I wasn’t sure what was meant by settings…I didn’t know what level of specificity was called for. Do you want me to tell you that I like books set in small towns…or that I like books set in Three Pines?
I’m going with the latter. I’m not sure I could come up with ten any other way. I’m going with five completely fictional locations, and five completely real locations.
So here they are in the order that they came to mind, fictional first.
#10 Three Pines (Louise Penny’s Three Pines series)
“Three Pines wasn’t on any tourist map, being too far off any main or even secondary road. Like Narnia, it was generally found unexpectedly and with a degree of surprise that such an elderly village should have been hiding in this valley all along. Anyone fortunate enough to find it once usually found their way back.”
I’ve talked about my love of Three Pines, the idyllic yet murderous hamlet that is the primary setting of the incomparable Louise Penny’s Three Pines series. It is the most important character in the series, more important than the brilliant, inscrutable Gamache, or the brash, foul-mouthed Ruth, or even Rosa, the duck with attitude. Without the safe confines of the village wearing away the edges, the books are too sharp, too harsh, too…real. The charm is in the setting, yes, but more in how the characters are shaped by it.
#9 (Post-Shift) Atlanta (Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Series
When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it arose, leaving all kinds of paranormal problems in its wake.
Ah, post-shift Atlanta. Where Magic came roaring back, taking technology down. And then Tech came roaring back, and magic was toast. And then…and then…and then…
#8 Stariel (AJ Lancaster’s Stariel Series)
Built on Fae lands, the estate’s sentience…how it cares about the people who care for it, who guard it, how it protects them from harm…this is the magic of Stariel. I’ve never wanted to hug a parcel of land before.
#7 The Lois McKendrick
The Lois McKendrick is the cargo-ship setting of the Nathan Lowell Solar Clipper series, which starts with the delightful—and quirky—Quarter Share. Clicking through on the link above will tell you everything you need to know about the ship, and also kind of everything you need to know about the books—-they are that richly detailed (some would say mind-numbingly so). For some of my friends, the in-depth descriptions of cleaning coffee urns in space is off-putting. I loved every minute of it. I found the depiction of the day-to-day life on a cargo ship soothing, meditative. I go back to these books often, when I feel unsettled. The rhythm of onboard life calms me.
#6 Nykros City
I’ve talked about Nykros City a couple times, the setting of Kalayna Price’s Alex Craft series. It’s a mortal city, but it has completely mundane portals to Faerie. Like, there’s a back door out of a restaurant that leads directly to the Winter Court. And there is a bar that is both in the mortal realm and in Faerie, simultaneously. It’s pretty cool, and I would pay a fair amount of real, human currency for a visit.
While I have you here, if you are a fan of Urban Paranormal and you haven’t read this series, well, you should stop reading this dorky list and go, right now, to your favorite purveyor of books and pick up a copy of Grave Witch. And then call out from work for the next seven days.
This is supposed to be the first of the “real world” entries, and I guess it is, because Chloe Neill’s Chicago is very much our Chicago. The fact that it’s a Chicago with vampires literally everywhere, and a Shifter Pack, and some very irritable fae is…well, it’s perfect. That the real Chicago does not, in fact, feature Cadogan House is quite its loss.
#4 New York
During the heyday of Sex and the City, there was a lot of talk about the city being the fifth character, and that can be true of books set in New York. I personally never feel quite as alive, quite as present in my own life as I do when I visit, and the only real regret of my life is that I never found a way to live there.
Although if I had, the mystical quality might have worn thin. There is only so long that one can romanticize the smell of early-morning garbage in Times Square, after all.
I just finished a romance novel set in Brooklyn, though, and the use of the city as a character made me feel all wistful.
The book was In a New York Minute, if you’re curious.
I grew up in a rural community about an hour south of Pittsburgh. The town—ha, that’s funny, calling it a town—-had no stoplights, four stop signs, a general store, a laundromat (which they called a laundry-mat), and a John Deere tractor dealership. We were 20 minutes by car away from being able to buy anything more complicated than milk or gas (or, I guess, a tractor), and about 45 minutes away from a shopping mall, or a bookstore.
But today, when people ask me where I’m from, I usually say “Pittsburgh…born and raised” which is obviously a bit of a stretch. I did get to live in the city for three years while I was in grad school, and it is the town where most of my best friends live to this day.
So, any book set there makes my little yinzer heart sing.
#2 Washington DC
I first went to Washington DC on a field trip when I was 10 years old. I wore stylish blue polyester pants and bought a panda bear at the National Zoo, which I named after my long-standing crush, David. The trip was amazing, and brought me my first taste of a real city, and my first taste of independence. And then I forgot all about it. My dreams became more focused on New York (see above).
But then, in the spring of 1988, I visited the city with my boyfriend and everything changed. The friends of his that we were visiting worked for the military in some capacity, and had to drop us off at the Metro wicked, stupid early in order to not be late for work themselves. Which meant that we exited to the Mall, via the L’Enfant Plaza exit, at around 630 am. Just as the sun was coming up, just as the dew was burning off. I stepped off the escalator, looked around, and I am NOT making this up…but I thought, “Huh. Home.”
I moved there (here?) that July and except for the three years I spent in Pittsburgh for Grad School in the early 90s, I’ve never left. 30 of the past 33 years.
So anything set here…I love it.
#1 Coastal California
Wrapping up with possibly the prettiest place in this country. Books set in LA, in Malibu, in San Fran, in Santa Barbara. The ocean, the cliffs, the Pacific Coast Highway. I’ve been there, driven those roads, swam in that ocean, and it’s just stunningly gorgeous. But there’s a desperation there, an undercurrent that is at odds with all the sunshine, and that, for me, makes it a great place to set a book.
So, friends. Where is your favorite place to set a book? I’ll take your wistful thoughts in the comments.