In much of “modern fantasy literature,” gnomes often seem to be merely smaller cousins of, or substitutes for, dwarves or elves. Not so in the Shine Cycle, where they provide a strong contrast to both elves and dwarves, and as usual I try to “turn the tropes on their head.”
Gnomes are humanoid creatures of very small stature. While there are lesser fairies that are smaller, no race is as a rule smaller than gnomes. Their features look something like a mole’s, with a touch of felinity, and all their limbs are specially adapted for digging tunnels through soft earth.
Most gnomes are, on the whole, quite dexterous—but not enough for the tasks they encounter all the time, and they aren’t all that strong. So they routinely develop tools to help them. Given their temperament—more on which in a moment—these tools almost always either are temporary hacks that will fall apart after only a few uses, or are custom-fitted to their maker so closely that they are essentially useless to anyone else. Or both.
Like dwarves prize knowledge, gnomes prize cleverness and wit. The temperament underlying this makes them often masters of intuitive crafts. But it gives them no head for science or theory in general—and certainly not the patience to learn to do things “the right way” rather than using an easier shortcut that works ninety-nine times in a hundred. Where human and especially dwarven children instinctively ask “Why?” gnomish children ask “How?”
Because they prize cleverness, gnomes esteem “elegant hacks” and ingenious inventions, especially those that are mot useful to the community. Those that are explained so others can duplicate them, or are so well-crafted they will last for generations, are most valued, but unlike among the dwarves this is not deemed essential—dwarves want the knowledge to be available to coming generations, while gnomes prefer that, whether by that means or because of unusual durability, the “hack” itself be available to their grandchildren.
Their ingenuity makes gnomes even better miners than the dwarves, at least in extracting gems and rich ores. (Dwarves are better at large-scale excavation and anything where the mine needs to last.) They are also, as I’ve described, clever inventors, so much so that for greatest efficiency or an ingenious solution to a seemingly-intractable problem even the dwarves will go to them … but once the theory behind a gnome’s invention has been worked out, dwarven craftsmanship will turn it into more than a “hack.”
So you can see that they are definitely one of the “minor” races, but they have their place in the world of the Shine Cycle; they’re not merely smaller dwarves by another name.