Interesting post by Joe Abercrombie over at his blog, where he discusses the inclusion of a map in his upcoming novel Best Served Cold. Joe also wrote a piece about maps in fantasy a year or so ago, which can be found here.
Joe indicates that while he loves maps as much as the next person, he's also wary that sometimes they're unnecessary and, at worst, can spoil a reader's perception of the secondary world in question. This is a view that I share myself.
On the one hand, I love maps. I like looking at them and I like drawing them. When I'm working on my own projects, I often feel that my secondary world doesn't feel real until I've drawn a map of it. I think when done properly, maps can be a valuable tool in lending further depth and weight to the world in question. It's a way of instantly making the place seem real before the reader has even read a single word of the novel. It's also a way of drawing readers in - I readily confess that in the past, an intriguing, well-drawn map has tipped the balance for me in terms of whether I bought a book or not.
For example, I picked up A Game of Thrones and - while I already planned to buy the novel - it certainly helped that one of the first things I saw was the map, more specifically the part that said 'The Haunted Forest' and 'The Wall.' That instantly appealed to me (namely, um, because I like spooky forests) and this sort of instant connection with the world can be invaluable. Maps can therefore serve as a real draw to potential readers - I think if someone picks up a book and the map within really appeals to them, then there's a stronger chance they'll consider purchasing the novel. In some ways it's like a second front cover, another chance to sell the book. Often, I'll look to see if a book has a map before I even sample the writing. From this perspective, maps can be invaluable.
Yet you do have to consider the other side of the issue. While a good map can draw readers in (and serve a more practical purpose during the reading of the novel), a bad map can have the opposite affect. Again, I'm happy to admit that if I'm undecided about whether to pick up a novel, a bad map can by the decisive nail in the coffin. The most recent example of a poor map I can think of is the one for Brent Weeks' debut novel, The Way of Shadows. I've already knocked this novel enough, but I have to say that the map is horrible. It's just a mishmash of names and boundary lines. It didn't instill any sense of awe or interest in me whatsoever, which I think is a fundamental failing. That said, it did serve its ultimate purpose as a reference, as I did refer to it once or twice during my reading of the novel.
As Abercrombie says, sometimes a map can destroy your personal imagining of a world. He cites the classic David Gemmell example, which I agree with wholeheartedly. Gemmell novels, for years, didn't have maps. There wasn't really any need for them, but eventually - for whatever reasons - a map was included with the Drenai novel White Wolf. All well and good, but it was crap. The world looked absolutely nothing like I'd imagined it, and other fans were also up in arms about it. The map had been drawn by a fan of Gemmell, which makes it all the more bewildering - if you're going to include a map, at least make sure the map has been drawn (or is based on a drawing) by the author! This sorry episode does serve as a warning that sometimes maps do more harm than good.
So, while I appreciate the potential drawbacks, I'm still in favour of maps in fantasy books.
What do you all think? Interested to hear other opinions!