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...

Saturnalia

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.

The books I picked & why

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City of Saints and Madmen

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Book cover of City of Saints and Madmen

Why 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.

City of Saints and Madmen

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Why should I read it?

1 author 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…


The Chosen and the Beautiful

By Nghi Vo,

Book cover of The Chosen and the Beautiful

Why 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.

The Chosen and the Beautiful

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…


A Stranger in Olondria

By Sofia Samatar,

Book cover of A Stranger in Olondria

Why 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.

A Stranger in Olondria

By Sofia Samatar,

Why should I read it?

1 author 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…


The Priory of the Orange Tree

By Samantha Shannon,

Book cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree

Why 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.

The Priory of the Orange Tree

By Samantha Shannon,

Why should I read it?

4 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).

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY:
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…


Blackfish City

By Sam J. Miller,

Book cover of Blackfish City

Why 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.

Blackfish City

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 PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST BOOK OF 2018***
***A KIRKUS BEST BOOK OF 2018***

'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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