Welcome to Queen’s Book Asylum’s (slightly late) tour stop for Merchants of Knowledge and Magic, organized by Escapist Book Tours. We sat down to chat with Erika McCorkle about her epic fantasy debut, the first book in a series of interconnected novels comprising the Merchants of the Pentagonal Dominion series.
Merchants of Knowledge and Magic follows the adventure of Calinthe, an intersex dragonfly-person fighting against an oppressive matriarchy.
Read on to find out more and don’t forget to check the other awesome reviewers on tour!
Erika McCorkle is an author, avid world-builder, and consumer of all things fantasy, whether that be books, video games, or anime. Her debut novel, Merchants of Knowledge and Magic, will be available on April 8th, 2022, from Shadow Spark Publishing. You can find her on Twitter @KiraoftheWind1, instagram @kira_of_the_wind, and TikTok as kiraofthewind. Her website is at www.authormccorkle.com
Connect with Erika McCorkle
“My secret would plunge the world into chaos.” “How much is it worth?”
Calinthe is an asexual dragonfly-person who was sent on a mission to find two missing men. She learns one of the men is from a species thought to be extinct, who had the misfortune of being captured in a matriarchal society where all non-women are enslaved. Though she maintains a disguise with help from her companion’s illusions, Calinthe is actually intersex. If her secret were to be discovered by the matriarchy, she would be enslaved as well.
Merchants of Knowledge and Magic is a standalone epic rainbow fantasy novel featuring aroace friendships, a religion that forbids money, clever use of magic, and a fantastical world inhabited by nonhumans. It is the first book in the Merchants of the Pentagonal Dominion trilogy, three standalones which take place concurrently in the same world, but which can be read in any order.
Hi, Erika, and welcome to the Asylum! We’re honored to have you here. Given we have your author bio, can you start us off by introducing yourself in your mc’s voice?
I’ll answer in Calinthe’s voice. Hers is fairly close to mine already, just with a touch more arrogance than I generally show publicly, so excuse me if I sound brash here. *ahem* “I am Erika McCorkle, a hybrid human and vampire, blood bank lab technician and author of fantasy novels. It is my holy duty to inform the fantastical-minded people of Terra about the Pentagonal Dominion. May whichever God you worship look favorably upon you.”
For readers who haven’t crossed paths with Merchants of Knowledge and Magic yet, can you pitch the book, bullet-style?
I actually love to do this on Twitter! This was one I made just yesterday:
- Aroace protag
- Corruption arc
- Deep worldbuilding requiring footnotes
- Dark and sexual content
Though I’d like to add a bit more for this interview, since I’m not as restricted by Twitter’s character limit here:
- Dragons, demons, and space-faring dragonflies
- A magical artifact to turn a person into a God
- Down with the matriarchy!
- A journey across multiple planes inhabited by a wide range of people and cultures
Tell us about Calinthe and how her journey informs the world and vice-versa.
Calinthe is a merchant of knowledge, an educated traveler who goes from place to place trading knowledge, information, and even rumors.
I had been worldbuilding the Pentagonal Dominion for 22 years and I wanted to show off several different parts of this world, so I wanted my debut book’s MC to be a traveler. Wherever she goes, she shares a bit of her knowledge about the world with the reader. Of course, she’s not a disconnected observer herself.
The Aloutians and Ophidians both want her—for different reasons—but those societies’ histories have left their mark on her. Because Aloutia went through the Greed Wars, Calinthe is morally obligated to never use money. And because Ophidia went through the Ophidian Revolution, Calinthe must never let her identity as an intersex person be revealed while she’s there. Furthermore, she must contend with the issue of slavery and question how her religion can permit it.
Calinthe is an asexual, intersex dragonfly-person. How does the book explore the themes of queerness and gender hinted at in the synopsis?
The Pentagonal Dominion has different perceptions of queerness than we do on Earth, or at least in America, where I live. On all the PD planes except Ophidia, society is queernormative. If not for Ophidia, Calinthe being asexual or intersex wouldn’t matter to anyone in her own world.
Unfortunately, the Ophidian believe in female supremacy, and they use their own strict definition of what a woman is. They are phobic of anyone who doesn’t fit their criteria and those excluded people are enslaved as a matter of course. I wanted to write about an MC who would not fit in with Ophidia, and I could have done that with a male MC, but I felt that would have made the conflict too binary, too much of the tripe “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” phrase. I wanted to display the Ophidians being terrible to people outside the gender binary.
As for her being aroace, that decision came about because I am also aroace and I wanted to see more fantasy stories that didn’t include romance subplots. While many such subplots are well done, I’ve read many that felt shoehorned in, as if the author felt they *had* to write romance. Calinthe’s asexuality impacts her relationship with Zakuro, who wants more, but won’t pressure her into sexual situations that make her uncomfortable.
What other themes does Merchants dive into? What is it like putting to paper a story that you’ve been working on for 22 years?
MoKaM also deals with themes of slavery, finding your niche in society, platonic friendships, and exploring different family structures.
MoKaM, specifically, has only been in my head for about 3 years now. The idea of it came to me in May 2019. I had been writing other stories in the Pentagonal Dominion since I was a kid, so at the time, starting a new story in the same world was nothing too strange. If anything, I struggled with suddenly having new characters who I had *not* thought about in-depth for any significant length of time. I had to write a few iterations of chapter 1 to really get inside Calinthe’s head.
What influences (books, tv shows, personal experiences,…) shine through the world of Merchants?
I was inspired by various anime, video games, and real-world historical events. To be honest, I’m not sure how much some of them ‘shine through’ in the final project, after all the transformations I’ve made to them. For instance, the manga/anime Hunter x Hunter was a big inspiration for my Demonic Hierarchy, but in MoKaM, we only see a few demons and the story doesn’t get too in-depth into how they were created. If I had gone into more detail, readers who have read/watched HxH might notice parallels to how my demons are created and how HxH’s Chimera Ants are created.
I first created my world and characters when I was a child and really into Pokemon. All the fantasy species of people inhabiting my world were originally ‘my own Pokemon.’ But to compare it to Pokemon now feels perverse. As I grew up, so did my people. They aren’t all cuddly, cute monsters now. There’s gore, sex, and other adult themes.
Did you face any challenges when assuring the 3 books in the Merchants of the Pentagonal Dominion trilogy could be read out of order? What’s your process like in making sure all books can stand on their own while still staying connected?
Actually, the biggest challenges have been keeping the connections accurate. Right now, I’m writing the second book, and it features a brief appearance of the main character of the third book. Chronologically, this scene takes place after the third book has ended, so I have to write this character acting as they will at the end of that one—a book I haven’t even started writing.
Since the books all take place in the same world, which has been in my head for two decades, keeping the world itself consistent was not a problem. I know what that world’s going through better than I know the real world! The three Merchants novels can be read out of order because they’re about three different people doing different things in their lives. Even though they occur concurrently, the main characters don’t have the same goals or conflicts. It would be like if someone wrote three different books that all took place on Earth in the year 2010, but they all took place on different continents and told the stories of people from different cultures.
My process involved making a timeline for all three Merchants books and planning how much time would pass in each book. I am a plotter by nature, so doing a minimal level of planning was no big deal. It was actually quite satisfying to see the cameos and connected events line up.
What’s one piece of worldbuilding in Merchants you’re most proud of?
It applies to the entire Pentagonal Dominion, but I’ve always loved the Blessing System, particularly Flamboil’s Blessing. All people (and some animals) are born with immunity to intense heat, meaning they can’t be hurt by fire, lava, extreme temperatures, or even “too spicy” foods. They can lose their blessing by disobeying the laws of their God, which informs not only about the character, but about the God. Mostly, I like the blessings as a concept, because it gives my Gods powers that impact mortal lives in ways I’ve never seen other fantasy authors use. Because of Flamboil’s Blessing, the age old question of “who do you rescue in a house fire: your own dog or a baby?” is rendered pointless because neither one will be hurt by the flames. It makes sense for this to be the case in a world where the God of Fire is both competent and caring.
Does your academic background in Biology influence your writing in any way?
It does! Much of the worldbuilding is rooted in biology: the anatomy and physiology of my people, the ecology of the world, even the magic system which is based on blood and atomic binding. I have some super scientific details that I don’t describe in the book because most readers aren’t going to understand it, and I don’t want to lose their attention when I start talking about coboglobin, seleneoprotein complexes, or the magically-saturated flagellum of a bacteria. For readers who are interested in that kind of extra content, details can be found on my website. It’s a work in progress, but eventually, I intend for my website to serve as a repository of all my worldbuilding notes.
Before we let you go, where can readers find you online, and are there any future projects you’d like to share?
Merchants of Knowledge and Magic is just the first of many planned books in the Pentagonal Dominion. I plan to write fantasy stories for the rest of my life. I’m reaching the end of the second Merchants novel, Merchants of Light and Bone, a story about a polyamorous bisexual lion-man whose daughter died in an earthquake, and who then takes it upon himself to save another child from her abusive father. It takes place in the tropical regions of Aloutia and features themes of found family, loss and grief, and revenge.
Grab a copy of Merchants of Knowledge and Magic by Erika McCorkle