All based in London with more than a little magic
I recently visited London for the first time since pandemic-life took over so was reminded of some of my favourite books set in its terrifying web of streets and too many people – can you tell I’m not a city girl?
I had to start with Neil Gaiman since he was the reason I was visiting London, to see the stage adaptation of The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which was excellent) but as that is not set in London this is as much of a mention it will get for now.
Every time I get on the London Underground I cannot help but think of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. In case any of you are unfamiliar with Gaiman’s work (Heaven forbid!) or have only recently come across him due to the TV adaptations of American Gods and Good Omens, Neverwhere was Neil’s first solo novel (originally a TV mini-series for the BBC which is also worth a watch if you can find it) and was published in 1996.
Neverwhere follows the mild-mannered Richard Mayhew, a Scot living in London with his ordinary business job and rather overbearing fiancée. After finding a girl bleeding in the street and stopping to help her Richard’s world is transformed the next morning when he realises that no-one from his life remembers him – his flat has been let, his fiancée doesn’t know him, he doesn’t seem to exist. We follow Richard’s journey through the Neverwhere of London Below as he searches for the girl he rescued, seemingly named Door, and attempts to regain his lost life in London Above with the help of the charismatic Marquis de Carabas.
For fans of audiobooks, Neil himself narrates a few of his, including this one, which is wonderful as you know you’re hearing it the way he intended (plus he has a lovely voice). There was also recently a BBC radio dramatisation starring James McAvoy as Richard, Natalie Dormer as Door, Bernard Cribbins as Old Bailey, and Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious Angel Islington.
A Darker Shade of Magic – Shades of Magic Trilogy
V.E. Schwab is one of my favourite authors. Aside from essentially being Neil Gaiman’s protégée, she’s a generally lovely human and hasn’t written a book I haven’t loved and/or has made me cry. I’ve literally just booked tickets for her next London event to launch her new book and I am stupidly excited.
A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book of the Shades of Magic trilogy and the first book by V that I read. Kell is one of the last Antari, making him one of the very rare few with the ability to travel between 4 parallel Londons – White London, Grey London, his home of Red London, and the dead world of Black London.
When Kell crosses paths with young thief Delilah Bard on a trip to Grey London they are thrown into an adventure of magic and intrigue involving princes, pirates, tournaments, and impending peril.
This trilogy had me gripped from the off, made me cry on a coach trip at 7:30am, and has been so popular that V is currently working on the first novel in a follow-on trilogy called Threads of Power – which will follow any characters that survived A Conjuring of Light. I am desperate to read these as soon as they’re ready!
However, she has multiple projects brewing so I’ll make do with everything published by her in the meantime – including Gallant which comes out in March.
Rivers of London
Also fitting the theme of London and magic, this time with a little murder thrown in for good measure, is Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London. There are currently 8 books in this series, with the 9th due to be published later this year. I have read 4 so far and am only holding off on book 5 because it’s set in Summer and I can’t face reading about sunshine when the weather is this miserable.
Rivers of London focuses on young police officer Peter Grant who realises he might be different from his colleagues when he discovers the person he’s been questioning at a crime scene is actually a ghost. He is quickly drafted into a small branch of the Met which deals with crimes of a more magical or supernatural nature under Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale.
Grant finds himself trying to learn the fundamentals of magic, literally burning through a number of mobile phones as they are fried by the powerful energy, while trying to track down a violent killer in the teeming metropolis.
Aaronovitch keeps up-to-date with police procedure to make sure his investigations are realistic and his magical systems are entirely believable in modern-day London – not an easy combination.
If you’re a fan of magic I thoroughly recommend all of these. You don’t have to love London to enjoy them, trust me, it’s much more magical in books.