When working on Pearseus, I decided to include a map. In fact, I ended up drawing at least three versions, then buying Cartographer and doing another three versions there. Then, I realized a lot of people hate maps in books. A recent post by A.J. O’Conell of Bookriot explains why.

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

I Hate Maps

When epic fantasy N.K. Jemisin released her latest novel, The Fifth Season, she posted the – admittedly beautiful – map from her novel on her blog.  What’s unusual about this is that Jemisin is one of a handful of authors who have been vocal about their distaste for maps in high fantasy.

So, why aren’t some fantasy authors fans of maps? Three reasons are usually cited:

  • Maps on the fly-leaf are cliché; every author from J.R.R. Tolkien to George R. R. Martin seems to have one.
  • Sometimes being able to see every major location in a world spoils a story for a reader: if the map shows five cities, and the characters are going off on a quest, chances are that they’ll hit all five cities.
  • Some authors complain that it takes away from the story they’re trying to tell: Terry Goodkind has said he considers maps a distraction from the story.

Joe Abercrombie wrote about this in 2007, saying that maps weren’t suitable for his character-driven fiction:

I want a reader to be nailed to the text, chewing their fingernails to find out what happens next,” he wrote, “not constantly flipping back to the fly-leaf to check just how far north exactly Carleon is from Uffrith, or whatever.

That was then

Still, N.K. Jemisin included one for The Fifth Season. As she put it, while the previous series might not have called for one, this particular book centers on a continent where the geography is almost literally a character. In her post, Jemisin said she needed a map to write this book.

And Abercrombie included not one, but five maps in The Heroes, some of which depicted the same valley during a battle, showing the movement of troops on each day.

Abercrombie’s inclusion of five maps is just one of the tricks authors use to avoid using a map in a cliché way. There are at least two others.

I Have a Trick Up My Sleeve

To avoid spoilers, sometimes a map is deliberately vague or doesn’t match the book. Jemisin’s map of the Stillness falls into this category; not all of the towns, roads and stations she mentions in the book are on the map.

5th Season map | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Image: nkjemisin.com Designed by Tim Paul

Another trick is to release an unofficial map. Before the Hunger Games movies, fans of the books were so hungry for maps of Panem that they were making them themselves. Suzanne Collins never released an official map but she allegedly worked with Lionsgate when they released their official map for this summer’s The Hunger Games Exhibition in NYC.

So, how do you feel about maps? Do you appreciate them, as a reader? As an author, do you use them in your books?