The best fantasy novels about weird and wonderful cities

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up in Los Angeles, I am well familiar with strange, grotesque, illogical, and wonderful cities. My love of fantasy has always been for the odd ones out, less the bucolic farmlands and forest, more for those that present a twisted mirror of modern urban life. As an amateur lover of history, I love to study the evolution, mutation, and decay of cities. I find most interesting cities, in both real life and fantasy, to be those shaped by not one single culture, but by many over history and space.


I wrote...

The Sightless City

By Noah Lemelson,

Book cover of The Sightless City

What is my book about?

If you have a craving from imaginative urban environs, check out my debut, The Sightless City. From the dusty streets and smoke-choked refineries of Huile, to the rusting grandeur of the crashed æroship-turned-city of Icaria, the broken, war-torn world of Æthmach is filled with wonderfully gritty, complex, lived-in fantasy cities.

The first of the Slickdust Trilogy, The Sightless City follows the journeys of Marcel, a private investigator digging up the dark secrets of his city, and Sylvaine, a beastwoman with impossible dreams of becoming an engineer, both caught up in a conspiracy that threatens to tear apart their world.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Perdido Street Station

Noah Lemelson Why did I love this book?

New Crobuzon is a city as weird as its name sounds, inhabited by avian Garuda, cactus-skinned Cactacae, and the scarab beetle-headed Kephri, among many other fantastical creatures.

It’s a grimy city that if you squinted might just look a bit like Victorian-era London, albeit with more frog-people, airships, and statues crafted from harden spit. And at its center, the titular Perdido Street Station, a towering immense skyrail station, too large and labyrinthine to ever map out.

Miéville crafts a fantasy city unlike any other, plagued by government corruption, organized crime, and labor disputes, that makes New Crobuzon feel real and grounded, despite being one of the strangest cities ever put to ink.

By China Miéville,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Perdido Street Station as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the August Derleth award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Perdido Street Station is an imaginative urban fantasy thriller, and the first of China Mieville's novels set in the world of Bas-Lag.

The metropolis of New Crobuzon sprawls at the centre of its own bewildering world. Humans and mutants and arcane races throng the gloom beneath its chimneys, where the rivers are sluggish with unnatural effluent, and factories and foundries pound into the night. For more than a thousand years, the parliament and its brutal militia have ruled over a vast array of workers and artists, spies, magicians,…


Book cover of Tainaron: Mail from Another City

Noah Lemelson Why did I love this book?

What if a city… but with bugs? Okay on paper a city full of giant sentient bugs seems weird, and well, it is, but once you accept the premise, it’s easy to get immersed in the dreamlike world Krohn paints.

Tainaron: Mail From Another City is an epistolary novel, that is, told only in letters by a human traveler to the city, and if you cut out the references to giant flowers and bug parades, it could be mistaken for non-fiction.

Unlike most fantasy novels, Tainaron is not plot focused, there’s no big villain to stop, no magical artifacts to destroy, just the tale of a woman out of place, and her musing on life, death, sorrow, and philosophy, as she spends a year trying to fit in a city literally not built for her.

By Leena Krohn, Hildi Hawkins (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

TAINARON: Mail From Another City is the first American publication by the internationally acclaimed Finnish author, Leena Krohn. TAINARON consists of a series of letters sent beyond the sea from a city of insects. TAINARON is a book of changes. It speaks of metamorphoses that test all of nature from a flea to a star, from stone and grass to a human. The same irresistible force that gives us birth, also kills us. Nominated for the prestigious Finlandia prize, this is the perfect introduction to the work of a modern fabulist.


Book cover of The Etched City

Noah Lemelson Why did I love this book?

Speaking of books that push up against the genre boundaries of fantasy, Bishop’s The Etched City crafts a dark, foreboding, but somehow one of the beautiful cities in fantasy.

Ashamoil is a grim place, decadent and decayed, a humid jungle-born city filled with disgraced freedom fighters, slavers, and crime lords. Its fantasy elements are less floating magic gemstones and dragons and more weird, inexplicable things, miracles, and their dark inverse.

At times The Etched City feels like a dream, but the best kind of dream, the one you want to tell everyone about, if you could just find the right words.

By K.J. Bishop,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Combine equal parts of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and Chine Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, throw in a dash of Aubrey BeardsleyandJ.K. Huysmans, and you’ll get some idea of this disturbing, decadent first novel.”—Publishers Weekly

Gwynn and Raule are rebels on the run, with little in common except being on the losing side of a hard-fought war. Gwynn is a gunslinger from the north, a loner, a survivor . . . a killer. Raule is a wandering surgeon, a healer who still believes in just—and lost—causes. Bound by a desire to escape the ghosts of the past, together they flee…


Book cover of Guards! Guards!

Noah Lemelson Why did I love this book?

This could fill in for any Discworld novel taking place in the off-the-wall, goofy, and imaginative Ankh-Morpork.

A city of trolls, dwarves, and other fantasy creatures, living together in a parody and pastiche of classic Tolkienesque fantasy. But Ankh-Morpork is no Minas Tirith, no gleaming city on a hill, no, it’s a city where even the assassins and clowns have guilds (and the latter are feared far more), where the river is so silty and polluted you can take an evening stroll on it.

Though every Discworld novel is great, Guards! Guards! remains one of my favorites, as it follows the Commander of the City Watch as he attempts the most difficult task in all of Ankh-Morpork: trying to convince anyone to actually follow the law.

By Terry Pratchett,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Guards! Guards! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First book of the original and best CITY WATCH series, now reinterpreted in BBC's The Watch

'This is one of Pratchett's best books. Hilarious and highly recommended' The Times

The Discworld is very much like our own - if our own were to consist of a flat planet balanced on the back of four elephants which stand on the back of a giant turtle, that is . . .
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'It was the usual Ankh-Morpork mob in times of crisis; half of them were here to complain, a quarter of them were here to watch the other half, and the…


Book cover of City of Saints and Madmen

Noah Lemelson Why did I love this book?

If dragons and elves are the mainstays of traditional fantasy, then mushrooms and squids are the mainstays of weird fantasy. And there’s no city with more squids or mushrooms than Vandermeer’s Ambergris. A haphazard port town infested by fungi and built on ancient ruins holding dark secrets, there’s nothing quite like Ambergris.

What I love so much about Vandermeer’s trilogy is that the city evolves and changes. City of Saints and Madmen is an excellent short story collection that introduces the setting in peacetime, and by the end of Finch it has seen so much conflict and upheaval that Ambergris evolves into a completely different and yet equally fascinating city. 

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…


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The Others

By Evette Davis,

Book cover of The Others

Evette Davis Author Of Woman King

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve worked in journalism, politics, and public policy for 30-plus years and watched as the extreme voices gained the most traction on either side of a debate. On social media, these minority views often dominate the discussion. 48 States is a stand-alone novel highlighting the problems of extremist viewpoints in a civil society. I also have another book series that features a political consultant who discovers she's a witch and joins a secret society that uses magic to manipulate elections to protect humanity. Bottom line: if I can’t fix political discourse for a living, I can write science fiction novels that contemplate how to do it.

Evette's book list on dystopian stories for the bada** feminist in us all

What is my book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted…

The Others

By Evette Davis,

What is this book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted…


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