For this week’s twin post with the amazing Rachel from undivinelight, we’re talking about the things that we love when it comes to the setting of our fantasy novels. It was really hard for me to narrow it down to just five things, but I think I managed!
- A sense of history. For all that I felt The Lord of the Rings went much too long and was too dry (I know–blasphemy!) I loved how real the world felt. A big part of that was that it practically bled history. Stories of ancient battles, ruins of past civilizations, rivalries that run deep–I eat that stuff up!
- A complex system of morality or beliefs. Especially if it has gray areas or aspects that hit me where it hurts. I’m looking for example at Trader culture from Tamora Pierce’s Emelan books. Traders have their own laws, their own taboos, their own superstitions. And all of that adds up to heartbreak for one of the main characters. Even as I’m hurting for her, I understand why her culture is treating her the way it does and not blaming them for acting according to their laws.
- Food! Not going to lie, I’m a foodie. Very little builds a setting for me quicker than seeing what the characters are eating. George R. R. Martin catches a little bit of well-meant ribbing for the lavish descriptions of regional meals, but to me it’s invaluable. I know that Winterfell’s meals tend to be spare of frills. It’s a hard land–the people need practical foodstuffs and hardy livestock and crops. Dorne, however, has the luxury of spices. The royals in King’s Landing can afford all the lavish, decadent treats they want.
- Music and dance. Instruments, lyrics, rhythm, they all lend a lot to the feel of a world on the page. Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner books use music as a way to distinguish between various regions, what songs are appropriate where, what dances a person of various stations would be expected to know. And all of that builds the illusion of a real place for the reader.
- Characters that are deeply impacted by their world. This is the make it or break it moment for me. An author can have crafted the most amazing setting, but if the protagonist doesn’t feel like a product of that world, I’m not going to stick around for it. Pacat’s Captive Prince series, for example, does a fantastic job of drawing the distinctions between Akielos and Vere, and their respective princes fit perfectly into their constructed worlds. That’s what sells the books for me.
And I could go on and on. Fashion, manners, religion and mythology, technology, and too many other facets to even begin to mention. But what’s most important to me is that all the pieces come together into a believable, immersive whole that I can lose myself in for awhile.