire
While the events of the novel take place primarily in the district of Lowtown, there are countless characters and stories waiting to be found throughout the city. One of the great joys of writing Blackspire was being able to spend so much time in a very small part of a much larger whole. It’s definitely a place worth coming back to and exploring in more detail.
With the book finally coming out next week, I’m excited to finally show everyone around the neighborhood I’ve been living in for so long. It may not be the prettiest place (or the cleanest), but I promise it will certainly make for a memorable visit.
Hopefully, it will also be a place you’ll want to return to in the future. I can think of a few spots worth checking out…