Risingshadow has an opportunity to feature a guest post by Michael Johnston, who is the author of The Amber Throne series: Soleri (2017) and Silence of the Soleri (Feb 16, 2020). In this guest post, the author tells about the history of the Soleri empire.
Michael Johnston was born in 1973 in Cleveland, Ohio. As a child and a teen he was an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy. He studied architecture and ancient history at Lehigh University and during a lecture on the history of ancient Egypt, the seed of an idea was born. He earned a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University, graduating at the top of his class. Michael worked as an architect in New York City before moving to Los Angeles. Sparked by the change of locale, a visit to the desert, and his growing dissatisfaction with the architectural industry, he sought a way to merge his interests in architecture and history with his love of fantasy. By day he worked as an architect, but by night he wrote and researched an epic fantasy novel inspired by the history of ancient Egypt and the tragic story of King Lear. After working this way for several years, he shut down his successful architecture practice and resolved to write full time. He now lives and writes in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.
The Amber Throne #1
by Michael Johnston
The first in a new epic fantasy series inspired by ancient Egyptian history and King Lear
The ruling family of the Soleri Empire has been in power longer than even the calendars that stretch back 2,826 years. Those records tell a history of conquest and domination by a people descended from gods, older than anything in the known world. No living person has seen them for centuries, yet their grip on their four subjugate kingdoms remains tighter than ever.
GUEST POST BY MICHAEL JOHNSTON
The history of the Soleri empire, which is really just the backdrop for my Amber Throne novels (Soleri and Silence of the Soleri), got its start in ancient Egypt. For decades, certain aspects of that history have fascinated me. Here’s a favorite example: Egyptians of the New Kingdom visited the pyramids of the Old Kingdom to marvel at what their ancestors were built. Two thousand years ago, these structures were already ancient. Imagine that! They used to visit their own monuments. The Egyptians had been around for so long that parts of their own civilization were ancient to them. To give us a point of reference, let’s recall the timeline and remember that the period elapsed between the time of the pyramids and the reign of Cleopatra is (very) roughly equivalent to gap in time between Cleopatra and our modern world.
I love that idea. In short, those giant pyramids in the sand might have carry as much mystery and wonder for the Egyptians of 10 BCE as they do for any tourist who visits them today. So what does that mean? Well, it means that Egyptian society was so old that parts of it were already ancient when the New Kingdom came along. They were around long enough to have their dark ages. Growing up in a country that is only a few hundred years old, I can’t help but be fascinated by that sort of thing. Three thousand years is nothing to sneeze at! So I think it’s worth standing back and considering the idea of what I will call an eternal civilization, one that feels as if it has always existed and believes that it always will. That idea stuck with me, and it was exactly the sort of history and culture I wanted to explore in the Amber Throne.
First off, I decided to look at ancient Egypt as a concept, or maybe just some sort of speculation. Egypt represented the civilization that thought it would never end. Even the Roman Empire was short by comparison. So I decided to write about a civilization that was so ancient that it had forgotten much of its own history. Its origin story had been written and rewritten so many times that the truth behind it had been lost a thousand times over.
The Amber Throne novels are about a civilization ruled by a family of seemingly immortal god-like entities that no one has seen in centuries. They are hidden like their history, and they live behind a fortification called the Shroud Wall. This wall was more than just a physical barrier. It was a wall that kept the people outside of it from having any real knowledge of the monarchs that hid behind it. The Soleri had always ruled the empire and they always would rule the empire. No one questions the eternal civilization. Everything is ritual, but no one recalls the meaning behind these rituals. Everything is just an act. The empire of the Soleri is still going through the motions, pretending it is virulent and strong when all the life has already poured out of it (if you are starting to think the Soleri empire might be a metaphor for our own, you are on the right track but that’s a different essay).
At one point in the first book, Soleri, there is a piece of dialogue that encapsulates this idea. This is what it says: This city (the Soleri capital) has forgotten more history than I can recall. It has witnessed the lives of more men, great and small, than I could ever hold in my head.
Those sentences sum up a lot of the book and history that serves as its backbone. As the Amber Throne novels progress, we delve into that history. Like peeling away the skins of an onion, we have to strip away the layers of history, all the lies that were placed one on top of the other until we can finally see the truth at the heart of the empire and the lie behind the eternal civilization.
In Soleri, we take apart the history of the empire and find something entirely unexpected inside. If I went into any detail, I’d ruin the story. But rest assured, there is a surprise and great lie at the heart of the empire. The eternal civilization doesn’t really exist. It is itself a fiction. The Amber Throne novels are about a society that has come to believe its own lies. At least until a few people start to find out the truth behind the empire. That’s what happens in the novel. That’s the moment when things get interesting, but I’ll leave it to the reader to discover what actually hides behind the Shroud Wall and what secrets lie behind the history of the Soleri.