10. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
A circus that is a world in itself, coming alive only at night and only in black and white, where you can lose your way among the tents.
Regular circuses don't intrigue me, but I could become a devoted follower of this one: with Thiessen's marvelous moving clock, the ice garden, the labyrinth, the pool of tears, the cloud maze, the stargazer, the tent of bedtime stories/anthologies of memories, the wishing tree, the ship of books in an ocean of ink.
9. Dune, by Frank Herbert
Stillsuits, sandworms, spice, weather-control, space-folding, the voice, thumpers...
8. Leviathan and its sequels, by Scott Westerfeld.
The most bizarre and wonderful steampunk yet contrived. All the fantastic creatures and machines, and sometimes you can't tell which is a creature or machine!
7. Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis
A vividly imagined habitable planet Venus, with floating islands, serpents and marvelous sea creatures.
Just try to picture this!!!! "...an exquisite haze like vaporized amethyst and emerald and gold... the edge of this haze rose as he rose, and became at last the horizon of the sea, high lifted above the hills. And the sea grew ever larger and the mountains less, and the horizon of the sea rose and rose till all the lower mountains behind him seemed to be lying at the bottom of a great bowl of sea."
6. Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean Auel
Our own primeval world during the Ice Age, with mammoths and giant cave lions and glaciers and neanderthals. I've re-read this book and some of its sequels at least 10 times. It was really hard to find an image that did justice to the setting, so I had to settle for this striking movie poster.
5. Fablehaven, series by Brandon Mull
The setting starts out as an ordinary farm, with an unusual number of butterflies. But those who have drunk a magical milk can see it as it truly is: a secret haven for all things magic and mythical. This brief description doesn't do it justice! This may be cheating since it's the creatures that inhabit Fablehaven that make it memorable, but they are such a part of the setting, I had to include this one!
4. The Iron Fey, series by Julie Kagawa
A creepy and beautiful blend of steampunk and dark faery world.
3. Earthsea, series by Ursula Le Guin.
Just the name itself is evocative, isn't it? The second book, Tombs of Atuan, and the third, The Farthest Shore, are the best of the series with the most creepy and haunting settings. Bonus: here there be dragons.
2. The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley
The Riders of Rohan meets Dune meets Victorian-era British Empire, Damar is a country caught between two warring realms, protected by a strange capricious magic. And it has wonderful creatures like Narknon.
1. Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
Still the reigning king of all worlds because it encompasses so many different settings and such a vast breadth and depth of history and mythology.
What's your most favorite vivid setting?