Today, I want to talk you about the fictional world setting shown in The Betrayed, better known as the Realms. For those of you who may have read the book, the little map at the beginning of it probably raises more questions than answers them. So let us talk a little on what the map gives us, and perhaps also briefly touch on the topic of how maps ought to look in a fantasy book. P.S. Some spoilers may occur without prior notice, so watch it if you intend to read The Betrayed one day.
The Realms consist of three major kingdom-like countries, a late medieval era style monarch-ruled Eracia, Caytor ruled by a powerful trade council, and Parus, a feudal-style land ruled by a king. Sirtai is an archipelago west of Parus. Although technically it belongs in the Realms, the cultural, historical and religious differences make it a separate entity.
The people of the Realms share the same faith and speak the same language, known as the Continental. This phrase was coined by the Sirtai, and hints at their significant influence on the Realms. The three countries are mainly surrounded by small lands without large central governments, known as tribes and nomads. In the north and west, Eracia shares its borders with several warring clans, who have been more or less pacified by successful conquest in the three hundred years before the book’s current time. Parus is surrounded by Red Desert tribes, with whom it has always contested for the control of the land and trade routes, as well as several smaller nations further to the south.
The Realms are approx. 2,500 miles east to west and approx. 3,700 miles north to south, as shown in the map. Travel is as slow as you might expect, approx. 20 miles a day at most, which explains why journeys takes as long, as well as the obvious information delay between things happening and people learning about them.
The layouf of the Realm is concentric, with the inner circle comprising of the powerful kingdom, the second circle made of smaller, weaker nations, and further out, seemingly uncharted, unmapped territories. Oh, there’s a deeper, historical reason for this, but you will have to read books two and three to find out why. Which brings me to my other point – how fantasy maps ought to look like.
The map’s details
In a reality with rocket-powered satellite, charting the land and water was a slow, tedious, dangerous business. It’s no small wonder that maps usually showed the shore lines with some degree of accuracy, whereas the inland topography was mostly substituted with drawings and paintings of monsters and symbolic elements, like rivers, lakes, large forests, and mountain ranges.
Therefore, my staunch belief is that fantasy maps should not be very accurate, because no one had the luxury of a top-down view. They should be sketchy at best, showing vague and uncertain borders, because in the medieval world, borders were usually marked by land features.
The only question remaining is – how detailed should maps be. Some authors prefer to create maps as if drawn in ink on vellum or hide, with lots of blotchy yellow and gray and brown spots. Where sepia meets oil colors and a feather quill. Some authors also like to dot their world with cities and monuments. Personally, I prefer to offer a vague map, as vague as it would be to people living in such a world. Imagine the magnitude, imagine the technological difficulty of grasping thousands of miles of unfamiliar terrain from only about 1.5-2.0 meters of height. Imagine the knowledge of this terrain stretching across weeks and months of slow, hard travel. You would only know where places ought to be in a rather crude manner. So I see no reason to offer a high-detail map to a world drenched in geographical uncertainty. As to the coloring and styling, no need for all that either. It can be nice visually, but it takes away from the rather modern experience of reading on soft, clean paper. You can’t mix retro-medieval and laser printer ambiance with great success.
And I guess that would be all. The big question remaining is, what is there outside the Realms? Does the the world end there somewhere? It really should not. But how do you explain the desolation? Why is the nomad territory so boldly etched? Does it not go against their nomadic nature? On the other hand, do Caytor and Eracia stretch seemingly without end to the north? It turns out it’s not a single question, but a whole series of them. All shall be answered, maybe, if you read the sequels.