Born to the Blade Aims to Be Game of Thrones, Just for Your Ears

Illustration for article titled iBorn to the Blade/i Aims to Be iGame of Thrones/i, Just for Your Ears
Illustration: Will Staehle (Serial Box)

For centuries, seven countries in the sky have solved their political disputes with duels between blade-magicians called Warders... but not for much longer. The Mertikan Empire has dreams of conquest, yet the other kingdoms won’t surrender their freedom—they’re all filled with people with their own schemes, desires, and struggles for power... for you to listen to.

This is Born to the Blade, a new fantasy series coming to Serial Box, makes of fine (and often nerdy) serialized fiction audiodramas. We’ve talked about them before on io9, but BttB is something new for the publisher. It was fantasy and superhero writer Michael R. Underwood who came to Serial Box with the idea, who quickly came on board. Writing a book and writing an audioscript are two very different things, but Underwood had an advantage in that “Description doesn’t really come naturally to me as a writer. I don’t tend toward lush, detailed setting-oriented descriptions in my writing—I’m naturally focused on action and dialogue.”

Illustration for article titled iBorn to the Blade/i Aims to Be iGame of Thrones/i, Just for Your Ears

But Born to the Blade has a bigger advantage, in that its episodes are being written by a TV-style writer’s room consisting of Marie Brennan, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw. “[The team] each brought their own experience and perspective and interests, including a lot of experience traveling the world and in studying a range of history and cultures,” said Underwood. “We spent a lot of time on our team Slack brainstorming details about the world, from political structures to social mores, clothing, hairstyles, and so on. …so that we could convey the texture of the world throughout without needing long digressions.”

Essentially, they’re making sure their world-building isn’t any less complete or complex, regardless of the medium. In case it seems intimidating to jump in, we asked Underwood to explain more about the serial’s three main characters and the storylines it will follow:

The main players of Born to the Blade are all involved with the Warder’s Circle, an organization in the neutral city of Twaa-Fei that facilitates diplomacy between the major nations of the sky. Each nation is represented by duelist-diplomats called Warders. When Warders cannot resolve a conflict with diplomacy, they turn to ritual duels of blade and craft to settle the issue.

Oda no Michiko is an insightful and loyal daughter of the nation of Kakute, recently colonized by the Mertikan Empire. Michiko grew up under Mertikan law and believes hard in the Empire’s version of meritocracy, where anyone can become anything if they work hard enough and prove themselves. Michiko embraces this opportunity for her to prove herself and her people as being every bit as worthy as those born into the main island of the empire. But as Michiko discovers a secret about her people’s history, she faces a crisis of identity that she’ll have to navigate, especially as her power and influence grows as the newest warder of Kakute.

Kris Denn is a hotshot young bladecrafter from Rumika, a previously isolated nation that is now stepping into the world. Kris travels to the neutral city of Twaa-Fei to challenge for a seat on the Warder’s Circle. Kris is constantly trying to learn about the world, but not all welcome Kris or other Rumikans. Each nation in the sky grants a birthright, and the Rumikan birthright is the ability to change their physical forms between male-coded and female-coded. Some Rumikans use this ability to express their fluid relationship to gender, many people in other nations are suspicious of Rumikans because of this ability, and so part of Kris’ desire to enter the world stage is to combat these biases and earn greater acceptance a-sky for their people.

Ojo Kante is the senior warder of Quloo, a mighty merchant nation at a moment of crisis. Ojo is a veteran Warder who knows protocol like the back of his hand, with alliances and rivalries that date back for more than a decade. He’ll need every trick and every favor to save his people, because Quloo is sinking. Once the foremost nation of the sky thanks to their rich veins of aerstone, the material that allows ships to fly, Quloo has overmined its natural resource and is slowly drifting toward the mists (a layer of clouds miles below the islands and home to fearsome monsters). Ojo is eager to make alliances and secure new lines of aerstone to save Quloo without leaving the country vulnerable to the Mertikan Empire, the newly ascendant power to their north.

In you’re curious as to what the final result sounds like, io9 is happy to present an exclusive audio excerpt from Born to the Blade. Here’s a portion of Chapter Six (narrated by Xe Sands), in which “Ojo hastily makes plans to try to keep a potential political ally safe before going to a meeting. His rival Lavinia, the senior warder of the empire of Mertika, calls the Warder’s Circle into session to demand the other warders’ assistance in recapturing the Golden Lord of Kakute, the deposed ruler of a Mertikan colony.”


The 11-episode Born to the Blade begins on Wednesday, April 18—tomorrow—and the entire first episode will be available for free on the Serial Box site or its app, if you want to hear more—or read more, since it’ll also be available in text format, too.

Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

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I grew up during the last gasp of radio drama and comedy in the 1950s. Its heyday had been in the ‘30s and ‘40s, but there was still quite a bit of it then, just before television banished it forever. We had a TV but my grandparents didn’t until much later, and after dinner the whole family would gather in the living room to listen to Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Frank Sinatra Show, Mr. Keen-Tracer of Lost Persons, Have Gun Will Travel and Hallmark Playhouse. Many of these shows ended up on TV, as it was fairly easy for producers to rework the stars, premise and scripts for the small screen.

The radio was about the size of a small refrigerator, and had a glowing dial as big as a dinner plate. As the story unfolded everyone would sit on the sofa and watch the dial, as if there was something to see. I can only conclude that they were practicing for television.

There was something special about listening to stories on the radio. It was just words, music and sound effects; your mind provided all the scenery. And you knew that you were part of a huge audience, millions of other people all sitting their own sofas, watching their own dials.

“Radio gives voice to words and energy to sound and then, because no scene is drawn, leaves the mind unfettered to envision not the things it must, but rather those it will.” - E.S. Guralnick 1985

My personal favorite was The Shadow: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows...!”