Friday Favourites: books set in London
By Hodderscape Team
Posted on April 15, 2016 in Books, Friday Favourites with tags
The Houses of Parliament. Buckingham Palace. Diagon Alley. London has so many iconic sites, some of them you can visit… some of them you can find in books. Here are our favourite fictional Londons.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Instead of writing about one London, I’m writing about four. Grey London is dirty, dreary, and utterly without magic. White London is ruled by murderers. Red London is a city of wonderful riches, benevolent people and reverence for magic. And lastly, Black London, a city dead to the world. A Darker Shade of Magic is the one book I see popping up everywhere on Instagram, and has a storyline I couldn’t help finding myself intrigued by. Shortly I’ll be starting on the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows. I’m guessing that Black London doesn’t stay dead.
The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
I’ve always suspected that the upper crust of London society is made up of vampires, and Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series envisions a Victorian London where vampires are accepted as functioning (and trendsetting) members of society. Everyone wants a pale, vampiric complexion. High collars are in vogue so one can demurely conceal one’s bite marks. Infamous dandy and rove vampire Lord Akeldama dictates the latest trends with a sweep of his silk gloved hand.
There are also werewolves too. Sexy ones. But, they don’t quite fit into Victorian London society because of the rampant displays of nudity that their hair metamorphosis requires.
Soulless begins, as too few things do, with a fight in which a Victorian Spinster slays a vampire with her parasol. This is just the first of many outrageous acts she commits throughout the series, scandalising London society and enamouring the exceedingly rugged Alpha werewolf Lord Maccon. It’s exceedingly fun and you should read it immediately.
The Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy L. Slayers
My pick today comes not from SFF but from crime: The Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy L. Sayers. I’ve mentioned them before (and will likely mention them a hundred times more) but one of the reasons I love them is that they evoke a London between the wars with startling clarity and great effect. In the Lord Peter novels, Sayers unintentionally memorialized a world that existed very briefly between the wars (the period Robert Graves called ‘the long weekend’) and everything that went with it, from buildings and even streets that were decimated in the second world war, to an entire way of living in London.
Sayers lived in Bloomsbury and set her books in the heart of the city – as that heart beat in the 1920s and 1930s – with action in Piccadilly, Mayfair, Bloomsbury, Soho and Chlesea. Places from Battersea to Epping Forest make an appearance, but what most enchants me about Sayers’ London is that it simply doesn’t exist anymore. Her Soho was known for its French restaurants; today the streets she had Lord Peter stroll through are lined with Chinese restaurants and markets. Sayers’ London is one of trams (the last tram ran in London in 1952), of Lyons tea shops (went into terminal decline in the 1960s) and pea-soupers (which 1956’s Clean Air Act) helped bring an end to.
The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
London is a great setting for pretty much any genre; it has winding streets, dark alleys, a beautiful skyline and a lot of people. It’s hard to pick a book that really plays with the country a bit, and I’ve decided that my favourite is actually an entire series of books – the Bartimaeus Sequence. The books follow a sarcastic mid-level djinni that gets dragged into some serious trouble when a young trainee magician in Parliament pulls him into service from the spirit realm. The first novel, The Amulet of Samarkand is a great book, and each that follows is just as entertaining – all set in London and all have London’s trademark sarcasm running throughout.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The London in Harry Potter is a London I want to visit – with its narrow streets and amazing history, it makes a very rich and colourful backdrop for magical and mysterious goings-on. Diagon Alley (allegedly inspired by Cecil Court, an alley full of bookshops just off Charing Cross Road) is a higgledy-piggledy cobbled wizarding alley packed with an astonishing mix of shops and sights, from Ollivanders wand shop to the notorious pub the Leaky Cauldron to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. Knockturn Alley is a darker, far less reputable street which leads off from it, where the more dubious members of the wizarding world tend to hang out. Other amazing things happen in Harry Potter’s London, too – the Knight Bus rocks up just when you need it, snakes speak in parseltongue at London Zoo, Kings Cross reveals a hidden, magical platform 9 and ¾ which you can only enter when running with your trolley at a seemingly blank brick wall, and Mr Weasley remains charmingly excited by the magic of moving escalators.