The author's red-hot Dark Star Trilogy continues this spring.
Moon Witch, Spider King
Marlon James is the author of 'Moon Witch, Spider King'
| Credit: Mark Seliger; Riverhead Books

When Marlon James set out to write the sequel book Moon Witch, Spider King (out Feb. 15), he quickly found he needed a visual aid. "You don't get very far into a fantasy novel before you realize you don't know what the hell you're writing about — so you better get to maps," he tells EW of creating the South Kingdom. "Once I drew an early version of this map, it started to influence the story."

James' previous novel in the series, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, takes part in the fantasy world's North Kingdom, which is often at war with the south in the series. "But other than that, I didn't know much about the south, except that it was ruled by mad kings," James says. "I was excited to draw these maps, [even though] Photoshop has evolved since my days as a designer, to put it mildly."

Below, the author offers an exclusive look inside his world-building process, and the map he created for the book's hardcover edition.

Moon Witch, Spider King
A map created by Marlon James for 'Moon Witch, Spider King'
| Credit: Riverhead Books

The Scale

"Fantasy must introduce the reader to a new world, but it also has to ground it quickly enough that they're able to live and breath in it," James says. Once he sketched out the landscape, he began tweaking the plot to fit: The distance between key cities Wakadishu and Marabanga grew from one week's journey to half a year, adding 200 pages of narrative. "Turns out that a lot can happen in six months," James says. "Like your entire family forgetting who you are."

The Symbols

"Four of these cities sport a monument that's just some sort of pole," James says. "It's not lost on the dirty minds of the residents of each city."

The Sunken City

The jungle is where Moon Witch's heroine Sogolon lives for 100 years. "It's a city that sunk, and that's all we know about it, since the records sunk with it," James says. "But now it's a wild jungle."

The Sea

James based one of Sogolon's pivotal voyages (from Lish to Omororo) on the real-life journey around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope: "It was the closest I got to writing a sea yarn, and I was ALL ABOUT IT," he says. "I love when fantasy novels start to read like historical fiction, where even witches and dragons have that stamp of feeling true."

The Names

Some are based on actual places (Mogadishu became Wakadishu). Some are tongue-in-cheek tributes to fantasy icons (Ororo, a.k.a. the X-Men's Storm, inspired Omororo). And "some just sound good when said aloud," James says.

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