The Valley of Osrung

November 27th, 2010

Having acquired an axe for the foreground, the next element we needed in our cover for The Heroes was the background.  The all-important map.

I seem to have acquired a reputation in fantasy circles as some kind of anti-map guy.  Occasionally I’ll read posts here or there about how much I hate maps, as though maps are a paramilitary organisation you’re either with or against, a holy cause you must support or oppose.  Probably it’s because there’s no map in The First Law, like you usually get in that there epic fantasy stuff.  But my position on maps is actually a lot more nuanced than all that.

Because I love me a good map, I do.  Man, I love them.  I used to spend hours poring over maps of Middle Earth, and the Dragonlance World, and Middenheim, and Titan, and Harn, and, and, and…  The bits of the roleplaying supplements with the maps in were always my favourite bits.  And I used to spend hours imitating them.  Sat there happily with my A2 pad and my coloured pencils, scratching unconvincing fantasy lands from my imagination, shading all the mountains, doing every tree in the forests, getting the river-lines oh-so curly-wurly.  Then I’d get really irritated with when I started doing the lettering and it came out all wrong and I had to put tipex on and ruin the whole thing.  Happy days.  When I visit the Vatican (which I do as often as my busy schedule will allow, of course) it’s bollocks to the Sistine Chapel, you’ll find me in the Gallery of Maps, with my nose an inch from the plaster and a big grin on my face.  Yes, indeed, I love me a good map.  And perhaps it’s because I love me a good map so much, that I hate me a shit map so much.

I don’t want it to be there just because it’s expected to be there, like the ill-fitting uniform on a draftee who’d far rather be at home.  I love maps that are useful, relevant, executed with artistic skill and used in inventive ways to enhance the whole feel of a book.  I don’t love maps that are pointless, ill thought-out and lazy in conception and execution, sitting limp and helpless on a fly-leaf.

Anyway, The Heroes, as you may well know by now, is the story of a single battle, the vast majority of the action taking place in one valley over three days.  A good understanding of the geography, and the positions of the units when the action gets underway, is pretty important.  It therefore occurred early on that a useful thing to have would be a map of said valley, very small scale compared to the world-spanning parchments you often see in epic fantasy.  It furthermore occurred that it would be good to update it at the start of each part of the book (so each day of the battle) with the positions of the units involved in the fighting – a convention probably very familiar to wargamers and readers of military history but not necessarily fantasy novels (although the overlap may well not be small, I will concede).

We may talk later on about the addition of the units, but first of all we needed to get a version of the battlefield without any units on it.  That’d come in the first part since, er, before the battle starts the units aren’t there yet, but it would also be modified for the later maps.  My own effort at the valley without units looked a little something like this:

Hard to improve on that artistically, you would have thought, right?  But map-meister Dave Senior took it away and, to his credit, was able to add a couple of minor stylistic touches:

Did you spot the difference?  That’s right, the names are in black on his map, on mine they’re in red.  Seriously, though, we were totally blown away by the richness and level of detail, and also by the sense of place he’d created, which I thought was spot on, without my having really specified it in any great detail.  The fields, the herds of sheep, the ripples in the ground were all things he took initiative on, but seemed totally fitting.  It actually helped me get a better sense of place when I was going back through and working on some of the settings and descriptions.  A couple of details to add that are relevant in the story, a couple of tweaks here and there, and he inked that version to produce this one:

Which probably looks pretty similar from a distance, but believe me, you go close up on that bad boy, you can smell the detail.  Have a look at the marshes.  Have a look at the forests.  Have a look at the buildings in Osrung.  You can actually see the mill-house and the guard towers, the little town square.  Look at the dry stone walls around The Heroes.  You can see the individual rocks.  Now that’s a map.

Posted in artwork, opinion by Joe Abercrombie on November 27th, 2010.

27 comments so far

  • ColinJ says:

    Wow, that’s a bad-ass map!

    The Australian action author Mathew Reilly always has detailed floor plans of the locations for his books at the front of each one. Because his actions scenes are so extensive and elaborate you constantly need to keep checking back to get a sense of the geography.

    So the effort Joe and Dave Senior went to for this is greatly appreciated and just helps bring the story to life in your mind that much clearer.

  • Tim H says:

    Joe, will you make the various battle maps available on the blog for Kindle users? Even if the maps are on the eReader editions, it’s kind of a pain browsing back to a certain page.

  • Davieboy says:

    Great stuff Joe, can hardly wait.
    Currently listening to the First Law trilogy (having read the books twice before) to get back in the groove before The Heroes. Must say I’ve downloaded a fan-made map of “The Circle of the World” and I am comforted to have it – even though it’s not that detailed, nor is it canon, I just like looking at the names of the various locations and seeing roughly where we are in the story.
    I too plan to read The Heroes on Kindle, having just received one for my birthday, so like Tim above, I too want maps included please! I will of course also buy the beautiful (signed) hardback, to keep in pristine condition.

  • Tim H says:

    Davieboy, hope you enjoy your Kindle as much as I’m enjoying mine. I’d done very little reading for a number of years, now I’m carrying the Kindle around in a man purse and reading whenever I get the chance. Great technology (all of the eReaders and iPad).

    Am I off topic? The map is extremely cool. Maybe all eReader purchasers could get a poster size version since we’re saving all that ink??

  • Davieboy says:

    Hey Tim,

    Thanks for your message. I’m only on my first book, Keith Richards’ “Life “, but finding it a very cool way to read. Recently I listen to many more books than I read, but I think this will draw me back. Think it will particularly come into its own with thick, heavy fantasy novels!
    Off topic? Probably, but I reckon Joe’s cool with it!

  • Elfy says:

    Good to know you’re not anti map, Joe. Does that mean we will see a map of the world your work is set in at some stage?

  • Eddwigg says:

    Excellent Map !
    Roleplayers rejoice, once we have read Heroes we will be able to add lots of little details ( for example – what is the Inn called? what is the history of the various standing stones etc ) to our campaigns. So please bung Dave some more cash so he can draw more lovely maps.

  • PhilD says:

    That is one georgous map. Was it created digitally or is that real pen and ink work?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Tim H,
    I’ll probably post them on the Heroes page at some point.

    Map of the whole world is a tricky one. I’ve got one, you understand. But I want to be able to fill in those white spaces as I see fit…

    A point is made of the fact the inn doesn’t have a name, in fact…

    Dave Senior is an old school pan and ink man. I have the original of his map of Styria on my wall. Well, metaphorically. It’s actually in a box along with most of my other posessions.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Which is to say, PEN and ink man. A pan would be a clumsy tool with which to apply ink…

  • SwindonNick says:

    When you consider all the extra goodies to add to the extra special e-book version – will there be a Sat Nav disc? Think how much easier all these fantasy quests would be with Sat Nav.

  • Bryce says:

    Where’s the scale, where’s the scale man?:)

    It actually looks like an authentic map, I know this is not a real place, but authentic in that we can follow individual characters movements in relation to each other and the battle’s progress.

  • AO says:

    Ah, so much mappy goodness. Thanks very much for the post Mr. Abercrombie. While I’m not currently wearing a hat, when next I don one then I shall immediately tip it in Mr. Dave Senior’s honor.

    Meanwhile, after all these months I still am incredulous at the U.S. publisher’s decision to deny the American audience so much of the cover map in favor of blood. In response to an earlier question you explained that it was important that I, as an American, buy the U.S. edition. But even with the 50% discount that Amazon U.S. has sometimes offered, it’s still a bitter pill. I’ll order it eventually, but in the meantime, I’m quite grateful for the international sellers that allow me to first purchase the UK Edition.

  • MikkoT says:

    Slightly off topic, but earlier post includes reference to the ebook version, so when and how will that be available ??

    And the audiobook ??

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Audio and ebooks, both standard and enhanced, should go on sale simultaneously with the hardcover. That’s the plan as I understand it, anyway. I’m not intimately involved with the actual production and distribution sides so I guess there might be some delay but I’d hope it would be very minimal, if any. I would imagine audio downloadable from audible both .com and There may be an unabridged physical multi-cd edition in the US as well, though I wouldn’t have thought in the UK. Kindle editions from relevant amazons, e-pubs from in the UK and sundry other suppliers across UK and US.

  • Nick Sharps says:

    I usually look at the map once and go about my merry way, without ever looking back. This however, is a map done right, and I can see myself flipping back and forth to get a good bearing on what’s going on. Well done.

  • Steve says:

    Joe, how long does it take him to complete the map start to finish? The amount of detail on that is impressive.

  • Tim H says:

    I’m particularly excited about the battle maps that will show troop dispositions on each day. I enjoy military history and feel that most fantasy battles don’t seem very carefully planned and gloss over tactical issues. Usually some implausible ruse or magical intervention wins the day (charge, things go poorly, the black ships arrive, Aragorn kicks some ass, yay we win.). The battle maps mean that we’re probably in for something more interesting here.

  • Christian says:

    Awesome. There’s something about them which conjures up a nice Lone Wolf/Dragon Warriors kind of vibe. Which is ace. Dead ace.

  • BC Woods says:

    This looks like a pretty blatant attempt to capture the hormone-driven, lusty teenage cartographer demographic.

    Well played, sir. Well played.

  • james mansfield says:

    Wow, from no at all maps to like 6 in one book. A big jump from the anit-map guy!

  • TheChubby41 says:

    Fantastic map (in both function and design). Very helpful keeping the battle strait. TY for adding this to the story/book.

  • Fritz P. says:

    Hi Joe!
    Is it possible, that you post the maps of each day of “The Heroes”? I bought your (german) book on amazon (kindle) but I cannot see the according maps for each day of the battle! Would be a great service for your ebook-readers!
    Kind regards!

  • Aris says:

    It is a beautifully detailed map. Unfortunately, the maps in the Nook edition were too small to read.

  • Norah says:

    Hey Joe! Any chance we can get an Adua map? I just finished the First Law trilogy and came hunting around your blog for a map. Read your post, and I know your opinion of maps, but I’m horrible with creating imagery from descriptions. The general map of the circle of the world, I can conjure,simples. But Adua to me is complex (needless to say, I sucked at Geography in school :/) Just scrawls showing the general idea of where what is. A request from a huge huge fan. Lemme stop blabbering and get to reading Best Served Cold now 🙂 Cheers!

  • […] I have to mention is that the battlefield is just as much a part of the story as the characters. Laid out in loving detail with a map that changes with the battle, you can track the action and see where everyone is in relation to everyone else. A fantastic use […]

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