I’ve always loved a good fantasy map, so when it came time to design one for The Ivory Key duology, I was really excited to get to do something fun with it: the map of Ashoka that readers get to see is the same one the characters in the book use to navigate their world.
I call The Ivory Key a “family drama treasure hunt” because at its core, it’s a story about a dysfunctional family having to work together to follow clues left behind by an ancient secret society. But one of the reasons the four siblings are even aware of this secret organization is because their father was a scholar and somewhat of a treasure hunter himself. He taught them about the mysterious Kamala Society and the long-lost Ivory Key, and he went on many trips to unearth lost treasures in this world. In the book, one of Vira’s prized possessions is their father’s journal where he wrote about his travels, which includes this map. In addition to the different provinces, various landscapes, and notable locations, you’ll find handwritten notes referring to places their father suspected held clues to Ashoka’s ancient secrets and the excursions he took to investigate his theories.
When I first started thinking about what this country would look like physically, I had a friend help me translate my ideas into a visual format. She gave me a base map to start from—one that actually included a much larger continent then what ended up being in the final book—which gave me the initial foundation on which I could start building this world. I started by figuring out the different provinces in Ashoka and where they’d be in relation to one another. I decided where the borders would be and then added in the notable locations—many of which the characters visit over the course of the duology. I actually created this map before I finished writing The Crimson Fortress, so I found myself relying on it a lot more than I expected as I was revising the book. Some locations I’d made sure to include because I always knew they would be in the sequel, but there are plenty of settings in the second book that I actually used because they were already on the map. Whenever I wasn’t sure where the characters were headed next, I pulled it up and plotted out where they could potentially go.
After deciding where the provinces were located, I added a few rivers and roughly mapped out the terrain. The idea of figuring out all the geographical features in fantasy worlds has always intimidated me since there’s actual science behind how and why certain features occur in specific places. But because I based my world on ancient India, I was luckily able to look at real Indian geography to decide where to put my forests, mountain ranges, and deserts. And then when I was done with that, I added in the annotations. Writing these annotations out was particularly fun for me because I got to sneak in nods to actual historical sites I’d researched or ideas I’d developed but ultimately couldn’t figure out a way to fit into the books.
You’ll see that I actually color-coded the annotations. That was because when I sent this map over to my publishing team, I also included a word document with details about each location and what I wanted the text to say. This was to keep everything organized and also help the map artist and my publishing team figure out what the text was in case they couldn’t read my handwriting. Here’s an excerpt from that document.
And now here is the final, beautiful map. The artist, Jared Blando, did such an amazing job translating my various thoughts into this stunning work of art. Creating this map was one of my favorite aspects of writing this series, and I hope you enjoy traveling through Ashoka and joining the siblings on their quest to unearth its ancient, magical mysteries!
The Crimson Fortress: The sequel to The Ivory Key is out now via Hot Key Books