Trudi Canavan

bestselling author of The Black Magician Trilogy

Maps for The Magician’s Apprentice

The first full-time job I had was as a designer at Lonely Planet Publications, where I drew maps and illustrations along with setting them out with the text of travel guidebooks. While I’d sketched out maps for the fun of it as a child, and examined the maps in the fantasy books I was reading, I hadn’t had any training in cartography. Learning on the job was fun, though drawing the same style of maps did become drudgery after a few years. Later, when I worked freelance as an illustrator and cartographer, there was a lot more variety and scope in the maps I got to draw.

The maps I draw for my own books are mostly hurried sketches, starting as a general idea with details being added as the worlds I create are fleshed out. When the time comes to change these sketches into maps to go into my books, what I learned while working at Lonely Planet comes in handy.

The most useful skill I learned was knowing how much detail can be put in a map that must fit on, at the most, a double page spread of a paperback novel, often using low quality paper and ink. How much detail can be put in? Not much!

My sketches tend to be about the same size as a double page spread of a paperback these days, and my final maps are drawn to fit that size. Any larger and they’d have to be shrunk to fit. Fine detail is likely to fill in, tiny labels are likely to become unreadable. I might still include a lot more detail in my sketch than will go on the finished map, but keeping it small helps remind me I’ve got limited space in the final version.

















When I start creating the finished map, I also consider the look and style of it. In the early days of learning about cartography I used to sneer at the maps in fantasy novels, most which I considered badly drawn. Inconsistent scale, foolish little ‘witches hats’ mountains that didn’t show the true lie of the land, border lines that were obviously based more on convenience to the author than convincing geographic or political boundaries, awful, unreadable fonts, are just a small example of what made a poor map.

But then I began to look at historical maps, and I began to change my mind. I started to see that the errors and quaintness in those old maps was part of their charm, and in fact it was the static, obviously computer drawn maps that didn’t suit fantasy books.

So when I came to creating the finished maps for my own books, I aimed to make them look like someone living in the world of the story had drawn them. That way, the maps were part of the world building. They told the reader something about the level of technological advancement, and even the culture, of the setting.

This is why there is an architectural plan of the Guild grounds in the Black Magician Trilogy rather than a map. It was only at the last moment that the idea of including the label: “This plan is the property of the Magicians’ Guild of Kyralia and must not be removed from the Magicians’ Library” came to me, to give a sense of the disciplined world it came from.

















In The Magician’s Apprentice I took this a step further, including a cartographer among the secondary characters who explored new ways to draw maps. 

I’ve always felt that maps should not be essential to comprehending a story – there’s nothing more annoying that having to flick back and forth in order to follow the plot. The greatest sin is the map that shows (usually in a dotted line) the path of the characters, as this nearly always spoils the plot. Most maps are decorative – and since authors don’t have much control over their covers at least they can decide what the map is like.

But the best maps are those that add a little extra something to the experience of reading the book. Like the little hints I put into the text knowing that only those readers who read the books a second time will pick them up. A treat waiting for those who happen to look.


7 Responses »

  1. i love it that you always teach me someting new about wrting a book, i eve knew it was so complicated !
    the maps look great, with just the right amount of details.
    i don’t really understand the second one though, with the two different colors. what does each color represent ?
    cant wait to read the book

  2. Lozzie – I sketch the base maps in pencil, but the final maps are drawn in Photoshop and Illustrator. Then I can provide my publisher with a file they can just slot into the book file. Pen and ink is certainly a fun medium for drawing maps – but computer drawn maps are faster and easier to correct!
    Lambada – There being more or less villages shown in the Kyralia map may not have anything to do with how many there actually are. It just depends on how much space ‘the cartographer’ has, and which villages he or she deems important enough to include. Also, the hints I mention putting in for a second read are in the text, not the maps, I’m afraid. Though I might have done it subconsciously…
    Turquise – The Lord of the Rings maps used to bother me as they seemed to defy any sort of natural formation of geological features. Then I read the Silmarillion and I realised it wasn’t natural!

  3. That’s why I don’t really like maps in the Lord of the Rings – they are too precise for me. When I’m reading a book I don’t want to spend few minutes on gawping at a map and trying to find some place. That’s why I like those maps on the pictures here – they’re precise enough to know a lot about geographic but don’t demand a long interpratations.
    I agree with you about historical maps. When I’m looking at them I can imagine that I’m back in those old times with castles, knights… Oh, maybe I could live without Inquisition 😉

  4. I like the way how you draw your architectual plans! it’s so cool and i think that you are a very good author because BMT is a triology that you really need to read very closely to or you wouldnt pick up all the clues(:

  5. Hmmm…
    There’s certainly a lot more villages on the Kyralia map. I presume that most will have been destroyed by the end of the war.
    From the looks of it we also get to see more of Lonmar and a new country.
    This is certainly going to be interesting.

  6. Wow! These are great! I have always had a love for all kinds of old a fantasy maps (obviously not road maps because I can’t read them and they always result in me getting lost D: )
    I love your idea of including a cartographer as one of the secondary characters, it will be so interesting! 🙂
    I was wondering what do you draw your maps with? Me and my friend always end up drawing ours with either dip ink pens or quill pens and ink (usually sepia because it looks so pretty!), although I would imagine a pencil and fine liner would probably be just as effective and considerably easier (but less fun.)
    Also thanks for the tip about hints being in the maps for those who read the book a second time, I shall most certainly keep my eyes peeled upon rereading it. 😀
    Hope you have a good day,

  7. Thanks for the insight into the work you put into drawing your maps and for the two pictures!
    I agree with you on many things you said about maps in books, like having to look at the map in order to understand the plot being very annoying. I always liked the maps in your books, nice to look at, easy to understand, a good addition to the plot, but not necessary to know them by heart.
    I love your idea with the cartographer in The Magician’s Apprentice, I honestly can’t wait to finally read that book!
    Have a nice day 🙂