Behind the book – the Red Dragon series
by Becky Black
The germ of the idea for my Red Dragon series was “The East India Companies – in space.” In fact the initial name for the series and the ship was the centre of if was the Indiaman, named for the ships of the companies. Described as a cross between a castle and a floating warehouse, they sailed back and forth between Europe and the Indian Ocean, crammed with trade goods. With all those valuables aboard they made tempting targets for pirates, so were as well armed as military ships. The captains considered themselves on a par with commanders of naval fighting ships– not a view shared by the military captains.
The largest East India Companies were the English, the French, the Dutch and the Portuguese, and they had a fierce rivalry, even carrying out acts of piracy against each other’s ships, and fighting battles on land with private armies. They fought hard to keep the other companies from gaining a foothold in what they considered their territories. They were the mega corporations of their day, with great political influence, and a tendency to interfere in the affairs of the people they traded with to further their trade interests. Their accounting was notoriously chaotic. Don’t even ask about taxes they dodged.
Even supposed respectable ships officers would conspire with smugglers when bringing their allowance of personal trade goods back to Europe to take them off the ship early and smuggle them ashore to avoid paying duty. They got up to all kinds of shenanigans. One time the British East India Company tried to arrange a marriage between a local ruler and a daughter of a board member to seal a deal—acting the same way as governments and monarchs using marriages to secure alliances. (The Church of England put the kibosh on the plan.)
My chief trader character, Jarvez Kashari, has never gone so far as to start a war or arrange a marriage—yet—but he’s certainly a flexible man when it comes to business ethics. Making payments to facilitate deals—bribes by any other name—is a normal part of business for him. At least until he starts to want to live up to the standards of his captain and lover, Alyn Evans.
East India Company ships were a long way from home. They would be unaware for months of important events back in Europe, including those affecting the companies themselves. Sometimes the news from home was better left behind—local monarchs were not impressed by the English executing their own king after the English Civil War. With no way to get orders and help from home quickly they had a lot of autonomy, were a law unto themselves. In my series the Red Dragon (named after the British East India Company’s first flagship) operates 1400 light years from home, in an area of the galaxy where some of the aliens and human colonists resent the influence of the companies and others look to them as political allies.
Captain Alyn Evans is caught up in all this in Book 2 when his principles see him take a stand that a more pragmatic man like Jarvez would not, but makes the locals consider him a company outsider interfering in their affairs. He’s not a natural company captain, taking the job after being paid off from the military when it downsized. His unbending principles put in him straight into conflict with company methods. Just how long will Alyn be a company man?
Red Dragon 1: The Company Man
Red Dragon 2: Too Good a Man
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