This week’s topic is:
Top Ten Most Vivid Worlds or Settings in Books
You’re going to notice an obvious pattern in my list, but I have an affinity for gorgeous places full of beautiful sites and interesting people. Whether they’re magical scenes or real-life locations all over the globe, if the setting leaps out of the page and makes me wish, more than anything, that I could be there in a heartbeat, then that is a place worth noting (and a world worth visiting, even if it’s only through text).
10. The Looking Glass Wars‘s Wonderland (Frank Beddor)
|When Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland throne, must flee through the Pool of Tears to escape her murderous aunt Redd, she finds herself lost and alone in Victorian London. Befriended by an aspiring author named Lewis Carrol, Alyss tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Alyss trusts this author to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere will find her and bring her home. But he gets the story all wrong. He even spells her name incorrectly!
Fortunately, Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan knows all too well the awful truth of Alyss’ story and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may eventually battle Redd for her fightful place as the Queen of Hearts.
The Looking Glass Wars unabashedly challenges our Wonderland assumptions surrounding mad tea parties, grinning Cheshire cats, and a curios little blond girl to reveal an epic battle in the endless war for Imagination.
I was mostly intrigued by Beddor’s premise when I first picked up The Looking Glass Wars that it took me by surprise how amazing his recreation of Wonderland was. I love the idea of a (matriarchal) world existing simply by the strength of the leading woman’s imagination. The descriptions of their awe-inspiring powers, the inventions they created, the kind of ridiculously awesome weapons the card soldiers yielded were all fantastic, and I especially loved the way the caterpillar’s maze and the Pool of Tears (warp hole puddles that could transport people out of Wonderland into our world in various time periods and locations all over the globe) were portrayed. Even the imagery outside of Wonderland in the disbelieving, nonmagical world stood out to me (and I’ll probably never forget the picture of young Alyss making the flowers sing for money using her imagination until her belief in her abilities — and her sanity — diminishes and the flowers sing no more).
9. North of Beautiful‘s China (Justina Chen Headley)
|It’s hard not to notice Terra Cooper.
She’s tall, blond, and has an enviable body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her unmistakably “flawed” face. Terra secretly plans to leave her stifling small town in the Northwest and escape to an East Coast college, but gets pushed off-course by her controlling father. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in Jacob’s path, the handsome but quirky Goth boy immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, and she is forced in yet another direction. With her carefully laid plans disrupted, will Terra be able to find her true path?
Written in lively, artful prose, award-winning author Justina Chen Headley has woven together a powerful novel about a fractured family, falling in love, travel, and the meaning of true beauty.
North of Beautiful made me want to visit China. Desperately. Although the story begins in the United States, I loved the way Justina Chen Headley used the sights, smells, and culture of China (and the overarching theme of cartography) to illustrate Terra’s (and her mother’s) personal journey. I haven’t traveled as much as I’d like to, but I agree with the sentiment that a trip away from daily life can be a transformative and eye-opening experience. (This book also introduced me to the concept of geo-chaching, and I am dying to try that out one day.)
8. Romancing Mister Bridgerton‘s Regency England (Julia Quinn)
|Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend’s brother for… well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret… and fears she doesn’t know him at all.
Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of everyone’s preoccupation with the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can’t seem to publish an edition without mentioning him in the first paragraph. But when Colin returns to London from a trip aboard he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same — especially Penelope Featherington! The girl haunting his dreams. But when he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide… is she his biggest threat — or his promise of a happy ending?
So I’ll confess — I have a thing for time periods with gorgeous dresses, beautiful balls,
roguishly handsome eligible bachelors, and all things British. I haven’t read many historical romance novels, but I love Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series because the characters, the social events, their dialogue, and even the way the rules of propriety are set up take me to Regency England at its finest. All of the novels in this series express the setting well, but my favorite is Romancing Mister Bridgerton because not only does it wonderfully portray the amazing-ness (and not-so-amazing-ness) of this era, but it also truly captures the way this society thought, acted, and gossiped.
7. Out of Sight, Out of Time‘s Europe (Ally Carter)
|The last thing Cammie Morgan remembers is leaving the Gallagher Academy to protect her friends and family from the Circle of Cavan — an ancient terrorist organization that has been hunting her for over a year. But when Cammie wakes up in an alpine convent and discovers that months have passed, she must face the fact that her memory is now a black hole. The only traces left of Cammie’s summer vacation are the bruises on her body and the dirt under her nails, and all she wants is to go home.
Once she returns to school, however, Cammie realizes that even the Gallagher Academy now holds more questions than answers. Cammie, her friends, and mysterious spy-guy Zach must face their most difficult challenge yet as they travel to the other side of the world, hoping to piece together the clues that Cammie left behind. It’s a race against time. The Circle is hot on their trail and willing stop at nothing to prevent Cammie from remembering what she did last summer.
The Gallagher Girls books already include one of my favorite YA settings — the Gallagher Academy. Rich with secret passageways, awesome CoveOps classes I’d love to take, a ton of history, and the occasional cute Blackthorn boy, there is so much about this boarding school for spies that I’d love to experience. What I really loved in the series’ latest installment, however, was Cammie’s trek through Europe to fill in the missing pieces of her memory. Ally Carter’s vivid descriptions of the Swiss Alps, a secluded storage cabin (and a gun chase!), the city of Rome (and complex Italian banks), and the cliffs of Ireland helped create an intense, mysterious yet thrilling atmosphere, and helped guide Cammie’s quest for truth along. I can’t remember the last time I flew through a novel, wanting to know which sights the author would take me to and what kind of trouble Cammie and her friends would encounter next.
6. Cinder‘s New Beijing (Marissa Meyer)
|Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction.
Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
I already gushed about New Beijing when I reviewed Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, but I can’t express how much I both loved and feared this world. Netscreens, ID scanning chips, androids, hovercrafts, and cyborgs build up this futuristic, technologically advanced city, so detailed that every aspect of it felt explore-worthy. Though, of course, this was also a world that included freakishly manipulative, magical Lunar beings who intend to use the Crown Prince for evil… (And then there’s that pesky fact of the plague causing the population to fall like flies… As incredibly easy as this world is to imagine, maybe living here isn’t the best idea right now. ^^; )
5. The Sweet Far Thing‘s The Realms (Libba Bray)
|It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a
laudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds.
The Order — the mysterious group her mother was once part of — is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence’s burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.
Although the Gemma Doyle trilogy is full of magnificent portrayals of Victorian England (and it also features a boarding school, like many of my other favorite settings), I adored the magical dream world Libba Bray created with the Realms. Since A Great and Terrible Beauty, the Realms have been a place of danger, excitement, adventure, and creativity, allowing Gemma and her friends a location to express themselves outside the constraints of Victorian society. There is beauty and wonder in this place, fantastic creatures and sights the girls never imagined, and more power and magic beyond their wildest dreams. The Realms play an enormous role in Gemma’s life in both A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels, but it is in the final book, The Sweet Far Thing, that I feel uses them to their full potential, as something to be treasured and feared, a blessing and a curse. (The imagery in this final book is also significantly more powerful, particularly because of the lyrical way Libba Bray takes these characters to new heights, and uses the setting to emotionally affect them positively and negatively. One image in particular still haunts me
and simultaneously breaks my heart.)
4. The Book of Blood and Shadow‘s Prague (Robin Wasserman)
|It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up. When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark. But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead. His girlfriend Adriane, Nora’s best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora’s sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone — a murderer.
Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.
The Book of Blood and Shadow is one of my favorite books this year, primarily because of the way it took advantage of its settings to create an eery, thrilling atmosphere that kept me at the edge of my seat trying to solve all the mysteries and questions it threw at me. I enjoyed the university, Latin research setting, and even the murder scenes in the beginning of the novel were brilliantly done, but the aspect of the novel that stood out to me most was Robin Wasserman’s Prague. Prague is one of my favorite cities in Europe because of the history that still survives there. I loved The Book of Blood and Shadow‘s portrayal of the city’s narrow, cobblestone streets, the Gothic churches, the Communist-bloc architecture, the haunting castles, and the tiny synagogues. As enchanting as the city may be, I thought it was the perfect setting for a philosophical, “murder mystery”, and as terrified as I was, I felt like I was in the fray with Nora, deciphering Latin and trying to unearth the secrets of this ancient city. (Prague is actually the only European city I’ve ever visited, and I can honestly say that reading this book felt like I had taken another trip back there. The buildings and the streets, even the mesmerizing but also creepy environment Robin Wasserman captured perfectly, were exactly as I remembered them.)
3. Anna and the French Kiss‘s Paris, France (Stephanie Perkins)
|Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris — until she meets Etienne St. Clair: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible.
The only problem is that he’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home. As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna — and readers — have long-awaited?
I can’t imagine Anna and the French Kiss with a more perfect setting. Taking place in one of the most enchanting, romantic, and magical cities in the world, what I loved about Anna and the French Kiss is how Paris presented Anna Oliphant and Etienne St. Clair numerous opportunities to become well-acquainted with each other (almost as if the city itself was meant to bring this amazing couple together from the start). The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Luxembourg Gardens, French cinema, and Point Zero all featured significantly in the story, effortlessly making me fall in love with Paris (and with Anna and Etienne). (Anna and the French Kiss also takes place in a boarding school. Are you surprised?)
2. Sailor Moon‘s Japan, Moon Kingdom, Crystal Tokyo, etc. (Naoko Takeuchi)
|Usagi Tsukino is a normal girl until she meets up with Luna, a talking cat, who tells her that she is Sailor Moon. As Sailor Moon, Usagi must fight evils and enforce justice, in the name of the Moon and the mysterious Moon Princess. She meets other girls destined to be Sailor Senshi (Sailor Scouts), and together, they fight the forces of evil!|
If you can’t tell from all the places listed above, I love all of the worlds featured in Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon. This was the first work that made me fall in love with Japan and Japanese culture, and although I still have yet to learn the language, visiting it is one of the things I’d truly love to do in my life. As interesting as youma-infested modern-day Japan is, my favorite Sailor Moon setting is the mostly-peaceful, beautiful Silver Millennium, with its Greek (and Taj Mahal-inspired) architecture, tranquil waters, advanced technology, magnificent ballrooms, and intergalactic alliances. The futuristic Crystal Tokyo is pretty awesome too. (How cool would it be to live in a city made entirely of crystal towers, complete with a crystal palace?)
1. Harry Potter‘s Wizarding World/Hogwarts (J.K. Rowling)
|Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s really a wizard, just as his parents were.
But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright.
From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.
It’s probably a cliché answer (and no surprise to you, if you know me), but my favorite setting of all time is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I fell in love with the universe J.K. Rowling created in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and six books later, I still found myself completely enchanted by Harry’s world. It’s more than the magic wizards possess, the fantastic beasts roaming the grounds, or even the incredible (boarding!) school, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It’s the way Rowling fits this amazing world, hidden inside our own, and then builds upon it each year Harry attends (or is meant to attend) Hogwarts, unveiling new aspects of it and enriching others, making Hogwarts a place readers will identify with (and spend years longing to visit). The moving staircases, the owls, the spells, the perfectly named classes, Quidditch, the ghosts, the Chamber of Secrets, the Triwizard Tournament, the Ministry of Magic, Diagon Alley, Godric’s Hollow… I could spend pages upon pages talking about all the things in the Wizarding World that fascinate me to this day, and how it’s because of this that I will perpetually wait for my Hogwarts acceptance letter to finally reach me.
What are some of your favorite bookish settings or worlds?