I love a good setting. It might be a topic for a future discussion post, but they add so much to a book when they carry such a large degree of atmosphere, sometimes to the extent where they feel like an additional character in their own right.
Of the numerous settings I have read in 2020, some have particularly stood out. I have also read books set in many different countries, which has given me an added feel for different perspectives and cultures, leading to some very interesting reading experiences.
Today I am looking back on all the countries where the books I have read this year have been set, highlighting some of the best ones and also including a bonus section on some of the fantasy locations I have been introduced to.
Without further ado, on with the post!
United Kingdom 🇬🇧
Beast by Matt Wesolowski is an eerie book containing an investigation of a gruesome death and tales of vampires, and the setting of Ergarth, a deprived town in the North East of England, provides a very compelling and sinister backdrop.
All The Rage by Cara Hunter and May Day by Josie Jaffrey are both set in Oxford, and the city plays a very key role in these books. They both feature criminal investigations, though one is fantasy and the other is not, and the beautiful locations of Oxford are never far away from the narrative.
Dead Popular by Sue Wallman contains that universally adored setting of a boarding school, and I really enjoyed that as well as the surrounding beaches, that made it seem quite peaceful and idyllic.
The Last To Know by Jo Furniss featured a Gothic manor house in Shropshire, a very rural part of the country. Along with a central mystery, the plot also explored the local issues and attitudes towards outsiders.
The Foundling by Stacey Halls is set in Georgian London, a time period which I have rarely ventured into as far as books are concerned. It explores the difference between rich and poor, while the eponymous location is the Foundling Hospital, which was a really interesting place to learn about.
United States 🇺🇲
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is partly defined by its setting, which is one of the many factors that make it a special book. The marshes of North Carolina and the celebration of nature that we see is an absolute joy to behold.
The Once And Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow is set in New Salem, which is presented as a place of oppression, but the way it is written also gives it a vibrancy. There was atmosphere aplenty within the darkness of the graveyard and the underground tunnels, to name just two.
The Invention Of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is a powerful novel that mostly takes place within a slave plantation. The place is written in vicarious detail and appears vivid through the eyes of both of the protagonists.
The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is almost entirely set within Hawthorne House, a gigantic mansion full of secret rooms and passageways, libraries, and even bowling alleys. It is a puzzle box, with the characters having to follow a series of clues to discover the reason behind Tobias Hawthorne’s last will and testament. I loved it!
Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis is a spooky place where the ghost of a girl and the seemingly monstrous Mr. Jitters lurks within. The titular location is like the town that time forgot, and though I had mixed views about the book itself, it was this setting that was most memorable.
The Good People by Hannah Kent is an extremely evocative book where both the setting and the time period it portrays both play a crucial role in the plot. It is based heavily around folklore with hints towards old herbal remedies, and the feel of 19th century rural Ireland is very prominent.
The Escape by C.L. Taylor is partly set in a small Irish town. Despite being a contemporary thriller, the town feels very quaint and the the difference between that and the parts set in the UK are very evident.
The Guest List by Lucy Foley uses the setting of a remote island to create an atmosphere of great foreboding. It can arguably be described as pathetic fallacy, but it is very effective and somehow helps to add to the stakes.
A Song Of Isolation by Michael J. Malone and The Family Upstairs are both set primarily in the UK, but have sections which take place in France. They explore sensitive themes while there, but the setting leaves its mark on each instance.
One Year Later by Sanjida Kay is largely set on an island off the coast of Tuscany. Although this book was something of a letdown plot-wise, the setting was beautifully described and had a very relaxing vibe. A very nice place to take a holiday!
The Truants by Kate Weinberg mostly takes place in the UK, but part of the story sees Jess and her university lecturer Lorna head off to a volcanic region of Italy. It was a fascinating part of the story and definitely gave it a sense of uniqueness.
The Woman In The Painting by Kerry Postle is set in Renaissance Italy, exploring the life of the artist Raphael and the many class divisions that were prevalent at the time. The setting was detailed and was a fundamental part of the story, even though it was mostly character driven.
South Africa 🇿🇦
The Lion Tamer Who Lost is a multi-faceted book that begins at a nature reserve where several volunteers – including main character Ben – look after abandoned lion cubs. It was a really unique part of the story, and a lot of research clearly went into it, making it very enjoyable to read.
The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith is set in a dystopian world some years in the future, where a tuberculosis pandemic has decimated the global population and led to the implementation of draconian measures. One of the narratives takes place in South Africa, and that is among the standout parts of what is a terrific book.
New Zealand 🇳🇿
Containment by Vanda Symon was the first book I have ever read to be set in New Zealand, and I really liked how this was used to give the story an added level of context.
With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo is mostly set in Philadelphia, but about two thirds of the way through, Emoni and the rest of her culinary arts class travel to Spain for work experience, which brings a whole new atmosphere and I liked how history was also used to give it some depth.
The Creak On The Stairs by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir is completely defined by its setting. Icelandic culture and customs is right at the very heart of this book, and that is one of the things I enjoyed most about it.
The Family Secret by Tracy Buchanan is set partly in Iceland as well as separate locations in the UK. Each of these settings had their own unique feel, and Iceland was one of mystique.
The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea has its biggest strength in the setting. Every feature of the landscape is made to feel alive and oppressive, while the historical setting gave it more depth, giving an insight into past societies.
The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi begins at Severin’s hotel in France, but the latest mission for he and his team of acquirers is in Russia, the scene of the Winter Conclave. This setting, as you would expect from this author, was told with lyrical beauty.
Circe by Madeline Miller is a celebration of a remarkable character in Greek myth, and the settings play a huge part, none more so than the remote island of Aiaia, where she is banished for the rest of her life. Aided by some mesmeric writing, it is completely brought to life.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa follows a cat called Nana and his owner Satoru as they embark on a road trip throughout Japan, and it just makes for a special read. It also felt like that it could not have been set in any other country.
The Murmur Of Bees by Sofia Segovia is another of those books where the setting is just front and centre, like another character. It is a timeless book which explores countless themes, against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution, and the writing is superb.
Dominican Republic 🇩🇴
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo sees half of the story play out in the Dominican Republic, where Camino lives with her aunt. The setting here is used to contrast with the circumstances of the other protagonist Yohaira, and it is done very effectively.
The Devil And The Dark Water by Stuart Turton takes place mostly at sea, but the voyage begins in what is now Indonesia. The dockyard and the ship itself once it sets sail, are described in excellent detail.
The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware is also set on a ship, sailing along the Norwegian coast. The way it is written, along with the mysterious plotline, give it a wonderfully claustrophobic feel.
The Saracen’s Mark by S.W. Perry is split between London and Morocco, set in the late 16th century. The time period certainly influenced how they were depicted.
The Truth And Lies Of Ella Black was one of my most disappointing reads of the year, but the setting was a shining light. I really enjoyed discovering Brazil and the various places Ella encountered.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is my current read. However, I can certainly say that the Shanghai setting has already made a fantastic impression upon me, with talk of gangs and monsters lurking in rivers. I am looking forward to finding out more!
The Confessions Of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins is mostly set in London, but begins in Jamaica. This setting is used effectively to juxtapose the beauty of the landscape against the horror and sadness of Frances’ life.
Fantasy Settings ✨
The Shadow And Bone series by Leigh Bardugo is set in Ravka, a fantastical region of Russia. I loved some of the locations, especially The Little Palace, while the Shadow Fold is extremely dark and full of trepidation. Looking forward to returning to the Grishaverse in 2021!
Amari And The Night Brothers by B.B. Alston is full of weird and wonderful ideas, all centred around the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. There we have talking lifts and a multitude of magical creatures among many other things.
What are the best settings you came across in 2020? How many countries did you visit on your reading journey? Let me know in the comments!
Happy reading 🙂