I live in London. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I really want to get the hell out of it- which is more days than not sometimes (especially in the morning when I’m trying to get to work and squeezed under some guy’s armpit trying get on a train). Then I’ll read a book set in London and the city just transforms, it becomes alive. The old dirt alleys have faeries and every statue a story, name and magic.
Literary Listings: Claire’s Favorite 5 Books Set in London
Neverwhere (London Below, The World of Neverwhere) by Neil Gaiman
I actually had mixed feelings about this book in general. I didn’t love, it, at all (there was something about hte prose or the way it was written that got to me) but I will say this about Gaiman: he was brilliant at transforming London! If you ever, ever come to this city please read this book ahead of time, you’ll be delighted by the phrases Gaiman uses and his imaginative origin stories for the tube stations! I loved how he transformed this city from a dirty concrete place and made it dirtier and a heck more fantastical.
Blurb: Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.
Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.
The Bone Season Series by Samantha Shannon
A reimagined view of London with a bit of a supernatural and psychic element. Not only does London come into this series but she also brings in my old city, Oxford! Covent Garden, Seven Dials and basically a lot of central London factors into this series. It’s fun when you smack into the actual Seven Dials (like I did, I actually tripped on it) and realise that if the book were real, I’d be standing right where the protagonist Paige was.
Blurb: The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing.
It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.
The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine and also introduces an extraordinary young writer, with huge ambition and a teeming imagination. Samantha Shannon has created a bold new reality in this riveting debut.
Rivers of London by Ben Aavronovitch
Diversity! Pow! Coppers! Pow! The seedy bits of London! Double pow! I loved this series, especially the first book, with such a fiery passion. Aaronovitch takes you off the beaten path in London and you see life as I think a lot of Londoners might see it, plus within the reality (real places, streets, slang, people) there is such great magic that as I pass by Elephant and Castle or drag my butt north of the river (I really like South London and avoid going north if I can, mostly from laziness), I think of Percy Grant and the magic he found in a bustling city.
Blurb: “I used to be probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth…” Meet DC Peter Grant. He will show you his city. But it’s not the capital that you see as you make your way from tube to bus, from Elephant to Castle. It’s a city that under its dark surface is packed full of crime. And of magic. A city that you never suspected…Grant’s story starts when he tries to take a witness statement from a man who was already dead. And take him down a twisting, turning centuries’ old mystery that reckons to set London on fire…
Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2) by Deborah Harkness
Another London-Oxford combo! The London in this story is set in the past, which comes up quite a bit in HF (this city having such a dynamic history and all) but now, there is history and magic. I love magic, you know this as evident from my past 3 choices in this post! So instead of a reimagined present, Harkness gives us a reimagined past that is filled with romance and academic intrigue. I’d actually really recommend this for fantasy lovers or people that want history with a dose of imagination.
Blurb: IT BEGAN WITH A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. Historian Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, she sparked a struggle in which she became bound to Matthew. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened.
Seeking safety, Diana and Matthew travel back in time to London, 1590. But they soon realize that the past may not provide a haven. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy for Queen Elizabeth, the vampire falls back in with a group of radicals known as the School of Night. Many are unruly daemons, the creative minds of the age, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot.
Possession by AS Byatt
So this is a bit of a random selection, I know, and I had to throw this one in. Why? Because there is an incredible amount of detial about the British Library, one of my favorite and most magical places in London. This book blends academia and romance and intrigue into a wonderfully written novel. It’s very “literature” so it might not appeal to some but it gives a good tour of central London as well as the many academic haunts that motivate so many of this city’s students.
Blurb: Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.
Do you have any London fave’s?