Thursday, 16 October 2014

Tough Travels: Desert Nomads

‘Tough Travelling’ is a weekly feature: every Thursday (hopefully!) I’ll be rummaging around in my memory to come up with various examples of commonly used fantasy tropes. Full credit goes to Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn for hosting the idea: be sure to check out his blog!

This week’s topic is DESERT NOMADS.

DESERT NOMADS occupy the hot parts to the south, which is either desert or rather parched grass. For some reason this is ideal terrain for breeding horses, of which nomad clans have in large numbers.

I had a bit of a dry (heh heh) spell when trying to think of some examples: some of the following therefore fit only the loosest possible definition of ‘desert nomads’.

The Dothraki 

(A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin)

They tend to roam the plains rather than the desert, but the Dothraki are famous for their horses, and all male Dothraki are trained from birth as horse warriors. With their dark skin, long braided hair and penchant for violence, the Dothraki are perhaps the archetypal desert nomads. Needless to say, it’s a bit of a culture shock for Daenerys when she marries into them.

The Rhivi 

(Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen)

Since I can’t seem to let a week go by without mentioning Erikson, why not talk about the Rhivi? These small, hardy travellers roam the aptly-named Rhivi Plain, and drive their thousands-strong herds of bhederin along with them. They wear skins and furs, live in yurts made from bhederin hide, and play a crucial part in much of the conflict early on in the Malazan series.

The Fremen 

(Dune by Frank Herbert)

Much as I disliked the majority of this novel, one of my favourite aspects of it was the Fremen. They’re not romanticised in any way: they’re described as being very practical, and are able to survive in the hostile wastes of a desert planet only through the use of stillsuits, a rather gross-sounding device that allows them to recycle their own bodily fluids. They don’t have horses, but they do have massive sandworms (that’s NOT a euphemism), and you’d want to be very wary before challenging any of them to single combat.

The Thuril 

(Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts)

The Thuril Confederacy, an alliance of nomadic peoples, is a name cursed by almost all Tsuranni, since they have always resisted assimilation into the Tsurani Empire. In hilarious contrast to the stoic Tsurani, for whom a public display of emotion is a hugely shameful thing, the coarse-mouthed Thuril delight in infuriating one another with personal insults, usually involving the words “your mother”. One of my favourite moments in this book is seeing how Lady Mara deals with their humiliating treatment of her.

The Krasians 

(The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett)

Do the Krasians really count as nomads? Many of them dwell behind the walls of a desert city, but there are many of them who live in small villages in the desert itself. Not desert nomads precisely, then, but desert dwellers nonetheless. They generally ride camels rather than horses, as you’d expect in the desert, and a warrior’s path is considered the highest honour. Krasian society is fiercely hierarchical, and they may come to realise that their strict traditions have actually done nothing but hamper their ongoing efforts in Alagai’sharak: holy war against demonkind.

That’s all for this week. Next week’s topic is ELVES, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a lot tougher than it sounds . . .


  1. You did really well this week. And you remembered the Dothraki which I totally forgot and I'm now kicking myself about!
    Lynn :D

    1. And you remembered Smiler's Fair, which I can't believe I forgot! :D

  2. I would like to read the Wurts book. And I spent two years working a restaurant; I think I know every joke involving mothers there is.

    1. The Feist/Wurts 'Empire' trilogy is one of the best fantasy series' I've ever read - I can't recommend it highly enough. :)

      That said, I haven't read it for several years, and am praying it stands up to the re-read I'm planning sometime next year . . .

  3. Hooray for the Dothraki! Great minds think alike. I thought everyone would have it this week as well when I put it on, but looks like it slipped through a lot of lists! :D

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    1. I noticed that too! Which surprised me, because for most of the week the Dothraki were the ONLY example I could think of. :D