The best fantasy novels whose location is the heart of the story

Neil Williamson Author Of Queen of Clouds
By Neil Williamson

Who am I?

I’m the sort of writer who constantly asks “what kind of story could I set here?” A quiet copse, a busy mall, a shabby wedding venue, all locations have their own stories to tell in addition to those of the characters who inhabit them. Stories work best when the location is the pivot around which everything else happens. This is doubly true for secondary world fantasy because, when you’re creating a world, you don’t just tease the story out of its locations—you can weave it into the fabric of the place. Which is how I created the world of Queen Of Clouds, down to its very motes.


I wrote...

Queen of Clouds

By Neil Williamson,

Book cover of Queen of Clouds

What is my book about?

Queen Of Clouds is a fantasy novel featuring charming wooden automata, ink that compels the reader’s obedience, and sentient weather hell-bent on lashing out at just about everybody that upsets it. All of this is made possible by tiny particlesmotesthat suffuse the landscape, and which people have found myriad ways of turning to their own personal gain. At its heart, Queen Of Clouds is a novel about catastrophic climate change and the frustration of trying to do what’s right when the people with the power to effect change are those with a vested interest in the status quo.

The books I picked & why

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Threading the Labryinth

By Tiffani Angus,

Book cover of Threading the Labryinth

Why this book?

This wonderful novel begins with the inheritance of an ancestral pile in rural England and slowly, by twists and turns, reveals the story of the once ornate house and gardens down the centuries. Ladies and lords of the manor, gardeners and servants, painters, photographers, and WWII land girls all flit fleetingly through its pages, but the novel’s heart is the mysterious walled garden whose secrets only a very few get to witness.


Dark River

By Rym Kechacha,

Book cover of Dark River

Why this book?

This thrilling novel explores what we would do in the face of eco-catastrophe in a really unique way. Two young women—one in Doggerland in 6200 BC and the other in London in 2156find themselves fleeing to save themselves and their children as the world they’ve always known becomes uninhabitable. The trick of using the same landscape, separated by eight thousand years brings a wonderful sense of perspective to the story, and to our own place in the world.


The Limits of Enchantment

By Graham Joyce,

Book cover of The Limits of Enchantment

Why this book?

This stunning coming-of-age story is set in the rural Midlands in the 1960s. Fern is apprenticed to Mammy, the village wise woman, but the influence of modernitymedicines, the National Health Service, the increased connectivity afforded by motor carspells the end for their traditional way of life. In a novel without any other overt fantastical elements, one magnificent scene where Fern, torn between loyalty to the past and the pull of the future, opens herself to the latent wonders of the woods and fields and hedgerows around her, is the key to understanding what the world loses with the passing of old knowledge. 


Luckenbooth

By Jenni Fagan,

Book cover of Luckenbooth

Why this book?

This novel tells the stories of the residents of an Edinburgh close across the span of the twentieth century. Fagan’s Edinburgh is wonderfully, atmospheric but it’s the close itself and the goings on in its cheek-by-jowl apartments following the arrival of Jessie, sold by her father (whom she has killed) into sexual slavery, and with revenge on her mind, that permeates this murderous, richly gothic story.


The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again

By M. John Harrison,

Book cover of The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again

Why this book?

The setting of this masterful story is contemporary London, but one dominated by water: rain, rivers, canal boats, ponds. As the novel progresses, the characters’ only partially successful attempts to connect feel hampered by the decreasing definition of the boundaries between land and water. A sense of hopeless inevitability pervades every page, that in the world of this drowning London something has changed. Something irreversible.


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