Posted by January 27th, 2015


Congratulations to Book Country member Marshall Ryan Maresca! His debut fantasy novel, THE THORN OF DENTONHILL comes out February 3, 2015! Marshall originally workshopped THE THORN OF DENTONHILL on Book Country, and was picked up by DAW Books.

To celebrate Marshall’s release, we are asking you to describe your own fantasy world in one sentence in the discussion thread for a chance to win one of ten advance copies of THE THORN OF DENTONHILL!  You may also email your submission to info@bookcountry.com with the subject line “THE THORN OF DENTONHILL Sweepstakes.”

To help you get started, Marshall shares his advice on the worldbuilding process below. The deadline to enter is 11:59 PM Eastern Time on February 2, 2015


I have a confession to make: a draft of a now-trunked novel of mine— before I wrote The Thorn of Dentonhill— was passed on by one agent for the world being a “generic medieval setting”.

That cut deep.

Once I crawled out from under my desk and looked back at the work in question, I could see what they were talking about. As proud as I was of my worldbuilding on a nation to nation level, the city where the story started was Just A City.

So I started to think about the city itself— the city of Maradaine— as its own worldbuilding microcosm.  Cities— real cities in our world— are very much living entities with their own distinct personality. You can’t just exchange New York for New Orleans or Mexico City for Saigon.  Part of that is the culture the city is a part of, but part of that is the city’s own geography. I had to make Maradaine it’s own rich, vibrant place for stories to be told.

Often— I won’t name names or point fingers— you’ll see cities in fantasy novels that are painfully generic. They might have a port, they might have a “Beggar’s Row” or a “Golden Quarter”, and they’ll have inns and shops and pubs, but little that makes them distinct.

Here are ways to help make each city distinct:

Embrace Specificity

Any city can be broken down to component parts: streets, public areas and neighborhoods, and every one of those is going to have a name, just like the city itself. Some of those names might be formal designations, others might be nicknames that stuck— New York City’s official maps didn’t use to say “Hell’s Kitchen”. Those names can be bluntly descriptive (again, NYC has “The Garment District”), but make them specific. Each neighborhood, each street, will have a meaning to the people who live there. In Maradaine, people know that Benson Court is a slum, that Oscana Park is inhabited only by addicts and lowlifes, and that Dentonhill is where Fenmere controls the effitte sellers. Street gangs in Aventil are fiercely territorial, and kids in the University know they shouldn’t go past Rose Street without an escort.

The City Is Alive; Food In, Waste Out 

A city has a lot of mouths to feed, and typically, the people who live in a city tend to have little to do with farming or ranching. But food has to come in on a regular basis, so many people make their living by being somewhere in the chain of bringing food to the people: hauling it in; processing it; selling it, be it grocers and dry good stores or other specialized shops selling raw ingredients, as well as restaurants, pubs and street vendors selling finished meals. What food is available is crucial as well; unless a certain degree of industrialization is in place, then seasonal and locally sourced don’t just become buzz words, they are the primary source of food. The other half of that—getting rid of the waste the city generates—is just as important. How your city does this helps define the character of the city.

Unique Landmarks

Be they natural or man-made, every city will have some feature which stands out. Two rivers that meet and form a third, larger river? A massive, protected harbor? A grand plaza with an enormous fountain? A giant bronze statue? Give the city something that will make it like no other.

Explore the Possibilities of your Tech Level

 You should never just dismissively say, “they couldn’t have that, they aren’t advanced enough”. For one, if you do your research, you’d be amazed how old some advancements actually are. More to the point, people are ingenious, and people are problem solvers. The people of your city might find a unique way to do something that is part of their character. How do people get across town?  Just walking? Are there animal-powered vehicles? Or people-powered, like bicycles? Is there some form of public transport? How do people call for law enforcement? How does information get publicized?  What are the options when someone gets sick?

All of these questions and more are things I thought about while working on Thorn of Dentonhill and building the city of Maradaine into the vibrant setting filled with heroes, scoundrels and everything in between.

What city will you build?



Enter for a chance to win:

One of ten advance reading copies of The Thorn of Dentonhill by Marshall Ryan Maresca.

No purchase necessary.

Open to residents of the fifty United States, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and possessions Canada (excluding Quebec) and the United Kingdom, age 16 or older.

Sweepstakes begins January 27, 2015.  Entries must be received no later than February 2, 2015, 11:59:59 PM Eastern Time.

Winners will be selected at random within five (5) days of the close of the Sweepstakes Period.

Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received.

Void where prohibited by law.

Go to http://bit.ly/1BQVeJU for official rules.


About Marshall Maresca

Marshall Maresca

Connect with Marshall on Book Country and follow him on Twitter @MarshallMaresca. Visit him on the web at blog.mrmaresca.com. Marshall is represented by Mike Kabongo of the OnyxHawke Agency, and his fantasy novels THE THORN OF DENTONHILL and A MURDER OF MAGES will be published by DAW Books in 2015.


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