Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy
Edited by Ellen Datlow
Cover Artist: Daniel Dos Santos
Review by Gayle Surrette
St. Martin's Griffin Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312385248
Date: 05 July 2011 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy is a themed anthology of original stories edited by Ellen Datlow. With twenty stories, there's bound to be something for every reader. The stories are by some of the top names in urban fantasy so, if you've heard of an author but haven't yet read one of their novels, Naked City is a great opportunity to get a chance to get a feel for the type of fantasy that they write. For me, the beauty of anthologies is a chance to read a selection of authors and perhaps to find some that will become new favorites. It's also an opportunity to read a selection of stories, especially in themed anthologies, that help the reader, as in this case, get a feel for what's out there in a subgenre.
The first story in the book is "Curses" by Jim Butcher. Once again Dresden is on a case. This time he's asked to break the curse on the Chicago Cubs so that they'll have a chance at the series. Simple enough job not! As with so many of his jobs, Dresden must dig deeper to learn who placed the curse on the team's home field and why. Of course along the way, we also learn a bit about Chicago and its magical denizens.
"How the Pooka Came to New York City" by Delia Sherman is a look at the life of Irish immigrants, in this case through the experiences of Liam O'Casey. Just how do the rules and responsibilities of the old country apply in this new land and in cities filled with iron.
Richard Bowes' "On the Slide" gives us a look into a world where people can slide into a time where they believe they will fit better, or meet someone they admire. Our main character, Sean Quinlan, gives us a unique perspective on sliding. In a way it reminded me of the method used by modern playwright Richard Collier to slip back in time to meet the actress Elise McKenna. This story was an interesting nod to the old TV show, The Naked City with a few twists as the story takes place around a set for a movie.
"Duke of Riverside" by Ellen Kushner takes place in the same world as her novel Swordpoint. Alec comes to Riverside looking to hire the best swordsman in the city to kill him. What he finds instead makes for a very interesting story and a look at the politics and society of this city.
Christopher Fowler's "Oblivion by Clavin Klein" is a story we've all heard at one time or another. A wife who has been cheated on decides to run up all the credit cards as a mode of revenge. But Fowler's story had a very strange twist to the story that is totally unexpected.
Butte, Montana, is the setting for "Fairy Gifts" by Patricia Briggs. Taking place in the present and in 1892, we learn how Thomas became what he is and that he is being pulled back to the city of his childhood. He was given a gift and in the way of the magical world, gifts are given freely. Nevertheless, Thomas feels the need to offer a gift of his own.
"Picking Up the Pieces" by Pat Cadigan is a wonderful story that unfolds slowly as a tale of family responsibility. Jean is often the family member designated to pick up the pieces after her sister, Quinn, manages to totally mess up another relationship, or get disenchanted with another cause. This time, Quinn's newest boyfriend has disappeared in Berlin. Jean arrives on the evening the Berlin wall comes down as if dealing with her sister wasn't chaos enough. It's a wonderful urban fantasy twist to a story that, even without that twist, would be an emotional reminder of a historic event at least for those of us of a certain age.
Peter S. Beagle is a wonderful writer and "Underbridge" just consolidates my opinion. This is a dark story of shattered dreams and thwarted hopes mixed, and how those feelings can get out of control when you're acquainted with the troll under the Fremont Bridge in Seattle. I'm sure this story invokes strong feelings in its readers.
"Priced to Sell" by Naomi Novik was a real treasure. I actually laughed out loud at the efforts that these real estate agents had to go through to find appropriate housing for their supernatural clients. Based on this story, when the supernatural community comes out-of-the-dark, real estate agents will have an interesting redefinition of problem clients. (Safety tip: Don't drink while reading this story.)
Matthew Kressel's "The Bricks of Gelecek" was an interesting story. Told from the point of view of a member of a group that travels from city to city, erasing it and its contents from everyone's memory, Kressel explores what would happen if one of these creatures began to think about what it does. I don't know that I'd label this story as urban fantasy, but then I can't think of any other label that would fit either. Well worth reading and thinking about.
Kit Reed's Lawrence Weston in "Weston Walks" is proof that money can't buy happiness, though it can certainly give you a lot of advantages and comfort. Weston lost everyone he ever loved when he was four. The story takes place when he's an adult and the only way he's found to interact safely with other people is to offer walking tours of New York City. It's a way he can control the situation, until his last tour when things get away from him in a manner that will change his life forever.
Lavie Tidhar is known for his stories that put the normal world just off-center. "The Projected Girl" manages to seem totally normal and yet tangential to our world. Danny's love of reading and his interest in magic combine when he finds a magician's notebook. He's convinced that this magician is connected to a mural on the side of a building that he believes is not what it seems. The story is Danny journey to learn about the magician and the mural.
"The Way Station" by Nathan Ballingrud gives us a twisted tale of guilt and redemption in the wake of Katrina and those who survived. Beltrane is in Florida wanting to contact his daughter, but afraid of what she might say. Their parting before the storm was rancorous. The imagery within the story powerfully bolsters the story.
Taking place in the underworld that readers were introduced to in Graveminder, "Guns for the Dead" by Melissa Marr gives us a bit more insight into the character of Alicia. Francis Lee Lemons is newly dead and he knows he needs to find a place to call home. He finds the job interview is truly unique.
John Crowley's story "And Go Like This" is based on a quote by Buckminster Fuller. Farfetched and a bit surprising, even though the quote is at the very beginning of the story it takes a while before the actuality sets in for the reader. I'm still not sure how I feel about this story. I think most readers will have an opinion and probably a strong one about it.
Holly Black never tells the story you expect. "Nobel Rot" seems straightforward a story of a young girl working as a delivery person for a restaurant. She usually takes the delivery to the dying aging rock star who doesn't bother to hand her the money, just tells her to take it out of the box in the kitchen. The twist in this one will be unexpected.
I don't particularly like spiders and Jeffrey Ford's "Daddy Long Legs of the Evening" certainly didn't get me to change my mind. In fact, reading it caused not a few nightmares. Just what could happen if spiders had brains the size of a human's? You don't want to know, but this story will pull you in and you'll find out just what happens to the city of Grindly.
"The Skinny Girl" by Lucius Shepard considers the idea of gods becoming incarnate and, more specifically, what if Death became incarnate. Hugo Lis has a career taking photographs of the dead in Mexico City. His photographs are considered not just forensic photos, but art. It's not just the art world, families of the deceased, or the police who have noticed his work. What he learns and what he decides to do with that knowledge is what makes the story.
Caitlνn R. Kiernan's "The Colliers' Venus (1893)" takes place in Colorado. The mine has found creatures in the rock of one of their shafts. When Miss Bolshaw comes to visit Prof Jeremiah Ogilvy, he learns that something much bigger and stranger than bugs has been found and they need his help. It seemed very much a period piece to me, one that if told in the present would be considered an X-File-type story.
"King Pole, Gallows Pole, Bottle Tree" by Elizabeth Bear was a story I just could not put down. The genius loci of Las Vegas is actually two people Jackie and Stewart. Las Vegas is a city of the now and readily forgets what it doesn't want to remember, but one of Jackie's gifts is to remember all that the city doesn't want to remember. Someone is stealing Jackie's memories. For the sake of the city, they must figure out who and why and stop it. This was a very poignant story, especially in this time of Alzheimer's when so many of us worry that any memories lost may be an indication of something far worse than momentary forgetfulness.
While I enjoyed some stories more than others, I didn't find a single clunker in this book. Datlow picked a great selection of stories and authors and while some may not be to your taste, Naked City is sure to have enough stories that you enjoy to be worth your time.