When you think about the secret entry to Diagon Alley or Aziraphale’s bookshop, there’s no denying that London holds a special place in fantasy. Tales of Arthurian legends mingle with the history of a once-sprawling empire and the courtly intrigue of the crown. Whether you’re looking for a modern take, something more dated, or perhaps something in an alternate universe altogether, these seven books deliver all the delicious goodness you could ever want from a magical trip to London.
Fantasy Londons You'll Love
Rivers of London: 10th Anniversary Edition
Peter Grant liked his simple life as a probationary constable in London’s Metropolitan Police, but when a murder victim proves more talkative than one might expect, Peter finds himself trapped in a strange set of circumstances that see him become the first apprentice wizard in 50 years. Rather than dealing with robbers or petty criminals, Peter is now investigating vampires, negotiating a truce between gods, and more.
As one might expect from a book titled The Rivers of London, author Ben Aaronovitch offers a detailed look at his fantastic London, diving into the city’s magical population and history.
Like The Rivers of London’s Peter Grant, the protagonist of Neil Gaiman’s tale leads a rather ordinary existence until a chance encounter changes his life (and London) forever. Richard Mayhew discovers that there is a shadowy world below London called Neverwhere, and in that labyrinth are monsters, saints, murderers, and angels.
A woman called “Door,” who is a native to Neverwhere, needs Richard’s help to discover who killed her family and to save her home. If Richard has any hope of returning to his humble life, he has no chance but to dive into the depths that lie beneath the city.
A Darker Shade of Magic
If you love magical London, how would you feel about four of them? In V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, magicians can travel through Londons in parallel universes. Each London is named by a color: Red, Grey, White, and once upon a time, Black.
The narrative follows Kell, a smuggler from Red London, and the cut-purse Delilah Bard. At first enemies, the pair become unlikely allies as Kell and Delilah work to unfold the mystery behind the magic of the Londons … as well as the version of London without any magic left to see.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
If you have a fondness for historical fiction in addition to fantasy, there are few better entries than Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The story takes place in the early 1800s during the Napoleonic Wars.
Magic has all but died out in England by then, but that changes when the reclusive Mr. Norrell reveals his powers to a group of gentleman “magicians” (who never actually cast any spells). For a brief time, there is one magician, but like the Sith in Star Wars, there must always be two.
Jonathan Strange is younger, more daring, and more of a raw talent than the polished Mr. Norrell. The plotline not only details the sometimes-strained relationship between master and apprentice, but also the history of Europe, France, and another realm full of wild magic.
The Amulet of Samarkand
Where some of the stories on this list start with an ordinary person in London, Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Sequence follows a shapeshifting djinni (the titular Bartimaeus) who serves a hot-shot wizard named Simon Lovelace.
The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the series, was a Locus Award nominee in 2004, is a great story for middle-grade readers. The series offers a different sort of look at London: Not just the paths, or even the hidden world beneath that humans might populate, but the air vents, the keyholes in a locked door, and all of the other obstacles that make the snarky shapeshifter’s journey such a fun ride.
A Taste for Monsters
One more period piece in this list of alternative, magical Londons, A Taste for Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby takes place in 1888. Jack the Ripper is still at large, and two people cast away by society—Evelyn, a young woman disfigured by her dangerous work in a matchstick factory, and Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man—find first a gentle kinship and then the brutal clues that can help them discover the truth behind London’s most dangerous nightmare.
The Magician's Nephew
The Magician’s Nephew shows the origins of Narnia, but the origins of The Magician’s Nephew take place in none other than London, 1900. Two friends, Digory and Polly, are drawn into a strange place called “The World Between the Worlds,” which connects different lands the way the shared attic connects their London row-homes.
Not only do Londoners find themselves thrown into a young world full of magic, but things really get wild when that magic finds itself in the middle of a busy London street …
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