Black City Saint by Richard A. Knaak
I purchased Black City Saint when it first came out because urban fantasy in 1920’s Chicago—oh, yeah! Plus the lovely art-deco cover. As happens with many books, however, I didn’t get to it right away. But the next book, Black City Demon comes out in March and I wanted to be ready. I’m glad I did; Black City Saint is a great read.
Publisher’s Description: For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.
Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.
Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him…but ever seeking escape.
The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms…then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
Invested Ivana says…
Mix a little bit of Christian mythology and Roman history with a little bit of Faerie and Prohibition-era Chicago, and you have an idea of what Black City Saint feels like. Richard A. Knaak, whose name may be recognized by table-top and computer gamers alike, has created a new world just for readers that is gritty, magical, and full of the romance and intrigue of the Roaring ’20s.
Nick Medea guards the gates between our world and Feirie. His job is to keep the two worlds separate and eliminate those things that slip through. Masquerading as a ghost breaker, he hunts down creatures who have slipped through the gate, keeping the humans on our side safe.
However, Nick has a lot of challenges. First, there is a dragon residing in his head, one whose agenda is often at odds with Nick’s duty. Second, he’s haunted by the ghost of his murderer who needs his forgiveness to pass on to Heaven. Third, the few “reformed” creatures from Feirie he has allowed to live in our world see him as some sort of savior and lord, which sounds nice, but often makes him feel guilty. And finally, the love of his life keeps reincarnating, only to die over and over and over, and Nick can’t seem to stop it.
On top of all that, someone is trying to open the Way between our world and Feirie, to meld the two worlds together, subjugate humans, and claim both worlds as his own; and Her Majesty, Queen of Feirie, is royally pissed. Poor Nick has his hands full!
Black City Saint is a great introduction to a new UF series. I had a ton of fun reading it, and can’t wait to see what challenges Nick has to face in Black City Demon.
Percy Procrastinator says…
This book starts with Nick dealing with a creature from Shadow or Feirie Realm and it really sets the tone for this book. Nick’s character shines through of him wanting to help others. I really liked how people find him, as a paranormal detective.
Once this is finished, Nick finds his lost love and gets distracted from more important things, although it’s understandable. The author also sets up the city of Chicago in the 20s and I was impressed. In language and in roles, we see how Chicago is divided along lines of race and class. It took me a while to catch on to the slang used and while I didn’t verify its veracity, it works well regardless for the image I have of the 1920s.
The middle of the book is where I found myself floundering. I knew I would finish the book but the middle took its time setting up what would be the main villain and the rest of the plot. It never worked for me as well as I hoped. I think this was because it got very surreal.
Nick starts questioning what is real, if the plots were only imagined were actually happening, and if he was only being used. As we are getting this from Nick’s perspective, having him question himself meant that I questioned it all as well. I didn’t know, as a reader, what had really happened in the past, what games the fae had played on Nick, why he didn’t want to go by George anymore, and the lines blurred for me as well as Nick. If that was the author’s intent, he succeeded! I found it a mess.
Once that part is over, though, and Nick figures things out, we get back to safe ground. With the surreal out of the way, Nick can focus on what has happened and what he needs to do. The story actually widens the mythology at this point, which I enjoyed. As the denouement approached, the betrayal surprised me but had a good conclusion, as did the main story.
The end of the book ends with a lot of good questions. How is it that some people can overcome Nick’s magic? Exactly how much magic does he have? Or is it all borrowed? Are the people he’s interacting with going to keep remembering more than they should? I look forward to getting answers!
A solid four for me. Perhaps a reread of the book, knowing the whole story, would make the surreal parts better for me but I’m rating it based on my first read through.
For a lighter urban fantasy set in the Roaring 20’s, check out the Mick Oberon series by Ari Marmell. If you haven’t read them yet, I’d certainly recommend The Dresden Files for a modern UF with fae set in Chicago. I’d also recommend the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey. It has a different magic system and locale, but it has a similar sort of gritty feel as Black City Saint.