Richard A. Knaak’s Black City Saint combines 1920’s Chicago crime gangs with pre-Christian and early Christian mythology, serving up an exciting start to a new urban fantasy series. The setting is good and the hero is memorable.
Nick Medea is functionally an immortal. Under a different name, he became the guardian of the portal between the realms of the mundane world and that of Faerie. He is a man with many secrets, and the most deadly is the one he carries inside him, for he shares head-space with a creature he considers a monster.
As a “parapsychologist” Nick makes a living, and maintains the portal, by investigating reports of hauntings. Most so-called hauntings are creatures of faerie who have either slipped through in some way, or have lingered from a major battle fifty years earlier, when Oberon, King of Faerie, tried to take over the mundane world, starting in Chicago, and Nick beat him back. The Queen of Faerie, Nick’s patron, told him that Oberon was dead, but as you might expect, there’s dead, and then there’s well, dead. For a dead thing, Oberon is pretty darned lively.
Black City Saint starts a bit like a detective story, and as the clues mount, the magic mounts too. Nick meets a woman who is the reincarnation of his lost love; he verbally spars with a ghost who follows him seeking forgiveness; he meets a smart Latino police detective who is ostracized for both his ethnicity and his honesty. Nick also has an assistant who is a werewolf, and two other assistants from the world of Faerie. They were both new variations on a theme to me, and I liked that.
I liked the spin on Faerie here, particularly when Nick discovered his destiny. It’s not a spoiler to say that in that life Nick was Saint George the Dragon Killer (it’s on the back cover). Like most detectives in the hard-boiled subgenre, he is tough. He is a good man trying to do the right thing, and he is a vulnerable man who believes wrongly that love weakens him. Detective Cortez, a man of unquestioning faith, is a nice foil for Nick and I hope he shows up in later books.
The story builds to an action-packed magical battle on the shore of Lake Michigan; there are plot twists (although I could see most of them coming) and the character of Nick’s love Claryce is smart and brave although not developed much beyond that.
Knaak’s prose gets the job done. I thought it was a bit clunky in spots, with a few too many repetitions, but overall it carried an interesting story with fun new ideas forward to an exciting climax. I think you can’t go wrong if you set a darkly magical story in Chicago, and Knaak squeezes the juice out of the Prohibition-era city with gusto.
If you enjoyed Jim Butcher’s HARRY DRESDEN series before Harry went all boo-rah and battle-magey on us, you will enjoy Black City Saint for some of the same sensibilities. I’m looking forward to more books in this series.