THE SUNDERED WORLD
by Jeffrey E. Barlough
Imagine a world in which the last Ice Age never ended . . .
With much of her territory locked up with ice, medieval England was forced to seek a more habitable clime for her growing population. From every port, merchant-adventurers in their tall ships set sail to scour the earth for a new home. Amongst the places they came to was the land we know as North America. There they found a vast continent untouched by man -- a wild, mysterious realm teeming with saber-cats and their kin, mastodons ("thunder-beasts"), short-faced bears, ground sloths ("megatheres" and "mylodons"), glyptodonts, flat-head boars, megalops, and other Pleistocene giants. Huge, vulture-like birds ("teratorns") roamed the skies, and predatory toothed whales ("zeugs") the seas.
The shores of the continent were the most amenable to settlement, and there new cities were raised. On the long western coast cities like Crow's-end and Saxbridge, Foghampton and Fishmouth, Goforth and Nantle quickly gained prominence, and there two great universities were founded, one at Salthead in the north and another at Penhaligon in the south.
Imagine a world where shaggy red mastodons in silver harness serve as proud beasts of transport, and where their southern cousins, the steel-gray shovel-tuskers, are employed in the building of roads for long-distance coach travel. Imagine a world where guns and gunpowder never were invented, where bow and blade alone are the measure of man's ferocity.
Then, in the year 1839, everything changed. It was the year of the "sundering", a cataclysmic event that some attributed to a comet or meteor strike, or a volcanic eruption of unprecedented violence -- or was it perhaps something else? Irrespective of the cause, most life on earth was obliterated, and the world plunged into an even deeper Ice Age. In the words of Mr. Kibble in Dark Sleeper: "The sky was filled with clouds of smoke and grew very dark, and remained that way for months and months. Then the great ice sheets came down from the north and froze up the world."
By an accident of geography the cities in the west of America were spared, only to find themselves deprived of all contact with the outside -- if, indeed, the outside still existed. For no one who had set out for England had ever returned, and no one had come from there since.
It has been some two centuries now since the sundering, and up and down the long coast life goes on. Marooned and alone, Victorian society, little altered since 1839, abides in her sundered realm with its gallery of fearsome monsters, and a prey to powers even mightier than those of the wilderness that surrounds her -- the powers of magic and the supernatural . . .
But why the "Western Lights" series?
Author Barlough explains --
"The series title is derived from the sundering. For since that dread event the sole place on earth where lights still shine at night is in the west."