Top Ten Tuesday – Settings I Want to See More of in Fiction


Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now being hosted by The Artsy Reader.

I’ve been telling myself that I’ll try out a TTT topic for over a year now, but I never actually took the plunge. But I saw posts for this week’s topic pop up in my inbox (at like 9 PM) and I just couldn’t resist. Because this is a topic I think about a lot.

So here’s a last minute list of settings that I’d like to see more of in fiction!


Underwater – Sea and Ocean

The incredible thing about these large bodies water is that they’re horror, fantasy, sci-fi all rolled into one. They inspire awe and fear and deep, deep curiosity, and really, they kind of do a lot the worldbuilding for you. Which is why it’s crazy that we don’t see more of them in stories. Especially underwater societies.

I do feel like we see them more in video games than we do in books: Bioshock, Sunless Sea: Zubmariner, Subnautica, and Soma, to name a few.

But these are several book examples (some not yet released), with two of them do featuring underwater societies.


🐠 Low by Rick Remender (writer) & Greg Tocchini (artist): a jaw-droppingly gorgeous graphic novel with incredible worldbuilding and a protagonist who oozes optimism.

🐠 The Deep by Rivers Solomon (with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes): Releasing this fall, and I’m unreasonably excited for it. It tackles slavery from an angle that I’ve never seen before.

🐠  The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah: A story about a submerged London starring a protagonist who’s a submersible racer.


Inside of a Whale

SUPER specific, I know. It’s also kind of related to “Underwater” but not really because there’s no written law that says whales can only exist in the ocean. There could be sky whales! Space whales! And dream whales are definitely a thing. They’d be like these massive islands you encounter during your romps through the dream world, with each one housing….well, something. Maybe the inside of each one would be a different level of the dream court. Maybe they’re all home to different dreamscapes (like a cetacean Inception). And maybe there’s this one super illusive whale that all dreamers have heard of but never seen, and the legend goes that it’ll lead you to the place you most desire. So kind of like Moby Dick, but trippier.

But why whales, you ask? No special reason other than that I just really, really, really love them and they’ve always been the subject of fascination for me, both scientifically and narratively. They’re immensely complex creatures and I find their existence constantly astounding and humbling. And it’s so very easy to imagine a myriad of worlds just sitting inside their stomachs.



Sky Islands

Because I want to see more airships in stories and because ground islands are so yesterday. And it’d be cool to see all the different creative methods of transportation that take you from island to island (other than airships). Plus, there’s the added thrill of knowing that one small misstep out on the garden or balcony can lead to a deadly fall.

Some of my favourite examples include Bioshock Infinite and An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (and a fairly recent YA series that I can’t remember the name of).



Ice and Snow

I adore stories set in ice and snow and I can’t quite figure out why. Maybe because I dislike summer and latching onto cold things is something my brain does in retaliation. Or maybe because all the icy bits make the warm and cozy bits stand out more.

Whatever the reason, I want more of them. Books I can easily point to and say, “Hey, that’s one for my Winter TBR!” (pretending for a moment that curated seasonal TBRs is a thing I actually do). And movies/shows and games that I can consume during the summer to stave off the heat.



Forest Cities

I’ve dreamed of living in a forest city since reading/watching The Lord of the Rings, and that dream sort of became a (virtual) reality when I played Lord of the Rings Online and got to actually frolic through LothlΓ³rien. And I talk a lot about packing everything up and going to live with the bears in some remote cabin in the woods, but like…I don’t think the postal service does book deliveries (or any deliveries) to the interior forests of British Columbia. Also, wildfires are a thing. So I guess I’ll just continue to live out my wood elf dream via fiction.




God Realms

I feel like most stories nowadays that feature gods take place in the mortal world, and it’s either a mortal protagonist getting caught up in godly affairs or a god/demi-god protagonist getting caught up in mortal affairs. We don’t often see modern stories about gods set exclusively in the world of gods. And when we do get it, more often than not it’s set in the Underworld.

So I’d like to see more variety. More breadth. I want to see mind-bending, cloying opulence rubbing elbows with decaying violence. I want to see how each territory interacts with another. What are the diplomatic relations like? What are the rules ofΒ  each kingdom? (goddom?)

The biggest examples I can think of is the God of War franchise and maybe the Sandman series (I know the Endless aren’t technically gods but their powers are god-adjacent).

And for stories that are set in underworlds, Lost Gods by Brom is phenomenally rich and beautiful and The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall offers a quiet but vivid world of gods and demons.



Very Specific and/or Non-Murdery Schools

I’m talking beyond assassin and wizard schools. Schools for automaton mechanics. Aspiring griffin trainers. Time traveling spies. Schools specifically made for demi-gods, because for some reason their powers manifest in unstable ways and they need to learn how to control that shit. Or schools for killer nuns, as we see in the Book of the Ancestor series.


But I’d really love it if the school featured mostly non-murdery activities. Like a traveling culinary school that roams the entire realm or galaxy, and its students learn about sustainable foods and methods on how to catch and cook some of the more challenging critters that exist in the world/universe.


Steampunked Asian Countries

So back in 2015, the universe gifted the world a masterpiece of an indie game called 80 Days. It’s basically a retelling of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days (mashed up with his other famous works)except more steampunk and fantastical. And I’ve always loved steampunk as a subgenre, but I never realized how much I need Asian steampunk in my life until then. Steam-powered caravans pulling merchandise through the Silk Road. Asian aesthetics translated through the eyes of gears and cogs. And I want more of it. Badly.



Big Space Stations or Ships

Because they’re large enough to be their own little ecosystem of human and alien society, which is always interesting and fun, and because these stories usually feature found families and characters who would cross the depths of deep space and back for each other.Β The Mass Effect series and Becky Chambers’ books being notable examples.



Literally anywhere in the world that’s not the U.S.

Close your eyes and stick a pin anywhere in the world map, and if it’s not the U.S. then I want a story about it (unless we’re talking about Native American stories). Even if it’s out in the middle of the Pacific. Nothing against the U.S! It’s just that the market is so saturated with them and I just want to explore more countries that I’m not familiar with. Or countries that I am familiar with but have not been given enough spotlight in media. And let’s face it, there’s a LOT of them out there.





If you have recommendations for any of these categories–books, games, movies, anime–please, please, please do send them my way!

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0 comment

Amanda @ Literary Weaponry July 23, 2019 - 5:16 am

Added both Border Keeper and Light at the End of the World to my TBR. They sound fabulous and I hadn’t heard of either of them before. Great list with wonderful examples.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 24, 2019 - 8:54 am

So glad to hear that!! The Border Keeper is a relatively short read, so it’s perfect for squeezing in between full novels. And I’m so excited for Light at the End of the World! It just sounds so different to other YA SFF books I’ve seen recently.

Kristin @ Kristin Kraves Books July 23, 2019 - 5:39 am

This is so great. I now realize that I would read absolutely any book that was set inside of a whale!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 25, 2019 - 4:01 pm

I’ve yet to come across a inside-a-whale story that’s not a biblical one, and I’ll be yelling from every rooftop when/if I do find one. πŸ˜€

Tammy July 23, 2019 - 5:46 am

Ok first, it sounds like you need to write some of these yourself because I’ll totally read them! The idea of setting a story inside a whale is pretty cool. Although there is a book coming out that sounds similar, Nicki Draden’s next book takes place inside a “seafaring beast.” (Escaping Exodus.) Awesome list!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 25, 2019 - 7:26 pm

I REALLY do want to write a lot of these!!! I haven’t been able to stop thinking about all the possible dream whale stories since it first popped into my brain. πŸ˜€ And oooh, I’ve been excited about Escaping Exodus but I didn’t know the ship is going to be an actual beast! I thought it was more like one of those artificial-but-sentient ships (and I would have been happy with that). Well, now I’m even more excited!

Alex Logan July 23, 2019 - 5:48 am

The Raksura series by Martha Wells has some sky islands! Among many other cool settings (lots of traveling).

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 25, 2019 - 6:52 pm

Oh my god, RIGHT!! *smacks head* I own all the books in the series and every year I tell myself I’ll read them, and then I forget. πŸ˜›

Alex Logan July 25, 2019 - 8:41 pm

I like them a lot! Oh, and for books-inside-whales, Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy pretty much fits the bill

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 1:01 am

Ohhhh I adore that series! It’s such a ridiculously unique concept. I still haven’t read the last book, though, so thanks for reminding me that I need to do a re-read sometime. πŸ˜€

And apparently Nicky Drayden’s upcoming Escaping Exodus features a ship that’s also a beast, so I’m excited for that!

lifewithallthebooks July 23, 2019 - 6:15 am

A book set in a forest society would be so awesome! And I agree, it’s always good when a book is set somewhere other than the US! Great list! 😊

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 25, 2019 - 7:41 pm

Thank you! I’ve read a lot of books where there’s a small town or a village set inside of a forest, but not many where the city is integrated with the trees and the other wildlife. And I really want to see more of that!

lifewithallthebooks July 26, 2019 - 9:23 am

It would be really cool! 😊

Jess @ Jessticulates July 23, 2019 - 6:18 am

Great list! Books taking place in a God realm would amazing. Like you said so many stories involving gods take place in our world. Gods of Jade and Shadow has a lovely mix of 1920s Mexico and the Mayan Underworld and the scenes in the Mayan Underworld were SO GOOD.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 12:28 am

Okay, now I’m even MORE excited for Gods of Jade and Shadow!! I just need to somehow find the time to squeeze it into my summer TBR. πŸ˜€

acquadimore July 23, 2019 - 7:26 am

…space whales. I can’t say I ever thought of that, but I did read a book in which a scene was set inside a whale (Under the Pendulum Sun, which can definitely be described as “trippy”*), so I guess it could happen?
Also, I agree so much about the “literally anywhere that is not the US”, especially from authors who are themselves not from the US or have significant ties to the place they’re writing about, because I’d like to see other countries from a point of view who isn’t just there for the aesthetic.
And underwater settings! They should be more common, I can’t wait to see what The Deep and The Light at the Bottom of the World do with them later this year. Great list!

* [I really really recommend looking up the content warnings to anyone interested in reading it.]

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 8:50 pm

Thank you!! I’ve been meaning to get to Under Pendulum Sun since it came out (I bought it because of the cover lol) so YAY, I’m happy to hear it’s got a whale scene! I should probably look up those content warnings beforehand, though.

I’m not completely against people writing about countries that they don’t have ties with, but I’ve been burned by authors who just didn’t take the time to do enough research or check with sensitivity readers, and now I have major trust issues. Like, there’s this contemporary K-Pop story that’s recently come out, and it stars Korean-Americans and is set in Seoul. And it’s written by two white authors who are currently living in Korea, and I’m not sure if I want to try it or stay far away from it.

acquadimore July 28, 2019 - 1:27 am

Under the Pendulum Sun was definitely a cover buy for me too. I hope you like the inside as well!

And that’s the worst, when the book sounds interesting but you don’t know if it would be a good idea to trust the authors with that premise. I usually end up not reading the book – too little time to get burned – but… yeah.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 30, 2019 - 1:33 pm

It’s on kindle unlimited so I think I’ll might it a shot! The fact that the authors have been living in Korea for a number of years now makes me somewhat hopeful. If it turns out to be really bad, at least I can rant about it in a blog post. πŸ˜€

Kaya @ afictionalbookworm July 23, 2019 - 8:23 am

YES TO ALL OF THESE. I never thought about some of these but honestly I would pay a LOT of money for them!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 25, 2019 - 11:15 pm

Awww that’s so sweet Kaya, THANK YOU!! A couple of them just came to my head randomly while I was writing, and I was like, “Eh, why not!” πŸ˜›

Nicole Evans July 23, 2019 - 9:49 am

AHHHH, you have so many GREAT options on your list!! I definitely am a fan of all of these, though in particular, I’d love more sky cities, forest cities, Asian steampunk (um, YES PLEASE) and anything that isn’t Westernized culture based. Great post! <3

Never Not Reading July 23, 2019 - 10:46 am

For sky islands I recommend The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher. It’s more like city in the sky, which I know isn’t quite the same, but based on the other things you said you like I think you’ll dig this book.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 12:37 am

Honestly, I’ll take sky anything! I just said sky islands because those are the most common ones I’ve found in stories. And I’ve been meaning to try one of Butcher’s series for a while now, and since this one doesn’t have a million books like the Dresden Files, it sounds perfect. Thank you!!! <3

Never Not Reading July 26, 2019 - 7:07 am

You’re welcome!

lydiaschoch July 23, 2019 - 11:06 am

A God Realm would be a very unique setting for sure!


Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 7:54 pm

It would be! And I’ve gotten a whole bunch of recommendations since I wrote the post, so I’ll need to check them out. πŸ™‚

sjhigbee July 23, 2019 - 1:52 pm

What a fabulous list! The god realm – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin is also a cracking read – and The Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones is a great magical university with a lot of humour and without the murdery bit… also Spellwright about a dyslexic wizard by Blake Charlton; sky cities – Hidden Empire series by Jaine Fenn and a cracking space station read – Horizons by Mary Rosenblum… Those are my contributions – but I don’t have anything to offer for a whale story, except… ooooooo…

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 1:28 am

You always end up piling so many books on my TBR mountain, Sarah, and I LOVE it. You have the best recs, thank you!!! I was debating whether or not to include The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, because its god world and mortal world is kind of smooshed up together, but I think it qualifies. πŸ˜€

And it’s not a whale, but I’ve heard that Nicky Drayden’s upcoming Escaping Exodus features a ship that’s also a beast, so I’m very excited for that!

sjhigbee July 26, 2019 - 1:58 pm

I am glad you decided to include The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms as I think it is a remarkable series:). I do like the idea of the beast/ship…

Captain's Quarters July 23, 2019 - 2:41 pm

Authors take note dang it!! Aye to: Underwater: Sea and Ocean, Sky Islands, Big Space Stations or Ships, and Forest Cities. And the crew’s suggestions on this list be awesome. Arrr!
x The Captain

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 7:29 pm

Haha glad to have your approval, Captain! πŸ˜€

bookbeachbunny July 23, 2019 - 2:44 pm

There are such great ideas here! I also wanted to go live with the elves after seeing Lord of the Rings or hang out in space with Murderbot πŸ™‚

Justine July 23, 2019 - 2:49 pm

Yay you did a T10T! There are so many on your lists that I’d die to see more of and so many new books on my radar now that I’ve read this post lol. For Snow and Ice I’ve heard really good things about Clan of the Cavebear. I cant judge for myself, though. πŸ˜…

I also love how you said yea, you know, just literally not in the US loll. Same. There’s a lot in literary fiction, but I don’t reach for that genre a lot ><!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 7:28 pm

Ohhh I actually read Clan of the Cavebear! I really liked it and then went on to read the sequels, but uh….the author kind of ditches the whole historical adventure angle and turns it into a cavepeople porn series. And it somehow gets worse and worse with each book. πŸ˜…

Justine July 26, 2019 - 8:43 pm

Omg loll

Susan (Bloggin' 'bout Books) July 23, 2019 - 3:03 pm

A school for killer nuns? Wow! I can’t imagine …

Happy TTT!


Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 1:18 am

Oh, it’s definitely one of the more unique schools I’ve come across in fantasy! And the author pulls off both the nun aspect and the murdery aspect really well. πŸ˜€

Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum July 23, 2019 - 9:10 pm

I love the idea of Asian steampunk settings, and I’ve probably read a few, but yes I would be ecstatic if it would become a thing πŸ˜€

Chai @ Like Chai Tea July 24, 2019 - 1:29 am

Aww Patron Saints of Nothing is set in my country though I haven’t read that book yet. Ooh.. school for killer nuns remind me of Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. Though it’s not really a school but more like a convent. Anyway, time-traveling spies? A CONCEPT!!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 12:55 am

I haven’t read Patron Saints of Nothing yet, either, but I’ve been hearing literally nothing but amazing things about it, and I’m hoping to get to it soon! And ahem, confession time! I actually stole the time-travelling spies one from a recent book I read (and LOVED) called This is How You Lose the Time War. It is SUCH a concept and the authors pull it off so well!

Sarah July 24, 2019 - 7:36 am

These are all great picks!! I’d love to see more forest cities. Black Leopard, Red Wolf had one that I fell in love with (Dolingo, I think) until it’s dark side was revealed.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 12:46 am

Thank you! And YES I loved the forest in BLRW too! I guess I’m kind of leery about talking about that book in any of my posts because I have so many conflicted feelings about it. There are so many aspects of it that I loved (like the worldbuilding and the casual queerness) and others that I had a hard time swallowing. I still haven’t written a review for it and it’s been MONTHS. Siigh

Sarah July 26, 2019 - 3:27 am

I get it! I do use that book all the time as an example, because the world building is cool, but I had a lot of issues with it too.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 29, 2019 - 9:23 pm

I’m really curious about how they’re going to incorporate some of the more….questionable scenes into the movie lol

Sarah July 30, 2019 - 3:37 am

Are they making a movie of it? Im not sure how well that one would translate to the screen… but also- who’d they get to play Mossi?! Lol

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 30, 2019 - 11:43 am

Yeah, apparently Michael Jordan (??!) will be producing it, which I was NOT expecting

Sarah July 30, 2019 - 3:53 pm

Michael B Jordan? I’d love for him to play Mossi. I pictured Mossi a lot like how he looked in Black Panther but with different types of clothing.

thebookishlibra July 24, 2019 - 3:18 pm

Great list! Underwater almost made my list this week too. πŸ™‚

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 26, 2019 - 12:39 am

Thank you! Underwater seems to be a favourite for everyone this week, which I’m loving. πŸ˜€

Sophie @ Me and Ink July 25, 2019 - 6:58 am

Underwater societies are amazing– I mean if I could live in one I definitely would!! 😍 I will have to check those books out!
Ooh… the inside of the whale is super unique but I absolutely love whales so I am intrigued!!
Sky islands are really cool– I too like the idea that you could step off at any given point and I imagine them to be so magical and dreamy as well!! 😍
Forest cities are also so, so amazing– I would love one!! I am dreaming of a treehouse palace/castle as well!! There should be more in books!! Yes, yes, yes!!
Schools for certain skills are also super cool!! You can to delve into the skill and all the different components and explore so many things such as the magic and rules!! It is a brilliant setting!!
I loved this post and I definitely want to see more of these settings too!! Great post!! πŸ’›

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 29, 2019 - 10:07 pm

Thank you, Sophie!!! I love that so many people are craving underwater settings! And the idea for a story about the inside of a whale came in the middle of night while I was trying to sleep. As…a lot of my random story ideas do. πŸ˜‚

Vinny @ Artsy Draft July 25, 2019 - 7:10 am

OH MY GOD, THIS LIST IS AMAZING! Great selection! Underwater is definitely one of my favorites! Sky islands and forest cities also sound super magical!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 25, 2019 - 3:46 pm

Aww thank you, Vinny!!! I wrote it pretty last minute so it was fueled by 12 AM sugar energy. XD And YES to underwater stories! Songs from the Deep is another (possibly) underwater story coming out this year that I forgot to mention. It features sirens and I can’t wait!

waytoofantasy July 25, 2019 - 5:12 pm

Me reading your list like ‘yes, yes, yes, yes, yes…’ LOL. Underwater! I loved Low, such a great comic.

Off The TBR July 27, 2019 - 8:51 am

I love this list!

Diana July 28, 2019 - 6:45 am

I completely agree on the Underwater theme. I love to read books set underwater and my favourite book growing up was Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 29, 2019 - 10:24 pm

Oh I’m a massive, massive Jules Verne fan and a lot of these were very much inspired by his stories!

Avery @ RedRocketPanda July 29, 2019 - 3:42 pm

ahhh I love this so much. Underwater (or just water-themed in general) are my absolute favourites. I haven’t gotten round to reading it yet but you might like the Underwater Ballroom Society, a whole water themed anthology, as well as Oceans (Frontiers of Speculative Fiction) which I have read and really enjoyed. I love a lot of your other suggestions as well, I feel like we have very similar tastes in things.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 1, 2019 - 6:59 pm

Oh my god, YES, the Underwater Ballroom Society! I remember you and a few other bloggers talking about it last year and I had it added to my TBR but ended up forgetting about it. And I hadn’t even heard of the Oceans anthology before but it sounds fantastic (and the cover looks gorgeous). Tysm for the recs Avery!! <3

@lynnsbooks July 31, 2019 - 9:53 am

I love your list – particularly inside a whale – pinocchio!
Lynn πŸ˜€

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 1, 2019 - 7:03 pm

Ha Pinnocchio was the first thing that came to my mind! But god, so much of that story (minus the beginning and the ending) *traumatized* me as a kid, including the whale scene!

Diana @fortunatelythebook September 17, 2019 - 6:17 am

An alchemy of masque and mirrors is on my TBR! The illustrations in this post are fantastic! Forest cities… I love forest cities!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky September 20, 2019 - 7:02 pm

Oh, I hope you love Alchemy of Masque and Mirrors! The worldbuilding is SO original (steampunk but unlike any other steampunk I’ve read), and it has a protagonist who’s a mathematician!

Amazing Book Blogs You Should Be Following – Me and Ink October 19, 2019 - 7:37 am

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Charlotte October 22, 2019 - 8:52 am

You seem to have put a lot of thought into the different whale ideas and they do sound intriguing. Maybe you should try out your dream one? I’d love more underwater books and I find something really appealing and snowy settings too (: I’d love more books at schools but I’m happy with any – especially boarding and magic schools, I know you get a lot of them but I do love those settings. I love the God idea!! I’d like to see more books in different places too. I have quite a few set in France on my TBR. I’d love to see more set in different times too; I love historical settings especially if they blend the supernatural in too.


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