AFR Top List - Fantasy Cities

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It is time again for a little list!  Fantasy authors spend a great deal of time building the original worlds in which they set their story and characters.  Among the list of elements of importance in this world building is the cities themselves. For some writers, it actually becomes alive, almost like a character. Moreover, I noticed that the name of the city has a lot to do with it. Picking from all the novels I have read so far, a couple of them came easily to my mind for obvious reasons, as you will see.  Some of them do not come as a surprise but they remain fabulous. 

Without more rambling, I present to you the list of cities in Fantasy that captivated my imagination the most (in no particular order...)!  What would be yours?


Malazan Book of the Fallen series - Steven Erikson

From the Encyclopedia Malazica:
Darujhistan is located in central Genebackis, on the southern coast of Lake Azur near to where the River Maiten meets the lake. To the east are the Gadrobi Hills and to the south is the Dwelling Plain. It is a city of roughly 300 000 people, mainly of Daru or Gadrobi heritage.
Beneath Darujhistan are caverns containing natural gas. The city is known for using the gas for public lighting, leading to its title as the City of Blue Fire. The gas is also used in industrial applications, such as blacksmithery. The gas is monitored and controlled by a secretive group called the Grayfaces. Publicly, the Grayfaces can be seen wandering the streets to light and douse the street lamps, though they are always covered by grey robes and do not speak.
Darujhistan is relatively remote from most of Genebackis. The closest cities are Saltoan, to the east beyond the Gadrobi Hills, and Pale, north of Lake Azur. Since this remoteness has kept Darujhistan peaceful, the city does not have a standing army and usually expresses neutrality in most international affairs.
Darujhistan is not simply the location where some extraordinary events occur; it is also the home of several interesting locales where mighty figures discuss the latest gossip beside the invasion of their city as if nothing could really affect it. The city, mostly notorious for its blue flames is the host of many memorable moments in the Malazan saga, predominantly taking place at K'rul's Bar or the Phoenix Inn.  While much of the action of several of Erikson's novels use Darujhistan as a setting, it's made even more intriguing because of the way the illustrious mage Kruppe describe her as a character.


Minas Tirith
Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

Minas Anor - the Tower of the Sun - was established as a stronghold by Anarion, son of Elendil, and over time it became the greatest city in Gondor. As the threat from Mordor increased, the City was renamed Minas Tirith - the Tower of Guard. During the War of the Ring, Sauron's forces besieged Minas Tirith and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was fought outside its walls. After the downfall of Sauron, Aragorn was crowned before the gates of Minas Tirith and the banner of the Kings of Gondor flew over the City once more.
This one needs no presentation and you could even say that it is an easy choice. However, even after reading so many Fantasy novels since LOTR, I still marvel at the city. Standing proud in the face of Mordor, it looks like the ultimate defensible fortress you could wish for with several layers of walls going up the mountain. Wouldn't it be great to walk past the White Tree of Gondor toward the lookout to behold the Pelennor Fields!


Forgotten Realms world (R.A Salvatore's Drizzt novels)

In the darkness of the Underdark lies Menzoberranzan. A swift and certain death awaits those foolish enough to enter the dreaded city of the drow. Menzoberranzan is chaos, death, torture, vengeance and endless lust for power and illusionary respect based on fear. Menzoberranzan is a drow city in all its might and terror. 
There is only one reason for Menzoberranzan's foul existence: Lolth, a malevolent goddess of chaos. The whole of the chaotic city obeys the will of Lolth, often treacherous, always evil. The drow's hearts are as black as their pitch-black skin. 
There is no place for love, compassion or trust in drow-vocabulary. They are perceived as weaknesses untolerated by their unmerciful goddess. Friendship in drow-society is based on mutual benefits, on common cause. Still, whenever and however a drow is granted with a potential opportunity to murder, a drow rarely lets it pass unused. It is all about the pleasure of Lolth, which grants a status, an illusionary ranking taken away by the power-hungry drow at the first sight of potential weakness. There is no place for the weak in Menzoberranzan. 
Few have entered the mirage of beauty that is Menzoberranzan, and fewer still have ever escaped the horror of it. Still, the illusionary beauty of the city and its wicked citizens is breathtaking, many have been betrayed by the magnificent lights and statues that form Menzoberranzan's facade, and all of them have been slain without mercy and without hope. The cold beauty of Menzoberranzan is far too inadequate to fill the hollow and empty hearts of drow-elves, one of the most feared races in all the world. 
However, there are some sole survivors that have emerged from the dark depths of Menzoberranzan to oppose the cold might of Lolth, and have prevailed. Many of them are trapped in the drow-city, gnawed by their cruel cousins' malevolence, but strong in their hearts, nonetheless. But there are some true victors that have escaped the clutches of Lolth and her minions, have abandoned their crooked ways and run, run from the darkness that is Menzoberranzan, forever.  
One of those brave hearts is Drizzt Do'Urden, son of Zaknafein Do'Urden, who ran away toward the light of the day, toward happiness and love, never looking back. And he found light, happiness and love, something that the drow are too blind to see. They see only wrath, despair and hatred.  
Such is Menzoberranzan, The City of Chaos.
The drow are one of the most mythic races in the D&D universe.  The city of Menzoberranzan is actively involved in the creation of their legend. I have experienced this Underdark city through the eyes of Drizzt and it left a dreadful but astonishing impressions.  Its originality is almost unmatched.


Legends of the Red Sun - Mark Charan Newton

The ancient city of Villjamur is the capital of the Jamur Empire at the heart of the Boreal Archipelago.

In my review of Nights of Villjamur, I mentioned that the author was trying too much to make us love the city by the way of his characters.  After reading the Book of Transformation, I have to reassert this sentiment.  At the start of the book, I realized that I missed the city. It is not due simply to its grand Gothic-like architecture but rather to the feelings that the streets of Villjamur evoke, the plazas, bridges and different agglomerations that are part of the city or under-city. Villjamur is literally at the heart of the realistic and picturesque noir atmosphere Newton created.


Tar Valon / White Tower
A Wheel of Time - Robert Jordan

Tar Valon (pronounced: TAHR VAH-lon) is a city located on an island on the River Erinin, within sight of Dragonmount. It is the center of Aes Sedai power and is also the second largest, most populous city in the Westlands. Tar Valon also controls a small amount of territory directly adjacent to it, although it does not have as much land as it did before the War of the Hundred Years. Tar Valon is ruled by the Amyrlin Seat, although the day-to-day bureaucracy is handled by a council of Aes Sedai sisters and civil administrators. The city is notable as the only place where Aes Sedai have wielded officialized administrative power since the War of the Hundred Years. The population of the city in 1000 NE is roughly 500,000. It has remained independent of outside control for its entire existence, although it has suffered several major sieges and even direct assaults.
Simply by being the seat of the White Tower, the city status becomes legendary for the readers.  Following Rand's quest, you cannot say that you do not feel some wonderment when thinking about the fabled White Tower. I know that in this case, most of the action concerning Tar Valon is concentrated about the White Tower itself but overall, standing on the edge of Dragonmount, it would be quite a sight to behold.


Joshua Lowe said...

Ian Irvine's Three Worlds Cycle has some amazing cities ... the first quartet had a different one on each cover. Shazmak (book one) and the tower on the rift (book two) are my favourites!

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Rak Cthol or Tol Vordue in David Eddings Belgariad is pretty cool.

Also Amber from Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber. That would be an impressive city.

Dom said...

I love when the author puts an aerial view of a city and side view drawing like Robert Jordan does(did). I can picture it much better.

Malaz city looks pretty cool too

Ghost said...

If I have to pick one, I will have to pick Sigil from Planescape. Honorable mention: Cenaria City in “The Night Angel Trilogy”.

Anonymous said...

please say where you get map of Minas Tirith. it is drown so well, i reaaly want to sea another works of this autor

Phil said...

@anonymous : its from this german website where they made an interactive map of the city :

Jay Taylor said...

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Anonymous said...

Menzoberranzan is not a cappital city is one of the smaller cities in the Underdark.

Phil said...

Thanks for the correction!

Anonymous said...

Any one of the glorious troubled cities in the stornlands of magnamund deserve a mention. How about varetta, built thousands of years ago, or suentina, capital of slovia? Joe dever created a legendary world

Unknown said...

I wish someone with artistic abilities made a map of Cenaria City, for the "Night Angel Trilogy". I made one myself (the only one in existence, as far as I know), but it's rather amateurish.

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