Well Mapped: Six Fantasy Stories With A Definite Sense Of Place

Today’s Wyrd & Wonder prompt is maps. Finding great maps to share is a ballsache for a blog post and when my shelves are depleted, so I went otherwise locational with this. Books that really feel like they’re about a specific place. Places you’d love to see a map of, just to complete the book – except you can kind of see it all. Kind of like…

The Streets of Ankh-Morpork by Sir Terry Pratchett

Yes, yes, I am cheating with a real map… in fact, why didn’t I make that the article? Published fantasy maps? Other than it being something I’ve had to think about, which I don’t cotton with… anyway! The point is Sir Pterry never had a map when writing the various Ankh-Morpork books and didn’t think the place could be mapped until Stephen Briggs insisted it could.

“Go on then” is the spirit of Terry’s response if memory serves, which resulted in the above

So this is an example of just how powerful a setting can be rather than a book with a powerful setting, but it’s still counting as one of your six. It is mildly amusing if memory serves anyway. I wouldn’t mind another copy.

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula le Guin

In the lonesome desert lies a labyrinth of tunnels, the prison and kingdom of Tenar, High Priestess of the Ancient Ones.

Le Guin says she got the idea for the book when visiting the deserts of Harney County in Oregon; her descriptions are so vivid I feel I know that place without ever being there. As for the underground complex that makes up the Ancient Ones’ temple, I can see that too, like someone stumbling into the ruins of Troy if they were still underground. I love The Tombs of Atuan for many reasons, but its vivid sense of place, the juxaposition of endless emptiness and the closed in darkness, is no smaller a reason than any.

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

From a book I love to one I loathe.

But even its detractors must struggle to deny the power of Gormenghast’s landscapes. Mervyn Peake was an artist of note and you can see it in the way he sees his vast gothic castle, his home of eccentrics and dusty dying traditions. Indeed, Gormenghast Castle is probably the main character of Titus Groan when you get down to it, and few characters have been described as minutely as this one.

Gods of the Wyrdwood by RJ Barker

Few authors today are in love with a good landscape as RJ and in Gods of the Wyrdwood, Barker has outdone himself. I’m still inching my way through this and that’s in no small part due to how much attention this world of wood and treachery, of dappled sunlight and forbidding shadows, calls for.

A Storm of Wings by M John Harrison

I’ll freely admit I was often very confused about the plot of this novel. Harrison’s style is like a bludgeon here, disguising plot twists behind the thick atmosphere. However, the visions of Viriconium! A decadent, fading city caught in the middle of bleak moors full of bleaker memories, with the technology of yesteryear poking up through the surface.

Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock

I didn’t mean to name writer after writer associated with the New Wave of spec fic that started in the 60s, but I’m not surprised it did. It was a generation of iconoclastic artists who took the format and visceral nature of the pulp and sought to plug it right into the human condition and, in doing so, paid a great attention to the gothic tradition of using the landscape as character and guide to the characters. You see it today (Tamsyn Muir’s The Locked Tomb does it well, and would have been an excellent choice if I’d thought of it before I typed more words than I like to delete) but that was a golden time for it. Holdstock’s vision of mythic forests and ice age survival, of English countrysides and squalid iron age villages, is as fine an example as any.

So there we go. Six vivid landscape novels… well, five and a map, but you got Watership Down earlier today. Consider The Locked Tomb (so very, very necromantic and gothy in space) as a lazy bonus ball. Let me know what landscape heavy books you enjoy!


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