Lots of compliments on the map. So let’s talk maps a bit more.
Part of making a good fantasy map is developing the terrain well enough that you can draw it from memory a couple of times freehand and have them more or less line up. I have a couple of advantages, here; primarily, that I’ve been working on this series long enough that I could ride from High River Keep to Sanctuary without a map at this point — I’ve probably written a hundred pages on that journey, alone. I think I kept six or seven pages (Table Theory of Characterization be damned, nobody wants to read fifty pages of landscape description and character exposition), but I know all the landmarks.
I’ve talked about this before, but in epic fantasy, the world is a major character, with its own arc. It interacts with the characters, it affects their actions, and it is changed by the time you reach the end of the story. Everything else is just putting well-developed characters into your world and then writing down what happens.
I can look at some maps in the front pages of fantasy books and have a pretty good idea of what the story is going to be. I think that’s a major benchmark of worldbuilding, and it’s when I know that, as a reader, I’m in good hands and I can settle in for a while.
So let’s look at my map, and I’ll talk you through it as we go. See if you see what I see. Then go back and look at your map, and see if you see what I’d see.
The first thing you should notice is the use of terrain features in place of defined borders. Especially the mountains.
You’ll learn this in the book, but Falconsrealm and The Shieldlands are Gateskeep territories. You can tell from the terrain that it is likely really tough for Gateskeep to support Falconsrealm and The Shieldlands militarily, because of the mountains and the limited number of passes.
Axe Valley is probably named Axe Valley because it’s where Gateskeep sends its troops whenever shit gets real.
Falconsrealm, with all its mountains, is mostly mining; it was easy to make it the source of the silver and iron for Gateskeep. If there is a lot of money in Falconsrealm — which there would be — then there is likely a patrician caste. Patricians historically have their eye on taking things over — in this case, I have one particular family in Falconsrealm, which controls the silver and iron, intermarrying with the Falconsrealm royals — and communication between villages and keeps in that kind of terrain is going to be minimal, which allows for quietly shifting allegiances. Hey, look at that: Falconsrealm is likely the start of a revolution against its mother country of Gateskeep.
Gateskeep needs spies, the castles and towers need guards, so Gateskeep has a royal order that staffs the castles and trains the local troops, but quietly functions as spies and spybusters. Appoint the MC to this order and now we have an epic fantasy spy thriller.
Gavria, to the south, is mostly desert, and it will have one fertile valley along the Border River. Which, well, makes a border. Gavria needs to import nearly everything. However, all that desert and those big mountains also make them a source of gold and iron. If they have gold and iron, they will have a vast military — as long as they can keep importing stuff to keep it fed. This means that the countries they trade with will have an idea of when Gavria is building up her forces. Gateskeep gets the other half of its iron, and most of its gold, from Gavria, which trades gold and iron for food. When the iron trade starts drying up, things are happening down south.
Gavria is going to push as far into The Shieldlands as they can get away with, because it’s wide open; maybe not militarily, but more likely by buying off petty nobles and local landowners and even something as simple as offering favorable rates on trade. Again: shifting alliances. Couple that with a well-outfitted army and a wide-open plain, and you have secondary and tertiary theater-strategic problem sets.
Ulorak is a trading crossroads, with the easiest passage between the Eastern Freehold and Gavria, including a wide, meandering river that connects to a land-locked sea. Gavria would give its eye teeth to take Ulorak. However, Ulorak is a high plain, and as we learn in the book, it’s fertile and rainy; all the Uloraki have to do is wait at the top of the hill and they can beat the crap out of every army who shows up muddy and out of breath. This tells me where Ulorak is going to stage its garrisons and how they’re going to fight. It also tells me how to beat them. (Nobody else knows, yet, but I do. We’ll get there in a few books.)
The Faerie are tucked away behind some mountains; we don’t see them often. That little area south of the Faerie Stronghold, ringed with mountains, is an ideal place for venturing Faerie to strike out into the Big World. I called it Sanctuary, and it’s as far into the Stronghold as any humans are allowed.
As the mountains lay southwest to northeast, there is a long, wide valley leading up into nowhere that passes by the Faerie. Rumor has it that’s where the dragons went, so that’s the Dragon’s Trail. That’s an ideal safe haven — a place to hole up, heal up, and if you need to, build an army.
And that’s the book. The whole book is in the map, if you know how to read it. Take another look at yours, and see what you come up with. You may find a plot point hiding in a mountain range, or an oddly-placed pass, or a bend in a river. Your map is your story. It deserves as much time as any other aspect of your worldbuilding.