Novel set in New York State
Indian Inspiration Behind The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman
9th January 2022
To celebrate the much anticipated publication of Akshaya Raman’s debut Indian-inspired YA fantasy novel, The Ivory Key, we’re thrilled to welcome Akshaya to the TripFiction blog to tell us all about the beautiful landscape, architecture and culture that inspired her writing.
World building is one of my favourite parts of writing fantasy, and with it comes another element I loved: research. The Ivory Key isn’t a historical fantasy, but I loved looking to the real world and India’s vast cultural heritage when creating the country of Ashoka. I didn’t base Ashoka solely on any specific time period or regime. I roughly stuck to the technology of the 17th and early 18th centuries, but I also looked at earlier time periods especially when it came to architecture like temples and forts, many of which were constructed centuries earlier—and many of which are still standing today.
India is such a diverse country with many different languages, art forms, traditions, and celebrations. I started by researching several different geographical regions such as the Thar Desert, the Western Ghats, and the Himalayan Foothills. I loved discovering the flora and fauna native to these lands, but I was actually more curious about the groups of people who settled there because the regional food, the crafted wares, the motifs printed on textiles, and even martial arts styles and weapons are all so unique and specific to the cultures that sprung up in each area. And while the book doesn’t directly follow the cultural or mythological traditions of any one region or state, it was important for me to acknowledge and ensure those differences were preserved in the fictional land of Ashoka.
But there was one thing I did pull from a specific region and that was the way the temples look. The temples in the book are largely inspired by Dravidian architecture which originates in South India where my family is from. Growing up, I’d visit my family in India, and my grandmother would take me to the Parthasarathy Temple in Chennai. Every time we went, I would look up at the intricate gopuram towers looming above me, staring awe-struck at beautiful works of art covered with statues of gods and goddesses. The towers are pyramid shaped with latched doors built into each floor, and I remember being so curious about what was up there, letting my imagination conjure up gateways to magical realms filled with mythological heroes and monsters. It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned that this temple (like many others in India) had been built over a thousand years earlier, and that those towers were actually functional, used as watchtowers to protect against enemy attacks or lit with lanterns during festival times. Temples play a large role in the siblings’ quest for the Ivory Key, and I really loved getting to include this element of South Indian culture.
And it’s not just temples that have lasted the test of time. Another big architectural inspiration was the Golconda Fort located near Hyderabad. I used this fort as the starting point for the Dvar Fort, which is where a lot of the book takes place. In the world of The Ivory Key, magic is a physical resource that’s mined and put into objects, and the single quarry beneath the Dvar Fort holds the last of this precious resource.
Similarly, the Kollur Mine (where many world-famous diamonds were found) was located near the Golconda Fort. It was located right at the hub of the diamond trade, so diamonds were often taken there for safekeeping, especially because the Golconda Fort had a sophisticated acoustic alarm system. If a guard heard an enemy approach, they would stand beneath a dome at the entrance courtyard and clap. This dome had special indentations which made the sound echo, and the architects understood the physics of how sound traveled so well that they were able to not only amplify the sound through arches connected to the courtyard, but angle other buildings in the fort complex in such a way that they were able to direct the sound up toward the highest point of the Fort over half a mile away and warn the King of danger. While I didn’t borrow this alarm system for The Ivory Key, I did keep one acoustic element. There’s a moment where Vira, the maharani of Ashoka, listens in on an interrogation happening in a chamber below her. In reality, that would have been because of science, but in Ashoka it’s because the tiles are laced with magic.
I loved getting to infuse some Indian history into the world the four siblings get to explore as they go on their quest to find the mythical Ivory Key, and I hope readers enjoy their journey through Ashoka as much as I loved writing it!
Akshaya Raman fell in love with writing when she wrote her first story at the age of ten. Though she graduated from UC Davis with a degree in biology, she gave up pursuing a career in science to write books. She is a co-founder and contributor to Writer’s Block Party, a group blog about writing and publishing, and has served on the planning teams of several book festivals. She lives in the Bay Area with an actual scaredy cat, and in her free time she enjoys baking, travelling and watching too much reality TV. Find more information about Akshaya and her books at https://akshayaraman.com/.
The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman is the first in an exciting duology published by Hot Key Books, 2022
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