Magic in the Five Villages

With Master of Plagues only a few short weeks away, it seemed like a good moment to drop a bit of extra lore from the world of Nicolas Lenoir, and specifically, the role magic plays in it.

Braeland, the country in which the series is set, is loosely based on early nineteenth century England. As such, the denizens of the Five Villages are outwardly skeptical of the supernatural. While the more backwater villages might hold on to a few superstitions, like avoiding cemeteries after nightfall, few would openly admit to believing in magic. The more cosmopolitan residents of Kennian, meanwhile, being a sophisticated and educated lot, would laugh outright at the suggestion that magic was anything more than children’s tales. And yet, there is a difference between what Braelishmen are prepared to acknowledge and what they feel in their bones.

Most Braelish harbour a deep suspicion of the Adali, a race of foreigners whose ways are alien and unfathomable. Much of this suspicion stems from the Adali’s reputation for dabbling in the occult. The Adali candidly profess their belief in the supernatural, including ghosts, demons, and magic — including its darkest form, known in their tongue as khekra — and they credit the latter with their astonishing healing abilities. As a result, even though Adali medicine is renowned for being far more effective than conventional medicine, few Braelish would dare seek the services of an Adali witchdoctor. In other words, while it might be deeply unfashionable to believe in magic, the Braelish aren’t taking any chances.

So, is magic real?

Curious minds like Nicolas Lenoir have cause to wonder. Certainly, Lenoir can attest to the fact that some aspects of the occult are real — terrifyingly so. The Darkwalker, a supernatural being of unknown origin, spent nearly ten years hunting him. Little is known about the Darkwalker — where it comes from, whom it serves, whether it is angel or demon or something else. The Adali have fragments of legends. Other cultures probably have tales of their own, should anyone go seeking. Even the Braelish must have their myths, buried somewhere under the layers of time, for the Darkwalker does not discriminate; all those who have wronged the dead will face his vengeance. If such tales exist, they are lost to history. But Lenoir doesn’t need tales to convince him — he’s seen the spirit with his own eyes.

But does believing in a vengeful spirit — or, for that matter, God — necessarily mean that one must believe in magic too? Lenior, for one, is not sure.

Adali soothsayers like Merden certainly believe; indeed, they claim to wield it. For Merden, magic is like any other natural force, wind or rain or sunshine. Evidence of it is everywhere, for those who have eyes to see, and it can be harnessed by those who know how. That the Braelish choose to remain willfully blind to these arts, even as they believe in a god they cannot hear or see, is a mystery Merden struggles to understand. Moreover, he resents that only the most backward of Braelish peasants share his beliefs, for he considers himself a man of culture and learning. Lenoir’s comparative open-mindedness is a therefore comfort to him — not to mention a convenient source of superiority.

Lenoir cannot help but be open-minded, having bumped up against the supernatural before. He knows it will happen again, perhaps soon. Until then, he is determined to view the matter with an inspector’s eye, weighing the evidence until he knows for sure.

If the series continues, he’ll have plenty of evidence to consider…

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