Meljean Brook On Steampunk Romance And The Secret History Of Iceland

Meljean Brook's Iron Seas series has us so enthralled that the author not only won a Seal of Excellence Award for the series starter The Iron Duke, but earned a second SOE win for the most recent Iron Seas book, Riveted. This story brings hero and heroine David and Annika to frigid Iceland order to solve the mystery of Annika's missing sister and David's own existence. Today, the author tells us why she loves writing steampunk romance and why (and how) she rewrote Iceland's intriguing history for this truly remarkable tale. 

One of the reasons I love writing a steampunk romance series like the Iron Seas is that I can create an alternate history that affects the entire world. The steampunk that we’re most familiar with features a version of Victorian England or the wild, wild American West — two settings that I personally adore — but the genre definitely isn’t limited to those locations.

When I built the world of the Iron Seas, one thing that I kept in mind was the idea of making the world bigger. At the heart of steampunk lies a spirit of adventure, exploration, and invention — and I wanted to create a world that allowed me to give readers something new to discover with every story. I wanted to create a world in which characters could have those incredible adventures while they explore new territories (and, of course, fall in love.)

So why did I choose Iceland as the next stop in the Iron Seas? Well, it was all because of the trolls.

***

What with one thing and another, the history of Iceland progressed very much as it did in our world. Norsemen came and went, as did the Black Death. The Danish and the Norwegians staked their claims on the island…up until the early 16th Century, when the Horde’s zombie plague overran Denmark. Overwhelmed with refugees from Eastern Europe, Norway withdrew from Iceland and concentrated their efforts on maintaining control of their own shores.

Whilst many of the poor Danish folk were chomping away on their neighbors, and the Hapsburgs were valiantly defending the wall that they’d built to hold back the Horde’s advancing armies, the people of the Low Countries — including the Count of Holland — got the heck out of Europe. Along with the Portuguese, they were among the first to settle in the Americas.

The Dutch didn’t limit themselves to the Americas, however, and seized the opportunity to claim Iceland. From there, they maintained a strategic position in the northern Atlantic waters, and for a hundred years, the town of Smoke Cove served as an important port between Scandinavia and the New World. During that same century, those Europeans and Africans who were lucky managed to leave their homes for the New World; the unlucky ones were infected by the zombie nanoagent infection; and those who were very unlucky boarded an English ship bound for Ireland (but that is another story.)

Then, as people sometimes do, everyone in the New World panicked.

***

“Writing this news is impossible. How can I, when my fingers tremble so and my heart wails? England is lost! She is lost! O, so terrible is my grief, I will not survive this night!” – John, Marquess of Halifax, who had fled England for the New World three months earlier because it was the cracking thing to do that summer, and after receiving the shocking report of the Horde’s controlling towers and everyone in England falling under their control, wrote a few trembling letters, then spent the rest of the evening trying to determine a) how many nobles stood between him and the throne, and b) how many of them were in Manhattan City and could be easily dispatched.

“Our worst fears are confirmed. Our ships have sighted the Horde’s war machines and soldiers in Porto. Those soulless creatures are everywhere…and the zombies have spread across the continent, too.”  – Captain di Silva, a Lusitanian naval officer who had never actually faced a Horde soldier or tested whether they were truly soulless, but was nevertheless happy to repeat what everyone believed, anyway.

***

It’s almost impossible to say which terrified the New Worlders more: the report of England’s fall or the arrival of the Horde (and the zombies) on Europe’s western shore—

No, that’s wrong. It’s quite possible to say. In Manhattan City, the English bemoaned the fall of England. Everyone else in the northern American continent cried over Europe (especially the native populations, who’d been holding out hope that the whites would eventually sail back home.) Most of the people in the southern continent didn’t care. The Liberé wanted the French to release them from their Obligation, and were becoming increasingly rebellious when their indentured servitude never ended; meanwhile, the people of the Far Maghreb clucked their tongues and shook their heads, because their homelands had been overrun by the Horde and zombies for over a century — and then they went back to building their universities.

But pretty much everyone agreed that the Horde wouldn’t stop at the western shores of Europe and Africa, and that it was only a matter of time before the Horde’s navy crossed the Atlantic and their armies tried to take over the Americas. So they all did what anyone in that situation would do: they built giant robots.

“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” – from “Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, who never lived in this alternate version of the world (neither did Byron. Sorry, ladies!) But Shelley obviously could have been a New Worlder, because the idea is the same. The giant robots waited and waited, but the Horde never came, and eventually they fell to ruin.

***

They built giant sentinels on Iceland, too. Situated as it is, the great military minds of the New World determined that the island could serve as a base and a first line of defense if the Horde began to sail across the Atlantic. An alliance was formed between the Dutch, Irish, Portuguese, and the French. Great ironships were built and patrolled the ocean waters.

After a while, the inevitable happened: giant sharks began sinking the ironships. Airships were invented and proved to be faster — and better for scouting — than ironship or sailing ships. The alliance fell to ruin along with the sentinels. The defense outposts in Iceland were slowly abandoned.

Then in 1783, a volcanic eruption ejected tons of ash into the air, poisoning and killing most of the livestock and people in Iceland. Aside from a few hardy outliers and fishing villages, the island was completely uninhabited for the next hundred years.

Except…

***

Everyone knows the stories about Iceland. Some of them are firsthand.

If you can find a whaler and buy him a pint, he’ll tell you what he saw. It wasn’t a bear, he’ll say, even though its head was surrounded by white fur. Even though it could walk on its hind legs, it was far too big to be a bear. It belched and roared, and the ground trembled beneath its feet.

Some say that the great eruption opened up a door to the Underworld, and all of the creatures that your old grandmother warned you about came through: the witches and the trolls and the little folk that live underground and steal your shoes.

The fishermen will say that the witches will slip into their beds at night, and when they wake in the morning, their exhaustion keeps them from a day’s catch. They say that the cries of stolen babies sometimes echo through the highlands.

That’s what they say about Iceland.

And they aren’t wrong. There really are trolls in Iceland. But those trolls aren’t what the New Worlders think they are.

So of course I had to write a book about them. 

Interested in learning more about the Iron Seas? You can pick up the entire series, including the most recent, Riveted, available in stores now. For more steampunk romance visit our Everything Paranormal & Urban Fantasy Page.

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