World-building: The Seven Wonders of Alissia, by Dan Koboldt

Today we welcome author Dan Koboldt to the Harper Voyager blog. Dan’s new book, The Rogue Retrieval, is a fantasy set in the land of Alissia. He’s here to share some of his favorite parts of creating this strange new world.

One of the most cherished books from my childhood is the annotated edition of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, which was published in 1990 and annotated by Douglas A. Anderson. Nestled among the pages of the corrected text are biographical notes, photographs, and illustrations that offer a glimpse into how Tolkien worked as a writer. And it includes many of his original line drawings, paintings, and maps of the world of Middle-earth.

For me, Tolkien is not just the father of fantasy literature, but of fantasy world-building as well. When I wrote The Rogue Retrieval, I felt morally compelled to draw a map of its world, too. I’m not nearly as talented an artist as Tolkien, but I have Photoshop:


The fantasy world of my book is called Alissia, and here are seven of my favorite things about it.

1. The hidden horizon

The central premise of my book is that a large corporation (CASE Global Enterprises) has discovered a portal to a pristine medieval world. They’ve managed to keep this a secret for the last fifteen years while they studied it. Yet the executives are nervous about allowing disruptive technologies to go through the portal. In other words, no modern ships, automobiles or aircraft.

This means that the company’s exploration of Alissia is limited to the mainland continent, which is certainly large (six nations) but may not be the only habitable landmass on the planet. A few years after discovering the portal, company researchers did try building a deep-sea-capable sailing ship to search for other continents, but… let’s just say, it did not go well.

2. Dangerous fauna

I love worlds that are naturally dangerous, places where man is not necessarily the top of the food chain. When the hero of my book first arrives in Alissia, he quickly finds himself between a territorial wyvern (a dragon-like creature) and a pack of hungry canines. Predators abound in this pristine world, both on land and at sea. Even some of the plants are dangerous: there’s a tree called a sticky willow that captures animals with Velcro-like leaves, whale-eating plankton, and other horrors.

3. Place names

Have you ever looked at the names of streets in your hometown and wished that whoever got to name them was 500% more creative? That’s one reason I love making up the place names in Alissia. I often created these by mutating the name of a real (or fictional) place. There’s a certain sound I’m going for, too, and I think the result is that many of the places sound somewhat Tolkienesque. But you won’t find elves or dwarves in Alissia, I promise.

Odd things happen when you name a place and just run with it. For example, one of the nations is called New Kestani, but there’s no Old Kestani anywhere in the map, and the researchers aren’t certain if there ever was one. But the adjective describing people or things from that country is simply Kestani. A wealthy monarchy in the southeast is called Caralis. The adjective for it was Caralissian, which is oddly parallel to the adjective for the entire world, Alissian.

4. World history

I love fantasy stories in which ancient or not-so-ancient history exerts a strong influence on current events. A Song of Ice and Fire is a wonderful example of this. Harry Potter is another. In my book, history comes in two flavors: things that have happened in the fifteen years since the gateway was discovered, and things that had happened in Alissia long before the CASE Global found it.

For example, New Kestani has a decades-old conflict with Felara to the north. Felara is where the gateway lets out, which means that our protagonists must cross the border shared by these two nations. It’s the equivalent of having to walk through the Gaza Strip or the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea. Things get complicated.

5. Caralis and its Wine

I mentioned Caralis, a monarchy in the southeast of the Alissian mainland. As I discuss in-depth in my guest post at Mary Robinette Kowal’s My Favorite Bit, its chief export is a drink called Caralissian wine. I don’t go into depth how it’s made, but the result is that it tastes differently to everyone, and often triggers emotionally-charged memories when consumed. This psychoactive experience, coupled with the limited production, makes the wine outrageously expensive.

Caralissian wine shipments only travel by land and require a vintner to accompany them and verify the wine’s authenticity upon arrival. Such caravans are obvious targets, so the escorts are heavily guarded by mercenaries who only get paid if the shipment reaches its destination. When you meet one of those caravans on the road, you get out of the way and don’t give them a second glance.

6. The Knights of Landor

Landor is a large nation in the Alissian north, east of Felara. In my head, I think of it as King Arthur’s Camelot but run by the Children of the Light. Landorian borders are heavily patrolled by groups of essentially mounted knights who have a strong sense of right and wrong. In other words, this is a risky place to even pass through if you’re infiltrating Alissia to study it from the inside out.

Landor has a unique culture that sees the world in simple black-and-white terms. I won’t say too much more, except that it’s an important location for events in the sequel to The Rogue Retrieval.

7. The Enclave

Despite their studious work over fifteen years and considerable technological advantage, the company’s researchers have yet to unlock many of Alissia’s secrets. They’ve recorded numerous phenomena that they can’t explain, without invoking the word magic.

There are rumors of true magic users in Alissia, the kind of people who don’t want to be found and have the means to make sure that they aren’t. Yet they value their reputation almost as much as their anonymity.

Masquerade as one of them for long enough, and they might decide to come looking for you.

About The Rogue Retrieval

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Sleight of hand…in another land

Stage magician Quinn Bradley has one dream: to headline his own show on the Vegas Strip. And with talent scouts in the audience wowed by his latest performance, he knows he’s about to make the big-time.

What he doesn’t expect is an offer to go on a quest to a place where magic is all too real.

That’s how he finds himself in Alissia, a world connected to ours by a secret portal owned by a powerful corporation. He’s after an employee who has gone rogue, and that’s the least of his problems. Alissia has true magicians…and the penalty for impersonating one is death. In a world where even a twelve-year-old could beat Quinn in a swordfight, it’s only a matter of time until the tricks up his sleeves run out.

Scientist and blogger Dan Koboldt weaves wonder, humor, and heart into this debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval. Fans of Terry Brooks and Terry Pratchett will find this a thrilling read.

To learn more about the world of Alissia, visit

About the Author

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author. He has co-authored more than 60 publications in Nature, Human Mutation, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. Dan is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife and children in St. Louis, where the deer take their revenge by eating the flowers in his backyard.



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