It’s time for me to reveal yet another one of my many reader quirks. Last time I talked about my favorite tropes, this time I have something a little more stimulating…
When it comes to reading it’s no secret that I’m all about the world building. I think we’ve well and truly established that at this point. But, what you might not know is that I am a serious sucker for literary maps. You know, those eye popping, drool-worthy illustrated maps in the front of our favorite fantasy books? Yes, those maps. Well, I practically live for them.
Many books have them but I think we can all agree that there are maps and then there are maps. So, join me on a bookish adventure as we talk all things literary maps.
How many freaking times did I just use the word map???
Reading is such an immersive experience and you can bet that I’m the sort of reader who loses their damn mind over imaginary maps. I’m all about tracking the heroes journey and all that. I mean, I can’t be the only one. Right?
I think that including a map adds to the overall reading experience. Especially if you’re dealing with a super complex world with multiple points of view and magic systems. Maybe it’s just me but I think it makes keeping track of everyone just that little easier. I’m looking at you Kingdom of Ash.
Maps can also be used to set the scene. After all – in most cases the map is slipped into the first few pages of the book, sometimes even just inside the cover. It’s usually the first thing a reader notices. So, it’s the author’s first chance to make an impact and draw their reader into this strange new world. Forget the inciting incident, forget the hook – grab their attention with your super badass map! Use the map to create a sense of anticipation, Painting a vivid picture to set the overall tone and mood of the atmosphere.
It’s also an opportunity to really get creative. Don’t just give me those Tolkien-esque triangle mountains – I’m taking whimsical bordering, detailed compasses and legends with illustrations that basically leap off the page. You know, here there be dragons type of stuff. Nothing makes me happier than when a publisher really utilizes their map.
That being said, not every author – or reader for that matter – is going to be climbing aboard the fantasy map express. As with pretty much everything these days, reading is subjective. When a book includes a map before the actual story begins literally right from the get-go potential plot lines are already spoiled. But hey, small price to pay, right?
Then there are others who believe that maps, like character illustrations, limits the reader’s imagination. Okay, I will admit that this one is a valid point. At the end of the day that’s what reading is all about – the words on the page merely guide our own thoughts as our minds weave the world together. Some people don’t want those imaginary shackles binding them. And that’s okay because to each their own.
But, I’m 110% happy to be left knowing that some poor, unfortunate character is going to find themselves in a bit of a bind navigating the Dead Islands or The Cleaver.
And hey, speaking of Throne of Glass, let me take you on a journey through some of my personal favorite literary maps. Spoiler alert – you won’t be needing your passport.
✨ Caelira ~ Roar
Have you ever come across a more ruthless setting than that of the wildlands of Caelira? The answer is no, you haven’t. What I love about Gaelira’s map is that it actually looks like a character’s quick sketch. It might be simplistic but it drives the point that Gaelira is a brutal land plagued by violent tempests and magical storms. Level of brutality: impaled by a tree branch.
✨ Elfhame ~ The Cruel Prince
Okay, I didn’t love the book but I sure as heck love the map. just by glancing at these whimsical illustrations you know that Elfhame is the epitome of fairy land. The style of the trees, the details of the landmarks, the mythical creatures dotting the page… it’s just so magical! I also appreciate the contrast between the tone of the map and the ruthless politics of Elfhame.
✨ The Forest Territories ~ Warriors
I feel like I grew up running my finger across this map. Probably because I did. The Forest Territories, commonly known by their Twoleg name White Heart Woods were actually inspired by New Forest in southern England. I just love how detailed the map is, right down to the changing terrain and the farm houses. It’s easy to identify the clan borders. I also love how the details help to convey a sense of depth. You can see the contours of the land, feel where it rises and falls.
✨ Ravka ~ Grishaverse
The Gishaverse is a prime example of what I mean when I say I love a creative map – just look at those flourishes! The detail, the illustrations, that bordering… Serious heart eyes. But, beautiful art aside, I love that the Grishaverse map works to convey culture. The fantasy world of Ravka is heavily rooted in Russian Folklore and culture and the illustrations really drive that point across. I love that this map sets the tone and feel of the country before we’ve even found ourselves in the first chapter.
✨ Prythian ~ A Court of Thorns and Roses [Collectors Edition]
Is there anything more whimsical, more enchanting that the updated map of Prythian? No. No there’s not. As much as I love the seven courts I felt that the original map was somewhat lacking. Give me the detail! Give me those fantasy trimmings! But look at that glow up! The roses give me serious Beauty and the Beast vibes and the added detailing to the mountains and forests give the map depth and structure. My one complaint? I want a close up of Prythian allowing for landmarks. I want to see Velaris and the House of Wind. I mean, the Day Court got a palace – why not the Night Court???
✨ A’landi ~ Spin the Dawn
Look at it. Just, look at it. Honestly, have you ever seen a more beautiful map? Right off the bat the tone is set – we know before we’ve even turned the page that we’re headed for an alternate fantastical Asia steeped in tradition and folklore. I mean, the map just feels oriental – right down to the dotting forests. Also, can we talk about the magical flourishes? There’s dragons diving the ocean, a caravan trotting along the desert and a moon crying a pool of tears onto a jagged peak. Can I live here???
✨ Erilea ~ Throne of Glass [Collectors Edition]
And of course, I had to finish with my favorite fantasy map of all time; Erilea. This glow up adds a new depth and contouring to a sweeping world of shifting cultures. Okay, Erilea’s map doesn’t feature wyverns or the little folk but it does convey the sheer scope of the world building. You’ve got snow caped mountain regions, sprawling marshy plains, dense forests, jungles and a blistering desert. Then there’s the newly added bordering which features wyrdmarks and the Eye of Elena. Also can we talk about how foreboding they’ve made Noll and Amaroth? Because chills.
What’s are some of your favorite bookish maps? Are you for or against them? I’d love to hear from you! Be sure to leave me a comment below. Happy exploring!