8 Great Fantasy Cities
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Our Facebook competition on fantasy cities comes to a close this evening, so we thought we'd provide a bit of last-minute inspiration with a few of our own favorites.
Villiren: The setting of Mark Charan Newton's appropriately-named City of Ruin, Villiren is a roguish city on the edge of a crumbling empire. Gangs, politicians and cults maintain the peace through a delicate balance of power. When the end of the world approaches (by snow & crab-monster alike), the people of Villiren take the opportunity to settle their own scores first. But, on the plus side? Trilobites.
New Crobuzon: The twisted spires and dark alleys of Mr. Miéville's metropolis are populated by a hodge-podge population of artists, scholars, Remade, soldiers, Cactacae and the occasional Slake Moth. New Weird, Steampunk & Urban Fantasy enthusiasts all try to claim this city as one of their own but, like all of Mr. Miéville's creations, New Crobuzon defies classification. The riots make life a little dangerous, but what other cities have an embassy to Hell?
The City: As the only city of any size on the continent, the capital of the Republic of Mezentia is simply known as The City. Mezentia is ruthlessly well-organized and takes bureaucracy to the extreme. Still, however bizarre the committee system is (or fascistic the Mezentine standards), the City works. The streets are clean, the food is good and Mezentia dominates the continent. KJ Parker's protagonist, Ziani Vaatzes travels the world, but can't help but contrast everything with the beauty of his home. There is The City, and then there is the chaos of everyplace else.
London: There have been a thousand fantastical variations on London, but Philip Reeve trumps them all. In his strangely dystopian landscape, London is a great, shambling, mechanical monster, loping across the plains in search of smaller towns to devour. Neil Gaiman may have invented the London Beast, but Mr. Reeve makes London into a beast.
Haven: The shady metropolis of Simon Green's Hawk and Fisher stories has little to recommend it - except it is never dull. The nice neighborhoods are prone to the occasional werewolf or vampire attack while the dodgy parts (most of Haven) are near-apocalyptic, with civilisation maintained only by psychopathic Guards and the occasional demon. Mr. Green also adds a few entertaining urban touches: the Street of the Gods (where the Gods actually live), a magical prison and, of couse, the madness of election season.
Armada: Slightly unfair to give Mr. Miéville two mentions when we've left so many other great cities off the list, but Armada is impossible to pass up. The floating city is formed of thousands of boats, all captured and hammered together. Armada is run in a sort of loosely feudal state, with each of its separate "ridings" governed in a different way. Even more than New Crobuzon, this is a wildly cosmopolitan city, populated by outcasts, runaways and, er, prisoners from all over Bas-Lag. And that, of course, is the downside. Armada has to be a great place to stay - you're not allowed to leave.
Las Vegas: It isn't fair to exclude the New World completely and Tim Powers' Vegas embodies magical, modern Americana. With millions of cards being played and millions of dice being rolled, why wouldn't this city be the magical hub of the States? As if gambling wasn't dangerous enough, in Mr. Powers' world, there are people playing for more than money. This is where everyone goes for their last, desperate attempt - the city where the stakes are highest.
Paris: And back to Europe for the sordid, spectacular city. Alexandre Dumas captured the despair of its poverty and the wildness of its luxury, and then Pierre Pevel added the dragons. Mr. Pevel's glorious metropolis is packed from wall to wall with creaking old mansions, rooftops made for desperate leaps, inopportune mud-puddles, flickering lamps, glorious palaces, secret exits, cramped bars, etc, etc. This is a city built for swashbuckling and every corner of it provides a background straight out of cinema's Golden Age.
A Few Honourable Mentions: Lauren Beukes, Fallen London (a game, not a person), Kate Griffin, Douglas Hulick, Scott Lynch, Sophia McDougall, China Miéville (yes, again), Mervyn Peake, Phillip Pullman, Jonathan Stroud, Cat Valente, Jean-Christophe Valtat and Jeff VanderMeer.
Which great fantasy cities did we forget? Let us know in the comments. Or, better yet, take part in our competition for a chance to win Douglas Hulick's Among Thieves.