The Fantastical London: A Reading List

London aka The Big Smoke has been a setting for many a fine urban fantasy as the real city blends well with the fantastical elements that novelists add to that reality. What follows is my list of urban fantasies set in that city that are I think are well-worth your reading time.

The best known novel of this genre is without doubt is Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere which is where you’ll be introduced to London Below, a magical realm where a tube ride will take you places beyond your ken and Roman soldiers still gather by the Thames. The novel is actually based on the BBC series of the same name and the novel itself would later be a graphic novel. Gaiman a few years back saw his full text published in a definitive edition!

Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift novels feature a protagonist who is the ‘Midnight Mayor’ (Madness of Angels — Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift, The Midnight Mayor — Or, The Inauguration of Matthew Swift, and the forthcoming The Neon Court — The Betrayal of Matthew Swift) of a magical London that exists alongside the mundane London. It features amazing descriptions of London in all its aspects.

Tim Lebbon and Christopher Golden’s Mind the Gap is also about a hidden, magical London but is by far less gentle than the writing of previous novels and that is saying a lot as the Griffin novels are visceral indeed. For a kinder, gentler London, go read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell which is a novel of magic and manners.

Simon Green’s Nightside series takes a premise similar to the one of Neverwhere of a hidden London (underground in Neverwhere, at the heart of the City here). The good folk of everyday London do not venture into the utter weirdness of Nightside. The level of reality there is so different that the moon itself is closer to Nightside than it is to the London that surrounds Nightside!  Also check out his The Man with Golden Torc, first of his Secret History series, has there are truly great scenes of mundane London intersecting with his nightmarish magical London — think the dark side of the Harry Potter reality.

Our reviewer noted that ‘In The Light Ages, his second novel, Ian MacLeod spins a fascinating tale of an England familiar and yet so very … askew. The book’s setting is roughly analogous to Victorian England, but the industrial revolution, such as it is, owes its progress to a mysterious, magical substance known as aether. Aether, mined from deep in the earth, is used to power trains, telegraphs, lights and much, much more. Aether’s discovery centuries ago led to the violent dismantling of England’s monarchy in favor.’

China Miéville’s King Rat is a much, much nastier version of Neverwhere and for serious horror fans only. The London in his Un Lun Dun, a lively fantasy for young adult and adult readers alike, is closer to Neverwhere in tone. Highly commended. His latest London based magic realism based novel is Kraken which or reviewer noted ‘The London of Kraken is detailed and unique without being bogged down in long prosy descriptions, and the characters which populate this gritty, litter-strewn London deliver lively dialogue which is often laugh-out-loud funny. It also possesses a pair of villains, Goss and Subby, who make Neil Gaiman’s Mssrs. Kroup and Vandemar look downright avuncular.’

Finally I will recommend a series that is not set on the urban fantasy genre but I agree with the reviewer when he says that Christopher Gowler’s Bryant & May series felt ‘feel like John Constantine from the Hellblazer series should be consulting with the Peculiar Crimes Unit as the world that Fowler describes could easily co-exist with the much weirder world which Constantine is a resident of!’ the whole series has weird things that suggest more is at work here than Fowler is letting the reader know.

Now that list should keep you happily entertained this winter!

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