‘Tough Travelling’ is a weekly feature. Every Thursday I’ll be rummaging around in my memory to come up with various examples of commonly used fantasy tropes. Full credit goes to Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn for coming up with the idea: be sure to check out his blog!
This week’s topic is THE BIG CITY.
There has to be somewhere in Fantasyland where everyone comes together. All roads lead to Rome after all. A place where traders prosper, politicians scheme, and criminals thrive.
I had an enormous list this week. Seriously, if it’s a city in a fantasy novel I’ve read recently, I had it on my list. Low Town, Adua, Krondor, Adro, Krasia . . . but I just couldn’t think of enough to say about most of them. Whether this is a detrimental comment about the world-building of these authors, or simply my own abysmal memory, who knows. Let’s face it, it’s probably the latter.
(Discworld series by Terry Pratchett)
On the Discworld, all roads lead here: to the glorious twin-cities of proud Ankh and pestilent Morpork. Famous for its wizards, its underworld, and of course its smell, Ankh-Morpork is home to those from all walks of life. Firstly it boasts the Unseen University, home of the majority of the Discworld’s wizarding population. The University’s immense Tower of Art, well, towers over the rest of the city like, erm, a big tower. Then there’s the river Ankh, which is so thick it crawls rather than flows; and of course the Guild headquarters, including the Assassins’ Guild, Thieves’ Guild, and the miserable Fools’ Guild. There’s also a Golem Emporium, a Post Office, the barracks of the Night’s Watch, the Patrician’s palace . . . and let’s not forget The Mended Drum (formerly The Broken Drum), possibly the most resilient tavern in the history of fiction, complete with its trollish bouncers and of course a nightly brawl. And then there’s the Shades, a rather dodgy part of Morpork where, according to Pratchett, curiosity not only kills the cat but throws it into the river with lead weights tied to its feet. Ahh, Ankh-Morpork. How we love you.
(Herald of the Storm by Richard Ford)
School of magicians? Check. Illegal slave-trade? Check. Assassins? Check. City watch? Check.
Yep, this one definitely belongs on the list.
(The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch)
Welcome to the Camorr, the home of Locke Lamora and the Gentlemen Bastards. With its gullible nobility, corrupt bankers and fat merchants (not to mention easily impersonable priests), Camorr is a con man’s paradise, and is home to an extensive and sophisticated criminal underworld. The city of Camorr is laced with Venetian-style waterways, which perhaps explains why the Camorri’s favourite form of capital punishment is to throw people into a deep pool filled with murderous sea creatures. Their favourite form of entertainment is – oh – yeah, wait, that’s also throwing people into a deep pool filled with murderous sea creatures. Welcome to Camorr!
(Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson)
The Last Free City, Darujhistan was ‘built on a rumour’, as a false gold rush hundreds of years before sent thousands of people flocking to the banks of Lake Azur, where they eventually founded the city. Also known as the City of Blue Fire, so named for its extensive natural gas supply and the blue lamps it fuels, Darujhistan is ostensibly ruled by the Council of Nobles, but a group of mages known as the T’orrud Cabal operate in the shadows behind them. In addition to the politics, parties and duels of the nobility, Darujhistan is also home to a surprising amount of shadier people more familiar with the rooftops than the streets. Assassins and thieves abound in Darujhistan, and any who want a piece of the action – or need protection – will head straight for The Phoenix Inn.
(Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling)
This one is probably cheating, as neither are actually a city: one's a village and the other's a, well, an alley. However, our favourite Hogswartians don’t get out much, and a trip to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley is about as close to ‘the big city’ as they’re ever going to get. Diagon Alley has everything a witch or wizard will ever need: shops, banks, pubs, you name it. Is your owl losing his sense of direction? Head over to Eeylops Owl Emporium and buy a new one! Short on cash and need to make a withdrawal? Gringotts bank is your destination, that big white building on the corner (don’t forget your vault key, and don’t stare too hard at the goblins). Need new spellbooks for school? Go to Flourish and Blotts! In Hogsmeade and fancy a pint of butterbeer? Head on over to the Three Broomsticks (watch out for Hagrid, he’s probably had one too many already). Elsewhere in these places you can buy flying brooms, unicorn horns, beetles’ eyes, cauldrons, wizard robes, magical sweets, or even just ice cream . . . anything at all. Don’t miss the Weasleys’ joke shop in Diagon Alley, and be sure to check out the Shrieking Shack before you leave Hogsmeade!
That’s it for this week! Join us again next week for the topic of MUMS, and be sure to check out the Tough Travelling tab above for links to my previous posts and fellow travellers!