As a longtime science fiction and fantasy book critic, you’d think that I would be particularly drawn to novels that feature engaging plotlines, fully developed characters, richly described backdrops, profoundly moving or thought-provoking themes, the use of symbolism and allegory, etc. – and that certainly is true – but sometimes it’s the little things, the seemingly insignificant details, that turn an entertaining novel into one that I cherish forever.
Yeah. I love a good map.
It’s not like I’m reading a novel set in New York City or Los Angeles – fantasy realms come entirely from a writer’s imagination. And some worlds – like Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Silverbergs’s Majipoor, and Feist’s Midkemia – are simply immense constructs; sprawling landscapes with literally hundreds of landmarks: kingdoms, cities, towns, mountain ranges, marshlands, forests, oceans, rivers, volcanoes, archipelagos, etc. Without a meticulously illustrated map, I’d be lost!
And I couldn’t be happier because some of the very best fantasy releases in the last few years have all included meticulously detailed maps: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Lamentation by Ken Scholes, Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, The Chosen by Ricardo Pinto, and The Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass, to name a few. (They still don’t hold a candle, however, to my hardcover edition of The Lord of the Rings that features a 15” x 18” color, foldout map of Middle-earth!)
And while I’ve unquestionably seen the use of maps more frequently in fantasy novels, it’s by no means limited to the genre. I’ve been seeing more and more maps in crime fiction and mainstream mystery as well – for example, Mari Jungstedt’s stellar The Inner Circle and Arnaldur Indridason’s Silence of the Grave both feature maps.
I’m not exactly sure why I love maps in novels so much. Yes, sometimes the map is so lovingly rendered, it’s almost like a work of art. Yes, the map is oftentimes an invaluable reference to help me keep track of where the protagonists are located and/or where the action is taking place. But it’s more than that – when I see a map in a novel, especially a lovingly produced one, I feel as though the publisher has taken that extra step to make my reading experience more complete, more enjoyable.
Am I alone in my love of fantasy maps? I think not. Dozens of regular visitors at BarnesandNoble.com’s Fantasy/Science Fiction forum have voiced similar opinions. A good map is like the literary icing on the cake. So publishers, if you’re reading this blog, more maps please.
Who knew cartography could be so sexy?