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Melissa Caruso @melisscaru
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OH HEY IT'S ELECTION DAY so here's a thread on voting and democracy in the Swords & Fire series!

As you may have noticed, Raverra (the primary setting for THE TETHERED MAGE and its sequels) is OH SO SUBTLY inspired by the Venetian Republic.
Now, the Venetian Republic lasted over 1000 years and was a funky combination of oligarchy, republic, and monarchy. Its systems of government were fascinating and labyrinthine and made my head spin during research. I simplified a lot and also made new stuff up in my books.
One thing Raverra does have in common with historical Venice is the practice of voting for an executive who would then hold office for life. The doge was essentially an elected monarch.

Of course, how much power the doge really had varied over those 1000 years.
In my fictional Raverra, the doge is pretty powerful. I wanted him to be a sometimes antagonistic but not evil figure, exerting a strong but not inescapable political gravity. Any political move in Raverra must take the doge into account, but you CAN work around or against him.
This, by the way, is why I think at least partial democracies are SO MUCH MORE FUN to write political plot in. If all the power is centralized in one monarch, who are you supposed to pit against each other? Where do the power moves play out? You can murder some heirs, I guess...
...Or have an evil adviser or two, but then you're out of options. But even if you've got a Council of Lords or something to work with, you've got so many more pieces on your political board.
(This is also why in Vaskandar, where the rule of the Witch Lords is magically enhanced and absolute, you have lots of them maneuvering against each other and you have the Conclave. Mmmm, internal political conflict. But I digress.)
Anyway, Venice's government was WAY more complex than Raverra's...SO COMPLEX. I didn't want my readers to need a chart to understand what the hell was going on, so I kept it to three main branches of government the readers need to worry about:
The Doge (elected monarch; see above)

The Assembly - An oligarchical legislature, essentially. There are 1000 seats for patrician families. Sadly, Raverra is not so egalitarian that commoners can win seats in the Assembly. They should work on that.
The Council of Nine - In Raverra, about half the seats are inherited and half are elected from/by the Assembly. The Council of Nine is VERY loosely based on the Venetian Council of Ten,, that is a KETTLE OF FISH.
Suffice to say the Council of Ten was exactly the secretive Illuminati-esque council you want them to be. But unlike my fictional council, they were all elected and didn't serve life terms, so they were surprisingly democratic?
In Raverra, the Council of Nine fills a generally similar role...their core mission is the security of the Empire, which is a DANGEROUSLY BROAD MANDATE and eventually led to them controlling the military, intelligence services, foreign service, justice system, police, etc.
Pretty much the only thing they can't do is make laws, only OH WAIT they all also have seats on the Assembly, soooo....if they get enough votes, they can do that, too. Honestly, they have way too much power. But hey, what fun would it be writing about a perfect system?
Raverra is a pretty flawed republic. But it IS a republic.

In THE UNBOUND EMPIRE (forthcoming in April, woo!), I have at least one voting scene, which meant I had to figure out the mechanics of how the Assembly votes.
Venetian voting could get pretty complicated. I did some research and then was like NOPE, it would take me pages just to explain this system to my readers, so I'd better come up with something simpler. But I still wanted to capture some of that feeling of complexity & ceremony.
Voting is an incredibly powerful act, but it can feel like a bit of annoying beaurocratic business or a simple errand, like mailing a letter. I wanted it to have excitement, power, and gravity in my books (like it's too easy to forget that it does in real life).
Voting is a ritual that can have its own special artifacts and equipment, its own ceremonies and paraphernalia. I also had to figure out who would oversee and validate the vote, who would have to physically set things up, etc.
I came up with the sort of props for the stagecraft of voting, and I love to imagine that somewhere in the Imperial Palace there's a closet where they unceremoniously stick the voting urns and ballots and they get dusty between votes...
...But when they break them out for a vote, suddenly they're so important and the focus of all this attention and ceremony and gravitas.
In THE DEFIANT HEIR, I had a very different kind of vote (of sorts) happen at the Conclave, and for that I used candles as a public marker of each Witch Lord's position. I had a ton of fun coming up with all the ceremonies surrounding that key moment in the Conclave.
I tried to build a sense of excitement around both those scenes, in very different ways in very different cultures. But the same sense of possibility. That anything could happen, for good or ill, and that the world could change forever in that room.
(Today I'm going to go vote in a high school gymnasium that's not NEARLY as cool-looking as either the Vaskandran Conclave or the Raverran Assembly, but I suspect I'll still have some of that feeling. If you're voting today, I hope you do, too, in a good way.)
Making a voting scene exciting can be a challenge, especially when it's by secret ballot (like in the Assembly). LOOK, PEOPLE ARE DROPPING THINGS IN BOXES! SUCH DRAMA!

But I did my best! 😁 You can find out in April whether I succeeded.
Regardless, writing a fantasy republic has been a blast. Our history is full of democracies and republics, going back thousands of years, but it can be too easy when designing a fantasy world to instinctively default to hereditary monarchy. There are so many other options!
I love fantasy worlds that mix it up, and have maybe a monarchy or two over here, but then a republic over there, and then an oligarchy on this island, and a theocracatic empire over here, and a democratic city-state on the coast, etc.
I don't have a cool concluding statement here, since this is just a rambly thread on democracy & voting in my books.

So I'm just going to wrap up by saying that now I really want to doodle Amalia with an "I Voted" sticker, even if no one will really get it until April. 😁
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