One of the absolute gems of reading is that it can transport you to absolutely anywhere in the world – or to a different world entirely, courtesy of its setting. As well as being something fun, exciting, and potentially new, it allows you to really immerse yourself in a different culture or experience things from different perspectives, especially if the portrayal is authentic and well researched.
I absolutely adore a good setting and always try to spotlight or make some kind of reference to them in my book reviews. They can provide an exceptional amount of atmosphere and depth, sometimes to the extent that they feel like an extra character.
Here are some of the countries and settings I have visited this year through reading. There are not quite as many as the past couple of years, but it will still be a long post!
Threadneedle by Cari Thomas has an interesting feel as a book set in a world of witchcraft. While the setting is contemporary London, the urban element to it makes everything seem timeless, and there are unforgettable locations in there such as the library, which are full of imagination.
Another book that can rank as an urban fantasy or horror is The Cottingley Cuckoo by A.J. Elwood, which is inspired by the bizarre story of the Cottingley Fairies. The writing and an unreliable narrator create a distorted view of reality and give everything an unsettling vibe.
Similar in atmosphere but this time unmistakeably historical fiction, Things In Jars by Jess Kidd delivers an extremely colourful and atmospheric presentation of nineteenth century London, full of eccentric characters to go with it.
Cunning Women by Elizabeth Lee is clearly a book where the setting is integral in both the writing and storytelling. It takes place in a rural village in Lancashire and we have the local dialect to go with it, and the gloomy atmosphere it conveys makes it easy to feel completely immersed.
Another memorable rural location I read about this year is the fictional Scarclaw Fell in Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. An area of dense woodland where a murder took place and whispers of a ghostly presence have long abounded, the many atmospheric descriptions of it made the place seem really hostile.
Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins is an addictive mystery where one of the absolute highlights is the setting of Oxford, in terms of not only the old house where it is set with its murky past and reams of William Morris wallpaper, but the city’s university and ghost tales. There is a wonderful classical feel about it.
Still Water by Rebecca Pert is set in two rural locations at opposite ends of the country; a small Scottish island and a remote Devon town. Both are made to seem hostile as the two main characters across the separate timelines are portrayed as outsiders, while the whole depressing atmosphere of it all adds to the suspense.
Bone China by Laura Purcell is set in an old, decrepit house in Cornwall where even the descriptions of the biting cold coming through the open windows are enough to make you shiver. The whole area surrounding the house is quite dark and remote, while the shadows that play in the china itself are most frightening of all.
The unique thing about Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech is that is mostly takes place in the studio of a local radio station, where the truth about a recent crime unfolds over the course of a late-night show. The most eerie thing about it is how the presenter is on her own in the studio for most of the night and any sound could spell fear.
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas is the prequel to The Hate U Give, and contains some of the same themes, where settings such as different neighbourhoods are juxtaposed with each other. The area where Maverick lives influences his life and choices in many ways as the community is quite deprived and full of gang violence, and the book is a coming of age story where he avoids letting those things define him.
A History Of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw is an understated and atmospheric novel that is mostly set in a commune where residents believe that stepping back into the outside world would cause them to suffer from an incurable disease. It is quite a frightful concept and you really do feel the characters’ trepidation as their thoughts and feelings are constantly manipulated.
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson features a boarding school that is attended by some of the very brightest young minds, but what makes it super interesting is its history. The unsolved mystery of what happened to its founder’s wife and daughter in the 1930s forms a crucial part of the plot, while it is also cool how all the buildings at the school are named after gods and goddesses.
The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a sequel to The Inheritance Games, where the mansion bestowed upon the main character Avery by the billionaire Tobias Hawthorne continues to provide endless possibilities. There are puzzles and secret rooms at every turn, and a multitude of characters with different motives.
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is an at times heart-rending novel that focuses on a young woman who works for the American Library in Paris and how her life changes following the onset of the Second World War and Nazi occupation. The setting here changes with the passing of time as the situation gets more tense and the characters lives are impacted. The library itself and the celebration of the Dewey Decimal system was wonderful to read.
Meanwhile, a short section of The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn is set in France. The action here takes place during the English Civil War and as the fighting gets more intense and hostility grows towards the Royalists, the protagonist Nat Davy accompanies the Queen Consort Henrietta Maria to take refuge in her home country for a time.
Fracture by Elyse Hoffman is set during the Second World War and concentrates specifically on the Holocaust. While I did not enjoy this particular story and found it in reasonably poor taste, it was clear that the author did at least have good knowledge of the time period.
The House Of Fortune by Jessie Burton is the sequel to her tremendous debut novel The Miniaturist, and one of the absolute joys of reading it was being able to reacquaint myself with the Amsterdam setting. It is vibrant and captivating, with a real sense of place, both in terms of detail and atmosphere.
The One Hundred Years Of Lenni And Margot by Marianne Cronin is primarily set in a Scottish hospital, but Lenni is from Sweden originally and as part of this book’s unique storytelling, we have occasional flashbacks to her earlier childhood.
While the present timeline takes place in Victorian England, some of the main characters in Circus Of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal have a detailed backstory that forms a key part of the narrative. The highlight in these chapters was the element of mystery that came from the setting and what had occurred there.
These books are set in mythological Greece, but of course it still counts! Ariadne and Elektra by Jennifer Saint are both compelling retellings and take place across a variety of locations. The initial setting of Crete was one of the factors that drew me into Ariadne, but the most memorable was definitely Naxos, the island where Ariadne finds herself isolated before the arrival of its ‘owner’, the wine god Dionysus.
I could talk forever about how much I love the setting in this duology. Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong does just the same as its predecessor These Violent Delights in presenting 1920s Shanghai with the utmost vibrancy and vividness, with a multitude of cultures, languages, and customs. It is historical diversity at its best. I am also currently reading the spin-off Foul Lady Fortune, which is set in the 1930s and has the political divisions of the time as its backdrop.
For a detailed, personal account of what those divisions were like to experience in real life, there is Wild Swans by Jung Chang, one of the most notable books of the late twentieth century. It tells the story of Chang and the lives of her mother and grandmother during the rise of Communism in China.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite may generally be a short book which details murders with a kind of ironic dark humour, but it was also original and interesting, while I felt the Nigerian setting gave it a proper sense of place.
A more serious take on contemporary Nigeria comes in Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, which focuses quite heavily on societal norms and cultural values during what is an emotional story with very strong roots.
In The Air
Hostage by Clare Mackintosh is a heart-pounding thriller which mostly takes place on an aeroplane over the course of a long-haul flight between the UK and Australia. It is tense in the extreme, and the setting brings with it an incredible sense of danger and high stakes, not to mention claustrophobia.
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna takes place in a highly patriarchal world where girls whose blood is deemed to be impure are demonised and cast out. The world building is strong as we get to learn its geography and along the way, are left in doubt as to its oppressiveness.
There are numerous fantastical settings which appear in Daughter Of The Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan, all of which are captivating and realised with stunning clarity. Some kingdoms have the own native creatures such as dragons and the merfolk, while others bring a hint of whimsicality to the story. Whichever place Xingyin visits next, it is guaranteed to be immersive.
The Daughter Of Erabel series by Kristin Ward is set in an archaic world that is heavily inspired by Irish folklore, with tales of obscure creatures and an atmosphere that really brings the most out of its rugged beauty. There is such an attention to detail throughout, even during several medieval battle scenes.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is full to the brim with magic and intrigue, as the author conjures a story so rich with imaginative concepts. One of the interesting things about the circus itself is that as a setting, it is not described in any great detail, but that only adds to the mystery of it.
There are many unusual and inventive concepts in play during the MadAddam series by Margaret Atwood. It looks to a future where the majority of the population has been wiped out by disease and natural disasters, with genetically modified animals among other things. The whole series is an entertaining, if rather curious read.
What are the best settings you came across in 2022? How many countries did you visit on your reading journey? Let me know in the comments!
Happy reading 🙂
6 thoughts on “The Best Settings I Read In 2022”
I love this post. One of my most memorable books for its setting was Robert Harris’s Act of Oblivion. The descriptions of America in the 17th century were incredible.
LikeLiked by 1 person
this is such a cool post! I really had fun reading everything you had to say about the settings!
One of my favourite settings this year was in Gallant, the other world was so well written and atmospheric that I felt completely transported there (though would never wanna really go there 😅😂)
Another one of my favs was in One Last Stop and I adore the world in Crescent City
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you, Mek! Ah Gallant sounds fantastic, thanks so much for letting me know your favourite settings of the year 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Omg this is such a cool post idea and it seems so fun to break up settings by country and I hope you don’t mind me stealing end of this year. Love you xoxoxo
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you so much! Yes, you can definitely borrow this idea if you like 🙂