David Drake

Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer

Books of the Elements

updated 30 April 2014

The Books of the Elements are a series of four fantasy novels set in a city and empire named Carce, which very similar to that of Rome in 30 ad. I wanted to create a setting in which the myths and magic of the classical world were real, and in which classical myths interacted with those of other portions of the ancient world

The elements of the series are Earth, Air, Fire and Water; or more accurately Fire, Water, Earth and Air.

I’m pairing each element with a cardinal direction. Thus the first novel, The Legions of Fire, mixes Norse myths with classical myths about the far north. The second novel, Out of the Waters (July 2011), involves both Native American myths and classical myths about the Western Ocean. The third novel in the series is titled Monsters of the Earth (September 2013) and relates to African myths. Air and Darkness, which involves the element Air (sort of) and myths, particularly Greek myths, of the Indian Subcontinent will be out from Tor November 2015.

The Legions of Fire

Legions of Fire

The cover art by Donato is stunning. Click on the image for a larger view.

The Legions of Fire is the first of a quartet of fantasies in The Books of the Elements series from Tor.

First and foremost, The Legions of Fire is a novel about a fictional city named Carce (pronounced CAR-see) and the empire which Carce rules. It is not a novel about Rome and the Roman Empire in 30 ad, under the emperor Tiberius.

Having said that, a reader who knows a little about Roman history and culture will find similarities with my Carce. A reader who knows a great deal about Rome will find even more similarities. I’m not writing a historical novel, however, or even a historical novel with fantasy elements. continue reading…

Monsters of the Earth

Monsters of the Earth

Cover art by Donato; Click on image for larger view.

Monsters of the Earth, the third of the Books of the Elements, will be out in September 2013 from Tor.


I intend individual volumes in The Books of the Elements to be self-standing, (though I also hope that they add to something greater than the sum of their parts). This note will therefore repeat some things which I said in The Legions of Fire and in Out of the Waters.

The most important of these repetitions is that my fictional city of Carce (KAR-see) is not the historical Rome of 30 ad. (Neither is it the fictional city of Carce in The Worm Ouroboros, a novel by ER Eddison; which I urge you all to read.)

Here in Monsters, the most important difference is that the historical poet Vergil is also the mythical magician Virgil. In the Middle Ages, the idea grew that the author of the Aeneid was a powerful magician. The most pervasive aspect of this myth is that his name began to be spelled Virgil rather than the correct Vergil.

continue reading…

Air and Darkness

Air And Darkness

Cover art: Donato

Air and Darkness is the fourth and final book in the Books of the Elements Series. It will be available November 2015 from Tor.

The setting of this novel and of the series, The Books of the Elements, is the city of Carce (pronounced KAR-see, as in The Worm Ouroboros) and the empire which Carce rules. These are extremely similar in history and culture to Rome of 30 AD.

Carce is not Rome, however. This was implicit in the earlier Books of the Elements, though the fact seems to have passed over the heads of some commentators. The difference becomes explicit in the conclusion of Air and Darkness, but it’s been there all along.

continue reading…

Written for Upcoming4.Me [online magazine] Posted 30 October 2013.

The Books of the Elements combine Roman culture with regional myths, but I don’t mean regional religions. I’m building on African backgrounds and folktales in Monsters of the Earth, but there isn’t a Pan-African mythology.

Besides the folktales, I’m using African history as told by Herodotus, a Greek historian of the 5th century bc. When Herodotus was writing about his own time and place, he used first-hand evidence and is as good a source as anyone could be. When he’s dealing with the interior of Africa in what was the ancient past even to him, he’s telling myths–and that’s perfect for me. The Books of the Elements are fantasy novels, not historical novels with bits of fantasy dropped in here and there.

continue reading…

Written for the Tor/Forge July 2011 Newsletter

Last year when Tor asked me for an essay to accompany the publication of The Legions of Fire, the first of my Books of the Elements fantasy series, I explained that riding a motorcycle focuses my conscious mind and thus frees my subconscious. Plotting isn’t simply an intellectual activity for me. The really subtle, really complex structures come from my subconscious.

For this year’s essay to accompany Out of the Waters, the second book of the series, I’m going to write about how translating Latin helps me plot.

continue reading…

Out of the Waters

Out of the Waters

Cover art by Donato. Click on the image to see a larger view.

Out of the Waters is the second in the Books of the Elements fantasy series from Tor.


Out of the Waters is set in a fictional city named Carce (pronounced CAR-see). Things occur in this novel and in all The Books of the Elements which did not happen and could not have happened in the historical Rome in 30 ad. This is a fantasy novel, not a historical novel with fantasy elements. I’m trying to keep that fact at the front of readers’ minds by referring to Carce (in homage to The Worm Ouroboros by ER Eddison, by the way).  continue reading…

Written for the Tor/Forge May 2010 Newsletter


Writers use various tools in their work. One of my tools is my motorcycle.

Well, plural: my motorcycles. Bikers learn quickly that if they expect to ride every day, they’d better have two. (And that’s if they’re Japanese, as both of my current rides are. More exotic bikes tend to be two-wheeled versions of owning a Lotus Elan.) continue reading…