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Race and ethnicity in fantasy settings/books basically boils down to the the old Good vs. Evil divide that we see in Tolkien/D&D inspired works.

One one hand you have the good races: Humans, Elves, Dwarves.

In the other hand you have the evil races: Orcs, Goblins,Trolls, ect.

Some stories even have exact evil counterparts for good races (especially those based on D&D) such as Light Elves vs. Dark Elves. Some authors like to subvert this by having a few characters distance themselves from the “norm” thus proving that not everyone in an entire race can be evil yet still maintaining the fiction that allows a convenient target(s) for the heroes to slaughter at will without any moral or personal repercussions. After all destroying evil is always a good thing, right?

As you probably guessed by now, I don’t like to go the simplistic route. Since my story is based on Dark Age Europe I like to play with this concept a bit. Yes you have good and evil, but no faceless evil races. In fact prejudice plays a big role in how each ethnic/social group views the other.

Akrosians/Republicans view the new nations of the Nordlands as barbarians. Both of these groups have reached a level of homogeneity which encourages this view of outsiders. In fact the word barbarian originally meant outsider with the twist that these foreigners were inferior to those who gave them the epitaph because they did not share the same culture or language as those who considered themselves civilized. The irony of course is that due to the destruction of Western Roman Empire the term change to mean “an individual reference to a brutal, cruel, warlike, insensitive person.” Yet to the modern observer the Roman gladiatorial games and their justice system looks as barbarous as the destruction brought by the Germanic invasions.

Things look different in the Nordlands where the distinction are largely on ethnic/religious lines. Due to the recent fall of Empire and transformation into the (New) Republic you have a mix and match of people living in former Imperial territory.

The rulers are, for the most part members of the military leadership that lead the tribes from beyond the “Three Rivers” and into Imperial territory. Funded by Republican silver they serve as a buffer between it (the Republic) and further barbarian invasions. They claimed vast kingdoms loosely allied with the Republic. While they are the ruling elite, their power is largely military and they lack the administrative skills or money to sustain these kingdoms intact. They seek to appeased the newly conquered by adopting Imperial ways and costumes and converting to the new religion of the Nine.  Yet they retain their language and legal traditions.

The vast middle class is made up of assimilated (to the former Imperial ethnic identity) locals. While the lack military power, they still have money and a strong connection to the the Republic and by extension the Church. They are the equivalent to the Romanized Gauls. These are the people the new rulers want to accommodate because they still retain much of the wealth and they outnumber their conquerors. These former Imperial citizens support the new regimes in exchange for protection.

The lower class is made up of disenfranchised farmers, former slaves and isolated groups that retain some of the customs from the time before the Imperial conquest. To the new Church they are seen as threat undermining their vision of the cosmos, especially the shamans/druids that lead these groups. They have called on the new rulers to persecute them with varying degrees of success.

A fourth and fifth group include the Elves and Dwarves. The Elves that live within the Republic borders (i.e. the Peninsula) have integrated into that culture as have the Dwarves, although this last group numbers are small and their origins are shrouded in mystery. On the other hand Elves living in the Nordlands have turned xenophobic. They now hide from the rest of the world.

As you can see, this is a world where your ethnic loyalties determine who you consider a friend or foe  (with individual exceptions, of course).

In fact this might be a typical scene in my book.

And now for some music:

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