Sometimes I come up with these grand ideas like figure out what your ten favorite settings are, and I just want to throttle past!Mary. Like, bro. Chill the heck out. Future!Mary does not want to deal with deciding what her top ten favorite settings are, ughhhhhh. I recognize that I could also just not do this today, but it does sound kind of fun, so I guess past!Mary was onto something.
Now, admittedly, I did literally just write a post about places in books I’d like to visit, so I’m challenging myself not to use any of those locations. Even so, the settings in here are not necessarily ones that I would like to visit, but ones that I think were expertly crafted, that I think about all the time, that I keep wanting to return to. These are usually books that I’ve reread or want to reread, and the settings are so deeply entrenched in all the reasons why I love these books.
The way that Reni K. Amayo described the forest scenes in Daughters of Nri is always going to stick out to me. They were such well-described scenes, to the point where I could almost hear the swaying of the trees. I could picture everything about those chapters perfectly, and it was so powerful to be able to see it that clearly, as though I was watching a movie. Even the chapters outside of the forest were so well done, and the setting of the story was something that constantly kept me going back and wanting more. I loved the characters, but it was the world around them that held onto me.
I was uncertain whether or not I wanted to include Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo on this list, but then I remembered that the scene in the Dregs’ house when Kaz is walking down the stairs basically lives rent-free in my brain, and how that specific scene was the main inspiration behind the Gothic house that’s set in Saintsverse, my own world, and it just makes sense to include it. Though I did include SOC in the post about places I’d like to visit, the setting of Kerch is easily one of my favorite places to imagine. There’s something about the grim, dark atmosphere of Kerch that just makes me want to love it from afar because hell no I never want to visit.
There are many things that I love about A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, chief among them the competition, but the setting is definitely up there with my favorites. Though it only takes place within a walled city, and mostly within a palace at that, the description of the setting is so lush and drawn out, and I felt so rooted in the atmosphere of the story while everything was playing out. That, and literally anytime there’s some kind of underground cave adventure, I am so hyped.
There is zero percent chance I would ever actually like to visit Daevabad from The City of Brass by SA Chakraborty, given how truly chaotic and constantly war-strewn it seems, but the idea of it is just gorgeous. I could spend hours wandering through the different sections of the city, getting to know all of its different inhabitants, and you’d be hard-pressed to convince me to leave the palace once I finally got around to exploring it. Chakraborty has such a rich way of describing her exquisite world-building, and this is definitely one of my all-time favorite settings.
Don’t @ me, I realize that City of Bones by Cassandra Clare is one of only two earth-based settings, and this one is way more earth-based than the other, but the Institutes! Literally the Institutes alone put this setting on this list because ya girl has some serious issues with Western religion, but holy moly does she love churches. I mean, look at them. They’re easily among the most beautiful architectural wonders in the world, and the idea of one being filled with demon hunters?? COUNT ME THE HECK IN!
There are so many good desert settings that I could choose from, but We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal also employs a haunted, monstrous forest, and that combination is killer. That, and there’s a brief high seas vibe going on at the beginning of the second book, and just all three are basically every setting box I ever needed checked, so I’m hella excited just thinking about this setting. It’s so incredibly done, to the point where even I’m a little uneasy about the Arz, and what I wouldn’t give to have watched everything unfold in the capital from a bird’s eye view.
Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody has, perhaps, the most unique setting on this list, and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything else quite like it. I mean, a traveling circus city? There’s so much inherent magic in just that idea alone, never mind the incredible execution. And I know, I’m kind of cheating, putting an Amanda Foody here when we all know I’d love to include Ace of Shadows, but the setting in this book is truly magnificent, and it deserves more hype, so I was always going to put this specific Foody book here.
Gosh, I could scream for actual days about Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier, particularly about the young king still wanting to go riding with his best friends, UGH, but we’re here about the setting, which is also wonderful. It’s a long, narrow island with a palace at one end and cliffs that people throw themselves at the other, like?? Why have you not already fallen in love with this? There are so many different settings within, too, way more than you’d think for such a small location, but beyond the palace and the cliffs, there’s an entire marketplace, docks, beach and ocean moments, and even a few island scenes.
If I’m being honest, the setting of Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan is actually horrible because of what it forces the characters to go through, but, conceptually, the setting itself is incredible. The actions of the characters, and the monarchy, are what makes the setting so wrong, but the many-layered city and mazes of protection around each layer is such an intricate and dizzying thing to think about. I feel like I’d definitely get lost in the city here, though why are we talking about the city and the palace when we could be taking about the insane adventure across the world of the second book!
Eyyyyyyyy, here I am again, talking about There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool! I will literally never stop. I can’t wait to reread the first two this year before the third one comes out. Heck, I may just reread them now and then again in the autumn. THIS SERIES IS SO GOOD! There are so many incredible settings throughout, too. Do you want a monastery of badass warrior monks? Great. Do you want a gorgeous, Greek-inspired city with a prince in hiding? Fantastic. Do you want silk-lined windows and scaling towers and death all around? Perfect. Do you want underground cave scenes??? COME ONE, COME ALL! And that’s not even getting started on the high seas, floating city, and mountains of the second book.
Listen, A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab is probably the most predictable setting to put on this list, but you cannot deny how truly magical it is. I’ve never been to London, so I have absolutely no gauge for if this is even a little realistic, but the idea of four identical cities in different states of disrepair because of the magic lingering between the four, is just so damn cool. I would spend an entire book itself in black London, never mind white London. And yes, I know, red London is supposed to be the star of the show, and it is beautiful, but there’s something otherworldly about black & white that keeps pulling me back.
Seven Endless Forests by April Genevieve Tucholke is the sole reason why this list ended up being longer than ten books. I realize that there’s twelve, but it was this setting that made me push the list longer and add two extra books because holy magic, y’all, give me entire book by itself with the witch war, WOW. Forget the actual main plot of this, I want to see both the swamp witches and the sea witches for as long as possible because each of those settings have haunted me for months after, and they made Tucholke an auto-buy author for me.
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