The Duke and the Pirate Queen is set in the same world as The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover and features characters who appeared in that novel, Duke Maxime and Captain Imena Leung. Captain Leung is forced to abduct Duke Maxime, who is her employer, to thwart an assassination plot against him. He wants her. She wants him. Unfortunately, issues of birth, rank, and their own pasts are in conflict with their desires. And then there are the pirates, the storm, the hostile islanders…not to mention the sharks.
The novel is set in a fantasy world that's based on all kinds of elements taken from our own world. Maxime's duchy is a Mediterranean-esque land with aspects of several centuries and countries. Imena comes from an empire that's very loosely based on fifteenth-century China--I say "loosely" because though I read Gavin Menzies' 1421: The Year China Discovered America, no specific facts from it made their way into the novel. Instead, the idea of a powerful Asian naval power mingled with all sorts of pirate and sea adventure novels in the back of my brain, and later with some reading I did on Asian pirates. I used my research to give a feeling that events and places existed that weren't shown in the story.
That's what I mean by "the world beyond the story." Even though I didn't show the Horizon Empire or any imperial privateers other than Imena, knowledge of both was in my thoughts as I wrote the story, influencing how I portrayed Imena's character and how she interacted with characters from the Duchies. The idea that she came from a large empire troubled by pirates, and that she fought those pirates, and that she gave it up, thoroughly underlies many aspects of her character.
Throughout the first chapters, I dropped small bits of information to build the reader's knowledge of her privateering past. First descriptive facts: "…the intricate blue, red, and white designs tattooed on her scalp, each hard won in her youth as an Imperial privateer." Then their place in the world: "Privateers were considered far below sailors in the navy" and "You can't inherit a position in the imperial navy...You are, however, permitted to work as a privateer, risking death for the Imperium's glory." Then a bit more about what they do for the Imperium: "...the fringe-territory pirates whom they usually hunted."
I think it's just as important not to show certain aspects of your worldbuilding as it is to thoroughly describe. I most enjoy books where I can not only immerse myself in the world of the story, but I can feel that if I reach a bit farther, dig a bit deeper, there will be more of the story's world for me to extrapolate and ponder.
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