Saturday, May 16, 2015

It has been said that the setting of a book is almost like another character. That is certainly true for many of my favorite novels, in which the setting evokes vivid images as well as intimate familiarity. It's like I am living the story along with the characters; I can see, hear and feel everything around me--the trickle of a stream, the soggy heat of a summer day, or the first burst of light as the sun rises. Reading a book by authors skilled at creating rich, organic environments is a treat for the senses and one of my favorite luxuries.

Below are five books that blew me away with their solid use of setting:

1. The Harry Potter Series (JK Rowling)

Well. You knew it had to be on the list. I mean, Hogwarts and Diagon Alley? Platform Nine and Three Quarters and the Room of Requirement? Obviously, JK Rowling is a master at this. While setting is typically a large part of fantasy novels, the Harry Potter books went above and beyond in this category.

"The hundreds of faces staring at them looked like pale lanterns in the flickering candlelight. Dotted here and there among the students, the ghosts shone misty silver...Harry looked upward and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars."
-Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone   

2. Stolen (Lucy Christopher)
I blogged about this book last July and thinking about it still leaves me with goosebumps. The story takes place in the vast desert of  the Australian Outback--a place full of venomous snakes and frantic windstorms, wild camels and open skies. This was her debut novel, yet Christopher nailed the stark beauty of the setting like a pro.

"You said you knew the perfect place to run to. A place that was empty of people, and buildings, and far, far away. A place covered in blood-red earth and sleeping life. A place longing to come alive again. It's a place for disappearing, you'd said, a place for getting lost...and for getting found."
-Stolen: A Letter to my Captor

3. The Raven Boys Series (Maggie Stiefvater)
Small, rural Henrietta, Virginia is no longer just a speck on the map. Now, thanks to Stiefvater, it is alive with caves and farms and forests and magic. It is filled with pretentious prep school boys and psychic families and quirky, lovable characters. But always, it is the pulse of Henrietta that binds them all together.

"It didn't escape Blue that his slightly accented voice was as nice as his looks. It was all Henrietta sunset: hot front-porch swings and cold ice-tea glasses, cicadas louder than your thoughts." 
-The Raven Boys

4. Like Mandarin (Kirsten Hubbard)
Rural Washokey, Wyoming shrugs to life in this coming-of-age novel about the allure of 'bad girl' Mandarin and her affect on 14-year-old Grace. Describing the wind-whipped landscape of Wyoming, there is much to appreciate in Hubbard's lyrical, atmospheric writing.

"I'd wandered through the Washokey Badlands Basin so many times I'd memorized the feeling. The forlorn boom of the wind. A sky big enough to scare an atheist into prayer. No wonder cowboys sang about being lonesome." 
-Like Mandarin 

5. The Twilight Saga (Stephenie Meyer)   
The setting of Meyer's popular novels--rain-soaked Forks, Washington--has become so famous that it is now a real-life Twilight tourist destination. That speaks volumes about how Meyer brought this region to fame in her best-selling vampire love story.

"We drove south out of town. The dirt road wove in and out of the forest--sometimes there was nothing but trees, and then there would suddenly be a breathtaking glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, reaching to the horizon, dark gray under the clouds."  
-New Moon

Whether done through personification or a smattering of sensory details, creating an alluring setting in any novel is a skill to be treasured. What are some of your favorite settings in books?


Erica said...

I SO agree on these :)

Unknown said...

The Night Circus is one I think definitely fits the bill. The descriptions of the circus were astonishingly vivid. Anything by Maggie Stiefvater definitely! I loved reading about Henrietta! The Scorpio Races, iirc had a really distinctive island setting. Great list!


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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.



on the shelf

The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
Eleanor and Park
The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Froi of the Exiles
Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
The Fault in Our Stars

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