My Top Five Favourite Fantasy Settings

March 21, 2021 maddoctorartist 0 Comments

Fantasy has always been my favourite genre, and one of the things that appeals most to me are the expansive worlds. Writers can be so creative and build entire societies, cultures and people that are just fascinating to dive into. I'm no exception of course, having created the world of Azaria for my novel series.

Of course, Azaria wouldn't be what it is without inspiration, so here is a list of my top five fantasy locations. They cover a variety of media, so without further ado...

1. Gaia (Final Fantasy IX)

Gaia is the main world on which the video game Final Fantasy IX takes place. It is made of four major continents- Mist, Outer, Lost and Forgotten. The Mist Continent, as the name implies, is engulfed in a strange substance known as Mist. This has been harnessed into fuel, and so technology and transport is very steampunk. Lindblum is a great example of this, being the biggest and most advanced of the nations:

Then there's Alexandria, which is steeped in much more tradition and has a history of empire and war.

One of the most unique nations is Burmecia. This is situated in an area where it never stops raining, and is inhabited by humanoid rat-like people.

What appeals to me most about Gaia is its mix of old and new technology. It's steampunk at its finest, and yet it also allows for magic and greater supernatural powers to co-exist (such as the summons). I really adore the blend of science and magic, and is definitely something that will inform one of Azaria's future settings.

2. Thedas (Dragon Age series)

I was only introduced to the Dragon Age games relatively recently, but the world of Thedas definitely held my interest. It's much more gritty and grimdark than the settings I tend to prefer, but it lends itself well to the story it wants to tell. There are a mix of countries, each with their own conflicts and agendas, but there are also greater threats, such as The Blight, which require co-operation to keep under control, and even the Chantry, the church that wields as much power as any of the nations.

The first Dragon Age came takes place mainly in Ferelden, which is an England-based country, ruled by a monarchy. It has strong medieval vibes, with not much in the way of technological advancement and feudal systems, and dogs are popular pets. It's the little details like this that make the setting fun, and somewhat relatable (since I live in the UK).

Then there's the pompous Orlais, modelled on France, with their eccentric nobility and lavish customs. They have an imperial ruling system. They also have quite the disdain for Fereldens, who likewise can't stand the Orlesians (much like the age old rivalry between the French and English). The stark differences between the two nations are revealed the best in the third game, Dragon Age Inquisition.

Thedas also has the city states of the Free Marches (much like the ancient city states of Italy), the Spanish/ Portugese inspired Antiva, and the Roman-empire styled Tevinter Imperium. I really do like the basis in real-world locations, as it gives the setting a dash of realism and makes the conflicts between the nations a lot more grounded. It is quite Europe-centric, though, so it would be great to see something similar done for another culture.

3. The Old Kingdom (Sabriel series)

This was one of the first book fantasy worlds I really appreciated. The Old Kingdom is the region north of Ancelstierre, and the two regions are separated by the Wall. This protects Ancelstierre from Free Magic and the Dead, and is manned by soldiers. But it's not completely fool-proof, as occasionally when the wind blows the wrong way, technology can fail in Ancelstierre, especially near the Wall.

I really like this concept, as in contrast to Gaia in Final Fantasy IX, here technology and magic are opposing forces, with Free Magic being chaotic and unpredictable, while technology (and technically Charter Magic) try to bring order and stability.

I also appreciate how the Abhorsen's House is situated (in the middle of a river), as water is a repellent force for the Dead. The sequel books also let us explore the Clayr's Glacier, which is another unique setting for a people to make a settlement in.

All in all the Old Kingdom is great to explore and delve into, as each of its areas are built to fit the magic system and history, and Garth Nix does add layers with newer books.

4. Edgeworld (The Edge Chronicles)

This was definitely the world that inspired me most for my Azaria books. There are three main trilogies in this series, where the actions of one character leads to consequences that are seen in the next. This is something at the heart of my series, and will become more apparent with the next book.

The Edge is a huge floating landmass, mostly covered in the Deepwoods forest, but its most unique feature are the floating rocks. In the first age, these grow in the Stone Gardens. Smaller rocks can be used in airships to allow for flight, but a natural phenomenon caused a giant one to be created. Upon this, the city of Sanctaphrax was built, and was the seat of knowledge, with particular devotion to meterology. The rock is tethered to the ground by a giant chain.

Beneath the floating city lies Undertown, a much more industrialized settlement. While Santaphrax is full of academics and scholers, Undertown is ruled by merchants, and thus there is much more inequality. The anchor that keeps Sanctaphrax grounded also lies here.

The beauty of this series, however, is that the world changes between trilogies. The first Sanctaphrax proved a giant climatalogical threat that could end all life on Edge, and so had to be evacuated and cut loose. A new giant stone was created, but thanks to something called stone-sickness, it could no longer float and had to be suspended by wooden pillars. These pillars were made by slave-labour in Undertown, as the merchants had been overthrown and replaced by more corrupt leaders.

I love how each part of Edgeworld feeds into the other, and how change in one area can drastically impact another. Considering this was written in 1998, the parallels to climate change are stark, and worth heeding.

5. The Four Nations (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

This is perhaps the most culturally diverse world of the ones I've listed, being the Eastern equivalent of the Euro-centric Dragon Age. While the parallels are not completely one to one, the research that went into this clearly shows and provides a really refreshing worldview.

The world of Avatar has four nations based on the four elements- the Fire Nation (with strong imperial Japan influences), the Earth Kingdom (based off expansive Chinese settlements), the Air Nomads (based off Tibetian monks), and the Water Tribes (based off Inuit/ Alaskan culture). The nations are supposed to live in harmony, but the imperialism of the Fire Nation has caused war for over 100 years. The Air Nomads were wiped out, the Southern Water Tribe has had all its fighters and water-benders decimated, with only the Earth Kingdom able to provide much resistance (and that's with the King being unaware there's a war going on at all).

The Avatar (based off a Hindu concept of gods reincarnating into mortal form to address times of strife) is the person meant to bring balance to the world, and in this case it's the last surviving Air Nomad, a boy named Aang. As he journeys to master the four elements and bring down the tyrannical Fire Lord, we get to see the depth of the cultures. None of the nations are monoliths- there are Fire Sages who are on the Avatar's side, the Kyoshi warriors who live independently on their own island, water-benders who live in swamps...there's a great amout of diversity and it really does make the world feel real.

My favourite location is probably the Northern Water Tribe city. It's a canal city built on ice between a glacier, and the form fits function so well.

Northern Water Tribe


So those are my top five fantasy locations, all of which have definitely inspired the creation of my own world, Azaria. What are your favourite fantasy locations, and what makes them memorable to you? I'd love to know!

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