A friend lent me a series of books a few weeks ago. I got sidetracked with other things and other books (namely HP) and only started reading the first book last night. Ironically, it's not that disimilar from the plot of my NaNo 2010 novel.
The really interesting part - and useful I hope - is the names in the book. I've been thinking a lot about what to call the four countries, and getting more and more stumped while trying to come up with original and pleasant sounding names. There's nothing I hate more than to dig into a really good book and not be able to pronounce the place name (or character name) or to have it be a very awkward word. Country names should flow off the tongue. Yes, many of the country names in the real world don't, but I am certain they sound wonderful in their native language. But since this story will be written in English, they need to sound good in English...without ending in things like 'shire' or 'ton'.
In the book I'm reading there are two countries (so far). The main story takes place in Ixia. This is a short word, and has no meaning in the context of the book, but it flows well. It's obvious to pronounce and the 'a' ending gives it a nice sound. It flows off the tongue easily. The second country name is Sitia, which is a country only ever mentioned in passing. It is a country that is continuously represented as a place of peace and freedom where people flee to escape the horror and punishment in Ixia. Now, 'Sitia' reminds me of Sicily, a place I see as an escape; lovely and warm and a good place to live. Whether this connotations was intentional by the author, doesn't matter. The point is 'Sitia' evokes a nice image, the country is supposed to be. 'Ixia' could go both ways. In the book, it was once a Kingdom with a bad monarchy, which was then liberated by a military leader who now acts as governor. It is routinely mentioned that he has made things better. 'Ixia' could evoke good images, but with the 'x' in there, it also sounds a bit more militaristic.
The character names are also well thought. The main character is Yelena. This is a nice sounding name, but the foreign aspect of it lends more layers to the character. And she does have layers. As the book starts she is in prison for murder awaiting her execution. But a quirk of fate she is saved and employed by the military governor, but her sins are not forgiven, marely delayed. We know, therefore, she is a murderer, though no undefuteable proof is given. Other characters also have this dual aspect to them, and their names are suitably foreign but easy to pronounce. Valek, for instance, another main character, is the commander's assistant and is referenced as having played a large part in the military coup, but is kind enough for a man in his position. The minor characters are also well named. Dilana, the seamstress is sweet and generous, as her name evokes. The maid, Margg is a b***h. The cook, Rand seems sweet, but many don't trust him. A name like 'Rand' could go either way. He could be a brigand or just a sweet boy.
I'm going to continue reading the book (and the others in the series), because so far I think the names are really helping. They are giving me ideas of how to create place and character names that work well with English, but also sound foreign. It's a good mix.