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City of Scars: Background and Setting

Time to talk about my next book, City of Scars.

City of Scars is Book One of The Skullborn Trilogy, an epic fantasy set in the aftermath of a massive war that devastated the world of Malzaria.  While I’ve shown off a few excerpts and talked a lot about the process of re-writing the book, I haven’t said much about the story itself, so…here we go.



The War

The Skullborn Trilogy is set on the war-torn world of Malzaria, a Medieval-like place filled with formidable magic, once-proud Empires, strange races and a rich history.   Powerful royalty and merchant classes preside over the workers and farmers of the land, but what had once been a somewhat picturesque agrarian society was completely thrown on its ear with the coming of the Rift War.

The rival Empires of Jlantria, Den’nar and Gallador had long been locked in conflict, though very little of their struggle had resulted in open warfare – in fact, the three Empires had managed to avoid any major military campaigns for nearly four decades when Carastena Vlagoth launched her attack.

A mysterious figure rising out of obscurity, Vlagoth (better known as the Blood Queen) somehow managed to unite the isolated non-human enemies of the three Empires and place them under her control: the barbaric Tuscars, the cruel giants called the Voss, and the bizarre and telepathic Arkan all rallied beneath her common banner.  Leading her armies from the twisted fortress-tower of Chul Gaerog, the Blood Queen launched a devastating and bloody campaign which forced Jlantria and Den’nar to put aside their differences in order to repel her brutal assault.  The Empire of Gallador, true to its nefarious form, instead joined forces with Vlagoth and worked with the Voss to force Jlantria and Den’nar to fight a war on two fronts.

Tens of thousands of lives were lost in the ten-year conflict.  Cities were leveled, or in some cases swallowed into the earth.  Dark magic scoured the landscape and blasted once fertile regions to ruin.  Vile war machines filled the skies with caustic smoke.

At last, when an arcane Vossian device backfired and inadvertently reduced the traitorous Empire of Gallador to ruins, the humans of Jlantria and Den’nar saw their chance and assaulted Chul Gaerog.  While the battle outside the dark citadel has become legendary, it was the accidental discovery of a secret entrance to the tower that led to Vlagoth’s death and the end of the war.  Without the Blood Queen’s guidance her forces withdrew, and the Empires were left to pick up the pieces.


After the War

Naturally such a long and brutal campaign wouldn’t be easy to recover from, and thirty years after the conflict the Empires are still trying to put things back together.  With their resources severely depleted there was little Jlantria or Den’nar could do to prevent some of their more powerful cities from declaring independence, or else from falling under the control of the powerful crime cartels who’d grown prosperous by moving black market magic and weapons during the war.  While both Empires retained control over a good deal of their territories their level of power and influence would never fully recover, and the era of the city-states began.

Most of the city-states are controlled by the crime cartels, most notably the Black Guild (an older group led by a mysterious figure known as the Iron Count) and the Phage (a smaller, more radical band of loosely interconnected criminal cells).  Even those city-states not controlled by the cartels are greatly influenced by them, while others fall under the dominion of the powerful Church of Corvinia.  Control of some of the weaker city-states continues to shift back and forth between the Empires and the cartels, often leaving the citizens confused and afraid.

Meanwhile, the Tuscars still roam the wilderness and launch invasions on Jlantrian cities from the dread arctic wastes called The Skull of the World, while the Voss and Arkan continue to plot the destruction of humankind from their hidden subterranean redoubts.  Mad human cultists called the Chul work in secret to continue the Blood Queen’s legacy, and arcane secrets and twisted horrors in once-fertile places now corrupted by dark magic – deadly regions like the Bonelands, the Ravenwood and the Heartfang Wastes – serve as temptation for brave and foolhardy explorers and adventurers looking to find their fortunes.

It is a tenuous time.  The world has yet to heal from the damage wrought by the Blood Queen, and everyone lives on the edge of fear.




One of the most hotly contested city-states is Ebonmark, a struggling metropolis located at the nexus of the old boundaries between Jlantria, Den’nar and what was once Gallador.  In spite of the city’s reins of control shifting back and forth between the Empires, Ebonmark has become the central staging point for the brutal crime war between the Black Guild and the Phage, each of which possesses a considerable hold on the city’s crime markets.

As City of Scars opens, Ebonmark has just recently reverted to Jlantrian control, and tensions between the crime cartels has risen to such a level that all-out war is about to break out in the city.  Colonel Blackhall, the new Grand Marshall of Ebonmark, is tasked with maintaining control, and he and his aides (mercenary Marros Slayne and Veilwarden Toran Gess) must also secretly acquire a rare artifact from one of the cartels on their Empress’s behalf.

To further complicate matters, the Black Guild has recently hired mercenary Azander Dane, a fallen Jlantrian knight, to hunt down a woman named Ijanna Tiavorkan.  Ijanna is better known as the Dream Witch, a powerful Bloodspeaker desperately sought after by both of the crime guilds for her possible connection to the Blood Queen and the still-standing ruins of Chul Gaerog.

And that is where our story begins.


Be sure to check out my Guild of Dreams post later this week where I’ll discuss how magic works on Malzaria (and explain what the heck Veilwardens and Bloodspeakers are), and then be back here in a couple of weeks when I go into more detail on the creatures and characters of City of Scars.

(Images used above are borrowed from the internet.)


  1. Blood Skies: The Characters and Creatures of CITY OF SCARS - [...] on hard times in the wake of the decade-long Rift War.  Thus far I’ve blogged about the setting and the magic system. …
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