There are so many ways to build worlds in a story. Personally, I love JY Yang’s method, which is to drop you into the story at a crucial point, and then trust you to catch up with the mechanics of the world as you read. Because Yang has a precise control of their world, it creates a wonderful feeling of expansion as you read, because you know that just around the corner characters are living their lives, completely separate from the trials of the protagonists. We learn about subterfuge and uprisings, religious rivalries and government schisms, in exactly the way the characters do: through scraps of conversation, significant glances, official memos. There are no infodumps, so you learn the world through the characters actions and reactions.
Now, having said all of that, I know that some people are more comfortable with a primer before embarking on a new fantasy world. And since the world of the Tensorate series is vast and full of wonders, there are plenty of vital facts to share.
What’s a Tensorate?
Tensors are meticulously trained adepts who manipulate the Slack, and the Tensorate are the guild of Tensors who work for the state to uphold the Protectorate and an uneasy status quo with the Protector.
What is the Protector Protecting?
The Protector protects the Protectorate! Essentially a vast empire sprawling across the land of Ea, the Protectorate encompasses regions including Kaunjin, Tesugi, and the Gusai Desert, and neighbors the nations of Gaur Antam and Tiguman. More nebulous is the Protectorate’s relationship with Nam Min, which was only “annexed” a few decades before the start of the series and Katau Kebang, which is technically independent…as long as they pay taxes to the Protector. Some cities, like Chengbee, are fully controlled by the Tensorate, while others, like the desert city of Batenaar, host large factions of Machinists. You can learn more about the world of the Tensorate here.
Sounds great. What’s the Slack?
The Slack is the true reality under the reality that we can see. Everyone and everything is part of the Slack, which is based in five energies: gravitational, kinetic, thermal, electromagnetic, and biochemical. These are represented by the Five Natures of the Slack: earth, water, fire, metal, and forest, which can each be used in different ways. The Slack can be weaponized, because once a Tensor knows how to manipulate it, they can gather energy from one part of it to use against a person or animal. Water and fire are both especially useful in this regard, while forest can be used to heal people who have been injured. As there is a fair amount of flow between people’s physical forms and their spiritual existences, Tensors can look at people in the Slack in order to pinpoint injuries and focus their healing abilities. This manipulation is called “slackcraft” or “tensing.”
The Slack is all, and each person’s Fate is bound into it…which becomes even more important when one of the characters is revealed to be a prophet. Can the threads of Fate ever be unwoven? Is the future written in stone or in water? This is one of the questions at the heart of the books, as a pair of Tensors grapple with their roles in history.
OK, I Understand the Slack! But is there Tech?
Funny you should ask! One of the biggest conflicts in the series, particularly in The Black Tides of Heaven, is between the traditional Tensorate and the upstart Machinists, engineers who want civilization to rely more on mechanical innovations and physical weaponry (e.g. sunballs—small, handheld incendiaries) rather than Slack manipulation.
You said Something about a Pair of Emotionally-Compromised Tensors…?
Yes! Those would be your main characters, the twins Akeha and Mokoya. They technically shouldn’t exist…but let me back up. Their mother is Lady Sanao Hekate, The Protector. She is the utter, inviolable, all-powerful ruler of Ea, but even she is subject to Fate; when she enters into a blood oath with the Grand Monastery, she is as bound to fulfill it as any mere civilian. She owes the Monastery a child, but she wants to keep her youngest daughter by her side, so, with some careful Slack manipulation, she is able to bear a child in order to fulfill the oath: Mokoya. But unexpectedly, Akeha comes, too. The twins are packed off to the Monastery, but the Protector never lets Akeha forget that they’re an unplanned spare.
The twins’ lives tangle together at some points, and diverge at others, and they soon realize that Mokoya has been born with the gift/curse of prophecy, which brings everyone even closer to the question: are we all bound to Fate? When Mokoya has a vision of a young Gauri becoming the next Head Abbot, that brings a kid named Thennjay into their life. When Akeha runs into a rebel named Yongcheow, they’re introduced to the Machinist rebellion.
You Keep Saying “They!”
Yes! In the Protectorate, people may be born with sensitivity to the Slack, but they’re not born with a defined gender. As they come of age, people feel a pull toward a more male of female presentation, and undergo gender confirmation ceremonies and therapy as they enter adulthood. Since these decisions are vital to their individual personalities and paths, I don’t want to spoil you on each character’s choice.
Humans are Cool and All, But I Like Fantastic Beasts in My Fantasy
So do I! In The Red Threads of Fortune you will meet a PACK OF RAPTORS, which is exactly as cool as you suspect. The PACK OF RAPTORS are used in a hunt for Naga—giant dragon/bird creatures that soar through the air, literally blotting out the sun, and occasionally swooping down on unsuspecting villages. There are rumors of an impossibly large Naga, in fact…
Wow! This is a lot!
Yes! And I have not even scratched the surface of this world. We didn’t even get into soul-grafting, for instance. Or what happens when you fold the Slack. Or the Quarterlander named Rider, who is not as they seem… and once you’ve gotten to know all of that, I’m happy to say that two more novellas in the Tensorate Series, The Descent of Monsters and To Ascend to Godhood, will be available in 2018.