No one really knows where the SootEaters came from.
Some say that they were convicts, escaped from the slagheaps and cinderwastes of the volcano mines. Others say that they were once peaceful woodfarmers and treeweavers, hunted down and enslaved by the first Bosses. Whatever you believed, the truth was that the forests and greenlands of the kingdom of Ph'ar now lay ruined and desolate. All of it cut down, harvested and tinned by the SootEaters and their greedgraspy Bosses.
Their dark factory town lay in a desolate valley, spewing smoke and soot high into the air, smearing all in the deathblack slurry that gave them their name. Driven on by the Bosses, searchers were sent out to find new greenplace or lushvalley; fresh lands to gorge upon. So in time the SootEaters grew and expanded their factories, which in turn needed ever more land and ever more slaves to feed them.
Then something happened which changed the course of their world forever. A violent rainstorm fell from a cloudless sky. The curse of the Rain King had come.
Tornadoes howled through the valley. Hard rain washed away the choking dust, turning it to murderous mud. A flood engulfed the town, drowning it beneath dark, brooding waters. The SootEaters fought the rising waters in desperate attempts to stay afloat. But there was no escape. The curse of the Rain King brought destruction to them all. And so it was at that place and time that the SootEaters met their end.
Ph'ar is a troubled place. The raincurse of the King brought terrible storms and floods and now the land has gone. All that remains are isolated groups of people struggling to survive the dangerous farwaters.
In a flooded valley floats BarjzTown, built centuries ago by the first survivors of the floods. Long, thin barjzs, deep scows, flat rafts, huge ships and tiny skiffs; they have been dragged from the farwaters and hobbled together until the town looks more like a ship’s graveyard than a community of living, breathing people. And what people they are!
The first survivors decided that they should be treated better than anyone else. A caste system developed, based on the rain. The AnkleHighs, the top of the watercastes, were the oldest and richest families. Then came the KneeHighs, who were mostly bankers and scribes. Next were the Waders, who were teachers and market traders and then the Swimmers, the artists, the writers and craftspeople.
The Drujzurz were barely ever mentioned at all. After all, they were just slaves, put on the water to serve everyone else. They were dirty. Unwholesome. Untouchable. Things had been that way for uncounted rainyears and showed no signs of changing. Until now...
Ezme is a foundling, a drek, if you want to be really nasty about it. She has no idea where she came from, only that she was taken from a basket floating on the farwaters. Because she wasn't born on BarjzTown, she has no caste, no place. Raised as the young apprentice to the town Maijz, keeper of the ancient bookrolls, one day Ezme discovers startling powers and decides to help the Drujzers.
All the while, a sinister SootEater schemes to restore his fortunes and raise the old FactoryTown from the depths. He wants to create a monster TinShip to use to trawl and tin the new waterworld.
Esme sacrifices everything to save her family, her friends and her entire community and in doing so melts the heart of the angry Rain King, who breaks the curse and ends the rain.
About Peter Summers
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Published June 30, 2012
Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature & Fiction.