Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week they will post a new Top Ten list that one of the bloggers there at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join!
Today’s topic is the Top Ten Most Vivid Settings in Books.
1) Middle-Earth (as featured in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, specifically The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit)
Do I even need to explain this one? Admittedly it took me several tries to get through The Fellowship of the Ring, but it wasn’t the scenic description’s fault in the slightest. I could easily see the Shire, Weathertop, the Elvish town of Rivendell, the fortress of Helm’s Deep, and the fantastic White City. And while a lot of authors create their own fantasy worlds, how many that you know actually regularly sell wall art of their world’s map? (No, seriously, LOOK at that map!) Not to mention that Tolkien did more than create a physical place, but several different languages, too!
2) Hogwarts (as featured in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books)
Another no-brainer, no? When Harry first stepped into Hogwarts, I was right there with him as he discovered the Great Hall, the moving staircases, and the Gryffindor common room (complete with the portrait of the Fat Lady, of course). As the books progressed, so did the world that Harry discovered: the Room of Requirement, the Chamber of Secrets, the secret passage into Hogsmeade. Part of the draw of JKR’s books was the fabulous way she had of creating magic and showing that magic in her words. Hogwarts may not have had its own made-up language (unless you count the spells used), but I was drawn more deeply into Harry’s world than any other world I’ve read since.
3) Narnia (as featured in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia)
When Lucy first steps through that wardrobe into a world of winter, I was captivated by what she felt and saw, and the creatures she met. Imagine a magical world where time moves more quickly than your own world’s, where fauns and satyrs dance and frolic, and where an evil White Witch controls the land, making it “always winter, always cold,” and ruling from her Ice Palace. You had the description of the Beavers’ home, the Stone Table, and the castle of Cair Paravel with its four thrones. You had the fabulous Dawn Treader, and the Lone Islands, and the island of the magician and his hopping “servants”. Narnia wasn’t confined to one place: it was a sprawling landscape, bordered on all sides by sometimes hostile, and sometimes friendly people, but all of it is wonderfully creative and imaginative. I definitely wouldn’t mind taking a stroll along the beaches of Cair Paravel. How about you?
4) Le Cirque des Rêves (as featured in Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus)
Imagine a circus that’s only open at night. It’s flanked by high fences, and has a clock tower at its center, and everything surrounding it is in shades of black and white. You’re surrounded by the smell of caramel corn, of cotton candy and candy apples, except instead of a bright sunny day, it’s late at night. In a mass of tents you can find a magician who is so amazing she can make herself disappear; a world of ice and snow; a tree with candles lighting its branches; a tent of dreams. You can visit a fortune teller, watch acrobatics, and see animals. And now imagine that it’s two single people who are making all of the events and sights possible. To me, The Night Circus wasn’t just about the circus itself, but the relationship between its two main characters, but I have to admit that I would definitely love to visit a circus of this magnitude and magic.
5) Camp Half-blood (as featured in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books)
Ah, Camp Half-blood, that amazing, secret place outside of NYC where children of the Greek gods and goddesses can come to hone their monster-fighting skills. It’s complete with everything you might want: a rock-climbing wall (that may kill you), a place for rowing (filled with seafolk), stables (which features at least one Pegasus), an open amphitheater to eat in (complete with a place to put your offerings to the gods, of course), a forest filled with creatures who can kill you, and the twelve cabins for the twelve Olympians. Not to mention the Big House, where Dionysus and Chiron live, along with the Oracle (who I wouldn’t exactly want to come face-to-face with). Percy’s cabin is probably my favorite, and it’s probably because it’s the one we get the most description of (not to mention I have a soft spot for the ocean, and Poseidon’s cabin seems to look and smell exactly like you’d think it should). The books of the new series give us even more description of the camp, and just make it that much cooler.
6) Disney World (as featured in Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers books)
As a huge, giant fan of all things Disney, the Kingdom Keepers books were a dream come true for me. Yes, I enjoy the plot and the characters, but it was the little tidbits of information that he drops throughout the books – which each take place in a different park/place – that really made me devour these books in their entirety. Truthfully, the storytelling has started to become problematic (Dear Mr. Pearson, PLEASE thoroughly edit your next book!), but I can’t help but love every single time the reader is taken “backstage” if you will, and is allowed to see a part of Disney that only cast members normally get to see. I will continue to read these books not only because I want to see how things are finally going to end in this series, but because I can’t help but love those bits of information that he’s added (with Disney’s permission, of course). If you’re a fan of Disney World, I would recommend probably the first three books in this series; after that, the [lack of] editing starts to get really out of hand.
7) Howl’s Moving Castle (as featured in Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle)
Okay, admittedly the entire world that Diana Wynne Jones created in this book is amazing, but I am focusing specifically on Howl’s castle for this post. Yes, it’s dirty and dingy and tromps unheeded through the countryside, but when you consider that the only thing keeping it moving is Calcifer, Howl’s fire demon, it becomes a bit more amazing, no? When Sophie takes over – much to Howl’s chagrin – she cleans it up so its suitable for actually living in, and we get to see some of the great things about not only Howl, but the castle itself. And then there’s that magical door that takes Howl to different parts of the world (even when he doesn’t want to go), or just his back garden. It all has a very magical element to it, and I couldn’t help but love it, even before Sophie made it less disgusting.
8) The Little Palace in Ravka (as featured in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone)
Part of the draw of Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel was the setting of the book itself – a sort of pseudo-Russia – but I am going to focus only on the Grisha’s palace in Ravka. First of all, let’s talk aesthetics: the Grisha are all amazingly beautiful, wearing specific colors to show what their magical forte is. While the Grisha eat regular “peasant” fare, their surroundings are anything but: golden walls, soaring ceilings, and gilded decorations. There’s a river outside (or maybe it’s a lake), with lots of green grass and trees. Alina takes her lessons in a small hut on the outskirts, but it’s the only “shabby” thing about the entire world she’s living in. And now imagine a crazy-handsome man roaming around in black robes: the Darkling.
9) Croak (as featured in Gina Damico’s Croak)
While definitely less fancy or over-the-top as some of these settings, the small town of Croak is still worth mentioning here, and not just because it’s home to the folks we know as the Grim Reapers. When Lex first enters Croak (on a motorcycle driven by her possibly-crazy Uncle Mort), we see a tree-lined path that leads to the Main Street of an idyllic town. The only things of note in the town are the Bank (where the reaped souls go, and which also serves as central command for the reapers), and a bar that serves a drink that makes the drinker ridiculously happy. There are also dorms for the junior reapers, and some other small-town things, but those are the two hot spots, if you will. The entire thing is surrounded by green grass and trees; the reapers travel to and from their various destinations from a large, open field. And then there’s Uncle Mort’s crazy and chaotic house, and Lex’s bedroom (complete with a giant Titanic poster). Even if the book itself hadn’t been so hysterically funny, the descriptions of the town would have pulled me in. Just don’t venture into Croak, unless you want to lose your money and your memory!
10) Araby Worth’s hometown (as featured in Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin)
This nameless city reminiscent of New Orleans or possibly Paris didn’t even need a name to make it memorable. Imagine a world where plague has decimated the population, and the only thing keeping people alive are the porcelain masks they all wear. There are high rise buildings crumbling to pieces, a Debauchery Club where the rich go to forget themselves and their troubles, and a harbor with one single boat being constructed. Dead bodies are picked up by collectors each night. It might not be a place you yourself would want to visit, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t vivid and in your face. It was this world, and the descriptions of the sorrow and hopelessness that really grabbed me while reading this book, especially when you combine it with the inside of Prince Prospero’s castle, where they’re able to ignore everything going on in the town. Add to that the steampunk flair – mechanical carriages or cars, hot air balloons, and flying blimps – and it’s definitely a world that stays with you.
So those are my ten most vivid settings. What are yours?