Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. This week is all about the worlds that won our hearts – although we wouldn’t necessarily want to live in them…
World-building is one of those things that can make or break a novel from me: the magic that takes it from a decent read to a lifelong favourite. Many of the books I loved growing up focused on plot and just sort of vaguely assumed some sort of mediaeval peasantry in the background; these days, my favourites bring their whole world to carefully-considered life. I’ve become one of those awkward readers who occasionally pauses and thinks ‘this is all great, but where does their food come from?’ – although I’m still forgiving of hand-waving if the rest is intriguing enough.
Still, none of this implies that the worlds will be comfortable or inviting… In fact, fantasy worlds in general tend to be pretty tough climates unless you’re a Chosen One or a supernatural being of some sort. And preferably an able-bodied man to boot. They’re often cold, dirty, violent, misogynistic and sorely lacking in hot baths. Are there any I could live in? I had a think…
It’s not a tough sell to consider Jacqueline Carey’s glorious, open-hearted realm of Terre d’Ange (or her alternate Britain, frankly). It’s easy to believe that even the common folk live well: Elua’s chosen country is idyllic, and while the details may be less glamorous at the bottom, you could still be sure the food would be good, the weather kind and the nights full of love.
Even before an orogene rips it apart, the Stillness feels like a poor choice. It’s fascinating – Jemisin builds her world in asides and slipped details, creating a picture that changes every time you look at it – but it’s not appealing (even if it did at one point have plumbing). Full of prejudice and perceived threat, its societies are built on fear. It’s a brilliant, captivating setting – but I wouldn’t want to live there.
At the risk of being a bad fan – and much as I adore the Land and the City of Ellen Kushner’s novels and the shared world of Tremontaine – I think I’d rather live in Chartil. Maybe it’s the weather. Perhaps I’ve got a preference for being poisoned over being gutted in a Riverside back alley. I have a suspicion I’d love the food. Of course, like most fantasy worlds, it would probably suck as a commoner.
Westeros, Essos and the rest
I enjoy the intricate politics and social rivalries of George R R Martin’s sprawling world, but you couldn’t pay me to live in any of it. Well, maybe Dorne. Maybe. There’s altogether too much poverty, rape, slavery and general chance that some fella with a sword will use you for target practice. And that’s before we get to civil war and ice zombies…
Even the everyday citizens of Red London seem like a happy bunch. Their sun is warmer, their river is redder and their world is tinged in everyday magic. Sure it could all be a successful sales pitch – and like Terre d’Ange it feels almost too good to be true – but… I’m sold. You can keep the other Londons (heck, I live in one of those already!)
While Bern’s homeland seems inviting – community-focused and the right kind of raucous – most of Sarn is a death trap. Ebora is dying on its feet, its people killed by their own appetite; and the human lands scratch an existence amongst the deadly relics of the Jure’lia. It’s absorbing and ever-expanding – but it’s not my idea of a good place to live.
I’m going to be specific here: I’d happily live as one of the Elcyion Lacar. Deverry and Bardek are intriguing but awful places to live (although at least Bardek has plumbing); but I could get on board with a lifetime on the grasslands with the herds, singing under the stars. Elves, eh. They always get the best lives (…and epic ancestral enemies. But hey).
This is a trickier proposition: there’s no hiding that the archipelago stays afloat on backbreaking labour. There’s no glamour to Ged’s childhood, the heartless cold of Osskil or the despair of the South Reach. But… I love the sea. And islands. And this world fascinates me for being recognisable and yet having magic and dragons. And otak.
What about our world, but with magic? It’s funny how that doesn’t always turn out to improve things…
What if the doors to Faerie swung open on Hallowe’en, and the magic flooded back into the world? What if dragons attacked the M4 (careful what you wish for) and the Bright and Dark Courts rode the woods? Chadbourn convinced me very quickly I’d die. Fast. Still, faerie apocalypse. Can’t help but want to watch the world burn.
James’s vision of Britain is all about inequality: a Britain of magic, where the mundane are forced into 10 years of servitude to support the economy. It raises interesting questions of power and social control – and it certainly has plumbing – but… I prefer the Britain I live in, flawed and unmagical though it is.
Are there any fantasy worlds you’d like to live in?