Fantasy fiction, when it comes to technology and industry, typically has two settings: Medieval and Steampunk. Rarely do things deviate from those two, unless it’s “urban fantasy”, in which it’s essentially the current, modern world, but with magic and magical things.
I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with writing fantasy in those settings. Because swords, bows and castles are cool. Steam engines, goggles and waistcoats are cool. Run with that.
But at the same time, don’t let that hold you in. I lost track of the number of times, over the course I was writing Thorn and all the other Maradaine works I’ve done so far, and thought, “I can’t do that, it’s not… oh, wait, can I do that? Of course I can.”
Because you can make the fantasy world whatever you want, as long as its consistent and sensible.
For me, it was crucial that I had a handle on where, technologically and sociologically, the nation of Druthal is. As part of the historical backstory, Druthal had recently spent fifty years in an island-hopping, large scale war a half an ocean away. So it needed to be the kind of nation that could have fought such a war. To me, that meant that it had to have had, at least to some degree, a Market Revolution, some level of early phase of industrialization. I didn’t want steam engines or trains, but I wanted factory work. Not necessarily mass-production level, but with a city as massive as Maradaine is supposed to be, I needed there to be slaughterhouses and tanneries and weavers and a whole system of shipping to get goods from where they were made to people who needed them. I needed a city with an organized government, with services including constabulary (because how else could A Murder of Mages work without that?), fire brigade, sanitation, river patrol, etc., etc.
In other words, I needed something that was much more advanced than medieval, but not quite to the level of steampunk.
In doing that, I let go of my preconceptions of “what fantasy could be”, and opened myself to a world of possibilities.