This month we’ve asked our librarians to share some of the most vivid & memorable settings in books & other media they love. Here are their responses!
Every book I’ve read by Gerald Brom has always been so vividly depicted through both his words and illustrations. In Krampus, he describes the coal towns of the Appalachians so well I felt like I’d driven through them myself. I’ve never been to Boone County, West Virginia but I can clearly see it as Krampus is set free and seeks his vengeance on Balder.
Gordon Dahlquist also gives great detail to create scene and mood. The sooty underground of Victorian London in The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters series are absorbing as a reader. Dahlquist uses scenery to set up mood and plot so thoroughly that each title in The Glass Books series only spans a short period of time without the reader ever realizing it.
I read Hospital by Toby Litt nearly 10 years ago, yet I often find myself thinking about the strange setting to this day. The hospital quickly morphs into a surreal and disjointed limbo as you read it. Even so, I was taken with every tangential plot through the hospital as it warped and disintegrated around itself.
And lastly, the Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest has some of the best settings. It is an alternate history that takes place during a prolonged Civil War. Across 5 novels and 2 novellas, Priest takes you from a Seattle slowly being taken by a mysterious gas seeping from the Earth across the Midwest and the developing locomotive system to a brothel in New Orleans helping the Union win the war.
One of the most vivid book experiences I had as a younger reader was from The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. I can remember her describing the entrance to the Island and the creatures with such detail. Enthralled by her description and her characters, I read all her books and eventually moved towards Harry Potter and other books with platforms into other worlds!
Recently, I quite enjoyed All Rights Reserved by Gregory Katsoulis. He does a brilliant job of building a world in which every word you say is copyrighted, which means every word spoken costs you money! Yikes! His explanation of product placement is sooooo coooool. Basically, there are people who place ads for the companies you as a person represent in society, or the companies that the government knows you can afford based on data. At night, product placers go around placing ads for you to find based upon what you can have. Can you imagine a world in which you had to choose a company to represent you?! What if you had to represent something like Hellman’s Mayonnaise?! If you really consider what Katsoulis is building up, we’re not too far off with ads being placed for us based upon our browsing data on the internet.
Warcross by Marie Lu is another book that fabulously builds the future of virtual gaming, and the possibilities of your outputs in the game controlling your behavior in real life. Towards the end of the book, there’s a major twist, but the virtual reality game called Warcross is exquisitely built to demonstrate just how much of a role gaming plays for people in everyday life.
I just saw Black Panther, and the development of Wakanda is extraordinary. If we don’t see that film next award season for visual effects and/or costume design, especially for Shuri, I will be soooooo upset!
Also, if you ever get the chance to listen to Janelle Monae, please listen to her evolution of her android self, Cindi Mayweather, aka the Electric Lady. My colleague Rob just told me about her new album, and I CAN’T WAIT for the next evolution. In case you haven’t noticed, I am a definite fangirl. Please check out her time’s up speech at the Grammys! She is sensational.
Finally, I have to say Christopher Nolan’s Inception is on my list because the world building is so related to emotions and memories. I wish I knew more about the subconscious feeling and thinking that results from dreams.
I can think of a few right away. The first one that sprang to mind was Terabithia from Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson; Jesse and Leslie create their own fantasy land in the woods by their house, and as a young reader it’s easy to imagine right along with them.
Another brilliant setting that invites the reader to imagine is Le Cirque de Reves, from Erin Morgenstern’s magical book The Night Circus.
And lastly, I think the 2011 movie version of Jane Eyre got the whole desolate windswept moor thing just right.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths drew me into the world of the Greek gods & goddesses so vividly as a child, it sparked a lifelong love of Greek & all other ancient mythologies.
Spill Zone‘s gorgeously lurid illustrations do an amazing job of transporting the reader to the surreal realm of The Zone – a mysterious area that experienced an unknown accident which destroyed the town of Poughkeepsie, NY. The Zone is dangerous, but hides creepy wonders like towering wolf-like creatures, paper tornadoes, flattened cars, and floating zombified versions of those unfortunate enough to be caught in town during the accident. That the main character is a photographer who braves the horrors of The Zone is no accident – it only reinforces that The Zone possesses a certain eerie beauty that you can’t tear your eyes away from.
Spira, the world you explore in Final Fantasy X & X-2, is one of the earliest fantasy worlds I remember becoming immersed in into so completely. The world is one that is plagued by a massive beast called Sin who destroys cities & lives with reckless abandon. Only summoners can stop Sin, albeit temporarily, by embarking on a pilgrimage to collect spirits called Aeons from across the land. A religious organization that follows the teachings of the original summoner, Yevon, forbids technology – which it blames it for the genesis of Sin. I love that the narrative follows the main character Tidus, who is from the technologically advanced Spira of the past. It allows you the player to experience the world of Spira through his eyes, as an outsider.
Nnedi Okorafor is a master at creating worlds that feel so incredibly real and yet totally alien. The Binti trilogy & Akata Witch are the only ones I’ve read so far, but I can’t wait to explore the rest of the worlds she’s created. Binti explores the future of the Himba tribe in Africa, as well as a living spaceship, and a school for beings from across the cosmos called Oomza University. Akata Witch takes us to the world of Leopard Knocks, a lush, secret place only accessible to those who can use magic. The late great Ursula K. Le Guin wasn’t exaggerating when she said “There’s more vivid imagination in a page of Nnedi Okorafor’s work than in whole volumes of ordinary fantasy epics.”
The post apocalyptic world of Horizon: Zero Dawn reveals bits and pieces of the technologically advanced America that used to be, and this is one of the biggest reasons this world is so compelling. There are so many mysteries you can uncover about the past and why the lush Colorado & Wyoming landscapes are now populated by aggressive robotic animals. Not to mention the intriguing tribes scattered across the world, who all believe different things. From the technophobic & reclusive Nora to the merchants of Carta who have created a bustling capital. The mix of high tech and low tech creates a truly compelling juxtaposition.
J.Y. Yang packed so much world building into the two slim novels that make up the Tensorate series so far. A lot of fantasy novels are set in an alternate medieval Europe & Yang takes us to an alternate Asia in these novels. There are those that can manipulate The Slack, or the energy that everything in the universe is made of, to make magic happen. Another interesting piece of world building was that children in this world are not assigned a gender at birth. Instead, children grow up using “they” pronouns until they decide to confirm their gender as male or female, or to never confirm their gender. I can’t wait for the next books to come out!
The land of Thedas from the Dragon Age series is another world that is so interesting and brought to life so well by the developers. Thedas feels very similar to a lot of medieval fantasy settings, but sets itself apart with a few interesting twists. In Thedas there is a recurring event called The Blight, which occurs when Darkspawn, subterranian creatures with tainted blood, infect the old draconic gods. The old god turns into an Archdemon and lead the Darkspawn hordes to the surface to destroy the world. A special organization called the Grey Wardens consume the usually lethal Darkspawn blood to gain more power to combat these forces. Some in Thedas are born with the ability to do magic, and are feared by other Thedans. Mages are treated poorly and forced to live in towers called Circles, where they’re monitored by a religious military group called the Templars. Thedas is also home to elves, dwarves, and horned beings known as Qunari, who all have their own distinct histories and beliefs. There is so much going on across these games, it’s almost impossible not to get sucked into the politics and adventures of this world.
The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
Set in Victorian London, this family saga is three books long and once you start this first one you’ll be sucked in and won’t want to stop. The main characters work in a tea shop and a vegetable market and the details of the sights, smells, and tastes give you a real sense of what they experienced every day.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I’ve never been to Nigeria (or to the 1960s) but reading this book made me feel like I was there. Adichie brought her setting to life with vivid descriptions of food, clothing, and music, all set against a fascinating political backdrop.
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
This book moves between current-day New York, and 1915 Syria in which a young woman helps distribute aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. Every time I think about it, I can almost feel the heat of the sun and smell of spices in an outdoor market. The language was lush and beautiful, and the story transportive.
What settings really came to life for you? Leave your answer in the comments!