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.