Over on Pinterest, I've been keeping a pin board full of images that inspire and capture the spirit of the Scorched Continent series. With book one, Steal the Sky, coming out January 5th, I plan to explore some of these images here and explain what they mean to the world and the characters which inhabit it.
As the name implies, the Scorched Continent is an inhospitable place. The continent itself is a about half the size of Australia, and was formed in a similar method to Hawaii - a mantle of the planet's crust has been moving over a geological hotspot/upwelling. The Scorched's hotspot is much, much larger than the one that formed (and continues to form) Hawaii, and the crust is moving slower than it is here on planet Earth, so instead of a chain of islands the hotspot created a landmass of smashed together volcanoes that the locals refer to as firemounts. The crustal plate's primary direction is west with a slight tick toward the south (the hotspot itself is stationary) making the south west area of the continent mostly dormant while the far north east is beset by periodic eruptions.
But rock isn't the only thing being pushed out of the firemounts. Selium gas is dispersed all throughout the crust of the continent, but it's primarily trapped in minuscule amounts within stone. The rock cycle of the firemounts allows the gas to be released, sometimes creating large pockets that well up alongside magma chambers. Intrepid miners have discovered that the safest and most reliable way of capturing the gas is to dig into the periphery of firemount plugs and attach reinforced leather pipes to the holes. Blow outs are common, and the firemounts with the most active selium production capabilities are, of course, also the most active in explode-your-face-off capabilities.
So why bother going through such a dangerous process? In the world of the Scorched, selium is a precious commodity. It has lift capabilities that'd make helium blush, and can be sensed and manipulated by the world's magic users, called sel-sensitives. Its ability to generate lift has given the merchant-minded Valathean empire a fleet of airships capable of dominating in both trade and war.
Below is a snippet from Steal the Sky about the firemounts. In this scene, Detan Honding is looking out from the city of Aransa to the city's accompanying firemount:
Glittering black sands reached across the distance between Aransa and the Fireline Ridge, the firemount they called Smokestack spearing straight up through the center of the ridge, belching soot and ash. The winds were in their favor today, and so the greasy plume drifted off to the desolate south instead of laying a film of grime over all Aransa.
Blasted dangerous place to stick a city.
From this far away, the glint of metal holding leather-skinned pipes to the Smokestack’s back was the only evidence of the firemount’s rich selium production. Dangerous or not, there’d be folk settled here until the sel was gone. Or until the whole damned place blew.