Goats whose milk spins spider-silk. Mice that grow human ears. Plants that have been altered to glow in the dark. Even though all of it has happened—here, in our world—it still sounds like science fiction to most of us.
To me, it also sounds a little bit like magic.
It was that feeling, that ambiguity between the cutting edge of weird science and the stuff of fantasy, that got me thinking about the story that would become The Sheltered City. It’s a story that could very easily take place on some futuristic version of Earth: the domed city, the mutant outcasts, the post-apocalyptic landscape. But this landscape hasn’t been destroyed by nuclear warfare or pandemics, but by dragons who are a little of both. Except of course, they’re alive—and hungry.
So why dragons instead of nuclear bombs or meteor strikes? Well, dragons are awesome, of course, in both senses of the word, and I’m not going to pretend that didn’t have anything to do with it! What’s more awe-inspiring than some winged malignant thing casting its enormous shadow on the world? But they’re also a pretty neat symbol for forces that we don’t understand. Off the edge of the map is where There Be Dragons, after all.
Maybe that’s what makes things sound like magic: their strangeness, their quality of being off the map that we’re used to. Of course, our wonders can be explained in a way dragons can’t be. If I wanted to, I could go and look up everything there is to know about our world’s floating cities of steel (aircraft carriers) or the tiny familiars in our pockets that can access encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge (smartphones).
Amon, the main character of The Sheltered City, doesn’t quite have that option with the threats that he faces. There’s no such thing as a quick Wikipedia check for him; the world he lives in barely has any of its books left after the dragons came, let alone libraries. Although, of course, he does uncover some of the mysteries of his world. Like what keeps the Last City sheltered from the dragons, and what his own connection is to those massive, eldritch monsters.
Amon might live in a world full of magic…but then, in a sense, so do all of us. What do you find magical about the world you live in?
Amon Vraja, last of the halfdead, tries to stay out of sight. His kind, twisted by the gift that grants them superhuman strength, are loathed and shunned. Under the enchanted leaves of the Last City, ruled by imperious elves whose love of beauty leaves little room for his ugliness, he’s not much more than the ghost of a dragon-haunted past.
When the young, headstrong elf-lord Caedian takes an interest in Amon, however, Amon’s days in the shadows may be over. Caedian needs Amon to find Caedian’s missing twin, and a halfdead brothel guard can’t just refuse an elf’s desires. Throughout the search, Caedian and Amon rely on each other’s strength and generosity, and Amon is struck by an impossible yearning for his elvish patron.
As they peel away layers of deceit and spiral closer to one another, they also near the horrifying truth of the elves’ protection. And when they discover it, they’ll face a choice: step outside the shelter of the world’s last city, or die where they stand.