The best novels with fantastical cities

Who am I?

When I decided to set my new novel, Saturnalia, in Philadelphia, I was excited to draw on my experience as a native and current resident of the City of Brotherly Love. But I also love magic and the supernatural as much as I love research—my Philadelphia had to be a fantastical one. I drew on real landmarks, real history, and real social dynamics, but added wild festivals, secret societies, and an occult history to create a place all my own. Fortunately, I had a number of fictional fantasy cities to guide my world-building.

I wrote...


By Stephanie Feldman,

Book cover of Saturnalia

What is my book about?

Saturnalia is a fantasy thriller set in a near-future Philadelphia, where extreme weather, a collapsing economy, and feverish summers erode the historic city, and where the feast of Saturnalia is a yearly spectacle. 

Since leaving the elite Saturn Club, Nina has eked out a living by telling fortunes with her tarot deck, an initiation gift from the Club. When she gets a chance call from Max, one of the Saturn Club’s best-connected members and her last remaining friend, the favor he asks will plunge her back into the Club’s wild solstice masquerade, on a mysterious errand she cannot say no to.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of City of Saints and Madmen

Stephanie Feldman Why did I love this book?

Over a decade before VanderMeer gave us the weird wilderness of Annihilation, he published the City of Saints and Madmen, the first in his trilogy about the city of Ambergris. This collection of stories, notes, and (fictional) histories invites us into a city of gray-capped mushroomanoids; squid festivals and cults; and fanatical historians. I love this book for its many approaches to describing a city, and how every new detail electrifies Ambergris’s atmosphere and deepens its mystery.

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked City of Saints and Madmen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of Annihilation, now a major motion picture on Netflix.

From Jeff VanderMeer, an author praised by writers such as Laren Beukes, China Mieville and Michael Moorcock, City of Saints and Madmen is by turns sensuous and terrifying. This collection of four linked novellas is the perfect introduction to VanderMeer's vividly imagined world.

In the city of Ambergris, a would-be suitor discovers a sunlit street can become a killing ground in the blink of an eye. An artist receives an invitation to a beheading and finds himself enchanted. And a patient in a mental institution is convinced he's…

Book cover of The Chosen and the Beautiful

Stephanie Feldman Why did I love this book?

In reimagining The Great Gatsby, this book reimagines Jazz-Age New York—suffused with money and hedonism as well as magic and demons. Vietnamese-American socialite Jordan Baker leads the tour through a decadent city in which the wealthy fly and sip demon blood, impoverished girls allow themselves to be possessed for a fee, and Upper East Side matrons bring their pet imps to their charity meetings. Vo’s New York is somehow both shockingly authentic, and devilishly surprising.

By Nghi Vo,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Chosen and the Beautiful as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Instant National Bestseller!
An Indie Next Pick!

A Most Anticipated in 2021 Pick for Oprah Magazine | USA Today | Buzzfeed | Greatist | BookPage | PopSugar | Bustle | The Nerd Daily | Goodreads | Literary Hub | Ms. Magazine | Library Journal | Culturess | Book Riot | Parade Magazine | Kirkus | The Week | Book Bub | OverDrive | The Portalist | Publishers Weekly

A Best of Summer Pick for TIME Magazine | CNN | Book Riot | The Daily Beast | Lambda Literary | The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Goodreads | Bustle | Veranda…

Book cover of A Stranger in Olondria

Stephanie Feldman Why did I love this book?

Olondria and its great city Bain are as meticulously drawn as they are lush, with redolent spice markets, shining architecture, colorful feasts, and busy harbors. The reader travels with Jevick, a merchant’s son, who’s always dreamed of visiting the empire—but once he falls in love with a ghost, he must change course. My Olondrian love fair is with the language. Samatar’s poetic descriptions are some of the most evocative and sensual I’ve ever read, transporting me to a realm of her own creation.

By Sofia Samatar,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Stranger in Olondria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jevick, the pepper merchant's son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick's life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. But just as he revels in Olondria's Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl. In desperation, Jevick seeks the aid of Olondrian priests and quickly becomes a pawn in the struggle between…

Book cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree

Stephanie Feldman Why did I love this book?

Like any epic fantasy worth its salt, this novel gives us a vast world, a diverse cast, and sparkling magic—and also several great cities, which draw on global inspirations. Queen Sabran rules in Inys, a country based on Tudor England, while the nation of Ersyr is home to Iranian-inspired cities, and Lasia’s cities are based on the medieval African kingdom of Kongo. Each location is lively and vibrant—I can imagine being there, or running from dragons there.

By Samantha Shannon,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Priory of the Orange Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Get ready for Samantha Shannon's new novel, A Day of Fallen Night, coming in February 2023!

The New York Times bestselling "epic feminist fantasy perfect for fans of Game of Thrones" (Bustle).

AMAZON (Top 100 Editors Picks and Science Fiction and Fantasy) * CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY * BOOKPAGE * AUTOSTRADDLE

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction--but assassins are getting…

Book cover of Blackfish City

Stephanie Feldman Why did I love this book?

Qaanaak, Blackfish City’s floating Arctic city, is science-fictional—it’s maintained by artificial intelligence and other futuristic technology—but it’s built with all the world-building care the fantasy reader desires, including a text-within-a-text that explains the city’s origins. What most inspired me, though, is how Qaanaak exposes a city’s class structure, and questions what makes a city worth saving.

By Sam J. Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blackfish City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'A remarkable work of dystopian imagination' - Starburst

'Incisive and beautifully written . . . Blackfish City simmers with menace and heartache, suspense and wonder' - Ann Leckie, Hugo, Nebula and Clarke Award-winning author


After the climate wars, a floating city was constructed in the Arctic Circle. Once a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering it is now rife with corruption and the population simmers with unrest.

Into this turmoil comes a strange new visitor - a woman accompanied by an orca and a chained…

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Radio Free Olympia

By Jeffrey Dunn,

Book cover of Radio Free Olympia

Jeffrey Dunn Author Of Radio Free Olympia

New book alert!

Who am I?

I’ve always been a child of the woods. I preferred to leave my home and wade a creek or explore a hillside. Nothing compared to the sight of a black snake or the feel of a mud puppy. School was a torture until an English teacher introduced me to Richard Brautigan and then read my first serious story to the class. Since then, this dyslexic nature lover has become a dream fisher and history miner with a Ph.D. in English Literature and Cultural Studies. Retired from forty-one years of teaching, I now write and publish cultural fiction.

Jeffrey's book list on where imagination and nature run free

What is my book about?

Embark on a riveting journey into Washington State’s untamed Olympic Peninsula, where the threads of folklore legends and historical icons are woven into a complex ecological tapestry.

Follow the enigmatic Petr as he fearlessly employs his pirate radio transmitter to broadcast the forgotten and untamed voices that echo through the wilderness. Venture deeper and encounter Baie, the founder of Wildsisters, a cranberry-infused roadhouse that offers solace to lost and wayward women. When a newborn is kidnapped, Baie and her community must unite to recover what has been stolen. Yet, their quest for justice extends beyond the realm of human characters—it must also be served for the fragile flora, the diverse fauna, and the very essence of the natural world.

Radio Free Olympia

By Jeffrey Dunn,

What is this book about?

Unleash the Power of the Wilderness in Radio Free Olympia

Discover the captivating allure of Washington's untamed Olympic Peninsula in Radio Free Olympia, an extraordinary literary masterpiece that immerses readers in a mesmerizing realm of visionaries, folklore legends, and historical icons. With an enchanting blend of magical realism and cultural fiction, the brilliant wordsmith Jeffrey Dunn artfully intertwines multiple narratives, crafting an intricate ecological tapestry that resonates deeply within the soul.

Embark on a riveting journey alongside the enigmatic Petr, a foundling whose path leads him deep into the heart of the majestic mountain rainforest. Armed with nothing but a…

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