Welcome to Realm Explorers!  In this weekly series, we visit a variety of unique worlds created by talented science fiction and fantasy authors.  Enjoy your travels!  And don’t forget to read to the bottom of the post to find out more about each author and see how to purchase the featured book.  

Author’s name: Krystine Kercher

Title of book and/or series:
The series is Legends of Astarkand; the books are A Shadow On The Land (#1); King’s Ride (#2); and Eiathan’s Heir (#3). I plan to add another couple of books before the series is wrapped up.
Brief summary of the story:
Wary of the mysterious tenders of lake and stream, terrified of the immortal prince Vodan’s plagues and storms, and alienated from the Dreamsender by their efforts to appease Vodan, Kandians seek a deliverer. A five-hundred-year-old prophecy brought Bjorn Horsa north over steep mountain passes to confront Vodan. Before he can be anyone’s deliverer, he must first take up the mantle of Eiathan’s Heir and ascend the throne of Astarkand.
Brief description of the world or location you created for this story:
Isolated by high mountains to the south and west, and the ocean to the east, the kingdom of Astarkand is located in a northern temperate zone with long, heavy winters and cooler summers. While vast tracts of forest still cover less accessible parts of kingdom, Astarkand is known more for its rich, rolling hills of farmland and several volcanos.
If we were to visit Astarkand as tourists, what would you recommend that we see or do there?
There is a lot to do in Astarkand! You can visit Lake Bleuet and sing with the mermaids, or camp in the giant’s ruins near Braskfut to view the firebirds as they perform their nightly dance. Climbing Mt. Brask is a suitably hazardous adventure to excite any adventurer! No one living now in Astarkand has ever seen the top because it’s covered year-round in clouds.

Be sure to pay your respects to the king at Hearthing Castle. If you’re very fortunate, he might even invite you to go boar hunting with him in the forests between Hearthing and Hardeburg.

Map of Astarkand

What dangers should we avoid in Astarkand?

Don’t go swimming in Lake Bleuet or the Limbler River! The water is extremely cold, and you can die from hypothermia, even in high summer.
Mermaids are always on the lookout for likely husbands. If you have a mishap at sea and a mermaid rescues you, men, be prepared to never see dry land again! Women, you’re on your own…
Is there a distinct or unusual type of food or meal that we might be served in Astarkand?
The head baker at Hearthing Castle makes an excellent pigeon pie, but you’ll have to ask him to remove the feet before he puts the pigeons in.
If you prefer haggis and mead instead, pay a visit to Earl Moggan! He’ll fix you up.
What types of weaponry or fighting styles are common in Astarkand?
Knights in Astarkand wear a combination of steel plate armor and chain mail, and prefer long, one-handed swords that they can swing while holding a shield. They also armor their horses.
Downsmen like Ernie Hay O’Dell rarely go toe-to-toe with an enemy, preferring to strike from ambush. They excel in martial arts, dueling, and archery, and wear only boiled leather as protection.
What types of vehicles, animals, technology, etc. are used to travel in or to Astarkand?
Kandians use horses, boats, and their own feet to get around. While they also use wagons for transporting goods, even the high roads maintained by the king are quite bumpy. Many bridges in Astarkand wash out every spring. Kandians have adapted by using ferries at major crossings.
Mermaids use selkies in their cities the way Kandians use horses. They also catch rides with dolphins and larger fish and water mammals when necessary.
The Perfect rarely use any conveyance other than their feet or their portals.
What types of plants, animals, or sentient races might we encounter in Astarkand that we don’t see on Earth?
a mermaid in Astarkand
Other sentient races you might encounter in Astarkand are: the Perfect (Kandians call them elves, but they aren’t); mermaids, possibly even giants.
White firebirdshave become very rare and found now only on Brask Mountain. Firebird feathers fluoresce when they’re exposed to fast-moving air, as when the firebirds chase moths at night. The resulting light can be painfully bright.

Fleuders are everywhere, and multiply like vermin. Fleuders look like very hairy, brownish-gold cacti on six stubby legs, and make a grinding sound when agitated. Their mouths are located on their underside between their legs. They also tend to shed, and some people are allergic to fleuder hair.

Fleuders eat decaying vegetation and prefer to live under or near the northern cabbage palm; a large clump-forming wild plant with cabbage-shaped tops with large leaves that shade from white through pink to purple as they age. In winter, the top of a cabbage palm sheds its loose outer leaves, leaving behind a tightly furled tulip-shaped center. Gardeners cultivate the cabbage palm for its beauty, but farmers try to keep it out of their fields.

While not living in Astarkand itself, but confined in a narrow mountain valley to the south, there is also a large, fire-breathing dragon.

Other creatures sometimes found in or near Astarkand: black squirrels, wolverines, dire wolves, and gar cats.

What role, if any, does magic or the supernatural play in the lives of people in Astarkand?  If there is magic, please give some examples of what it involves or how it’s used:
Most Kandians believe that magic is an elf-gift and cursed, but Woden’s priests do small magics such as summoning or contacting their master. They call their master Woden, but his real name is Vodan.
The Immortal Vodan can control the weather. He’s especially talented with ice and storms, but he can also create plagues. His lady-wife, Ashielle, is the ultimate green thumb. If it is possible, she can make a plant do it!  Vodan and Ashielle’s daughter Gunhild is a sorceress who shapeshifts. She is also adept at using and curing poisons, and crafts new creatures out of human and animal flesh.
Mermaids are believed to have magical powers, but they instead rely on the Dreamsender for provision and protection from Vodan’s terrible schemes. Their ability to be half fish in the water, and their uncanny voices and wild beauty are due to Gunhild’s unethical tinkering with their genes.
Gunhild is also to blame for the race of giants and for the creation of fleuders.
Is there any advanced or unusual technology in Astarkand?  If you haven’t described it already, please give some examples.
Vodan’s scrying bowl, which he uses to spy on Kandians, and the portals the Perfect use to transport themselves across long distances. Humans have difficulty seeing the permanent portals, although they can sometimes fall into them and be swept away. Most of the portals used in these stories are temporary.
Tell us about any sports, games, or activities that are available for entertainment in Astarkand.
Kandian men like to test each other’s mettle at tourneys with sword duels, wrestling, racing, and jousts, but they also enjoy dancing with the ladies, hunting with hawks or dogs, and most other medieval forms of entertainment. Everyone in Astarkand is fond of music! Troubadours and bards are welcomed into every tavern and house, from the humblest hovel to the king’s castle.
Are the days of the week and months of the year the same in Astarkand as on Earth? What holidays or special events are celebrated regularly there?
Astarkand’s calendar year is pretty close to our own, however they measure time differently, in New Kandian Reckoning (NKR) years instead of so many years A.D.
Kandians celebrate the turning of the seasons: the first blade of spring, the summer flowering, harvest, Yuletide, and the new year. They also throw parties when electing their mayors and city council, at weekly markets, and summer fairs. Depending on the social importance of the people involved, birthdays, weddings, and funerals can also be a cause for celebration.
Is there a particular religion practiced in Astarkand?  Please describe what it involves.
Bjorn Horsa and his men celebrate the religious holidays on the church calendar, but they weren’t raised in Kandia, where believers have been persecuted for five hundred years.
The average Kandian was raised sacrificing to Vodan on Woden’s Day; to Ashielle when they plant and harvest their fields, and when they sit down to eat; and to Gunhild when an unexplained death occurs. Everyone in Astarkand fears Woden’s priests, who demand harsh sacrifices, even human lives.
What is the political or government structure in Astarkand?  Who is in charge there at the moment, and what kind of leader is he/she?
Astarkand has been ruled since its founding by a succession of kings. The country began as a constitutional monarchy but has devolved to become feudal in structure.
Are there any other unique cultural practices that we should be aware of if we visit Astarkand?
It is okay to wipe your mouth on the tablecloth and to eat your ‘trencher’ if you’re a commoner (trenchers are made out of flatbread). Be sure to bring your own cutlery with you whatever your rank, because no one will lend you their personal set, and you might wind up eating with your fingers.
Has anything in your actual life inspired the locations, cultures, etc. in your book?
The rolling hills of Astarkand’s central provinces remind me of places I knew in my childhood; and the tangled scrub forest along the Joompsbette River reminds me of the peaty swamps and bottomland along streams in South Carolina.
Eating with your fingers is an acceptable practice in parts of Asia, just as it is sometimes in Astarkand.
What, if any, “hot-button” or controversial topics do you touch on in your book?
The ecological cost of deforestation, and the grim realities and abuses inherent in a feudal society where those at the top hold all the power and those at the bottom are powerless and at their mercy.

Author Autobiography:

Krystine Kercher is a former MK (missionary kid) from West Papua, Indonesia, where she grew up having lots of adventures with her friends in the expat and local communities. Now she writes fantasy and science fiction from a Christian perspective while sharing her love of adventure with her readers!

Krystine is also a mother to two children who like to read her books. She loves her tuxedo cat, Shelah, who is by turns naughty and affectionate. She also loves gardening, sewing, and creating artwork using a variety of media.

Where, and in what formats, can we purchase your book(s)? 

Find A Shadow On The Land (book 1) on Amazon,  Smashwords,  Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Inkbok.

Find King’s Ride (book 2) on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble,  iTunes, Kobo, and Inkbok.

Find Eiathan’s Heir (book 3) on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble,  iTunes, Kobo, and Inkbok.

Where can readers connect with you online? 

Check out my author website, and connect with me on Goodreads, Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube, and Twitter.

I hope you all enjoyed the trip to Astarkand.  Questions about the world or the book?  Ask them in the comments and the author will get back to you!  

Click here to read other posts in the Realm Explorers series.

Please join us again next Monday for a trip to the fantasy land of Otherworld, in Realm Explorers Part VII!
-Annie Douglass Lima

Are you an author who would like your world to appear on Realm Explorers?  Click here to download the instructions and interview form, or email me at [email protected] for more information.