Book Review: Black City Saint by Richard A. Knaak

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Let’s keep it short, shall we? You’re here because you like historical-urban-fantasy. So stop reading, and go get your copy now.

Still not convinced? Let me share some more details then.

What to Expect

Black City Saint is the first novel in the series from Richard Knaak. Set against the back-drop of Prohibition-era Chicago, Nick Medea is a private detective of sorts, dealing with paranormal cases.

Not that it’s as straightforward as that. Nick has a checkered past, and some unusual companions. He’s also tasked (cursed?) with a larger-than-life role in this universe, which is built up and explained as the novel progresses.

What I liked

The attention to detail. You probably know me and my love of little historical trivia that goes into world-building. Black City is rife with such details, to the point that even though the date is not specified you can get a pretty exact estimate based on what is happening in the bootlegger wars in the background. There are also plenty of other little tidbits – such as arts, architecture, sports, politics, slang – that makes you love the realism and richness of the setting.

The pacing is wonderful. The plot slowly builds up over the course of the novel, continually picking up pace through twists and reveals, till you just can’t let go. Between the bootlegger wars of Capone, Bugs Moran, et al, purloined Christian hagiography, and Feirie Court politics there is plenty of material to provide unexpected developments.

What to be aware of

This is a noir mystery, set in the classical era for such stories. It’s written in first-person POV with the protagonist narrating events. Don’t expect the touchy-feely characters in contact with their inner child. Men were men, and women wore skirts. (Not that the women in the story lack spunk – but the story and characters fits the era and genre.)

The foremost topic are the Feirie creatures – this isn’t the place to learn about the gang wars of the Outfit, nor about Christian mythology. Those play an important role, but not the main one.

Summary

Unsurprisingly, I love the combination of history, mystery, and fantasy. The 1920’s were a fascinating era, and Mr Knaak makes full use of that background. From the Art Deco elevator doors on the cover, to the slang of the low-lifes, the world in Black City Saint is alive.

Amongst the ranks of historical-fantasy-detectives (or any two out of the three – you know I’ll read anything from Ruth Downie’s Medicus Roman Mysteries to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files), Nick Medea and Richard Knaak deserve a place of honour. This is fast becoming one of my favourite series.

So what are you waiting for? If you’re here, it’s probably because you love Felix. Do yourself a favour, and get a copy Black City Saint now. You won’t regret it. Me, I’m just going to keep on reading with Black City Demon.

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