Black City Demon: This creepy, magical Prohibition-era Chicago comes to life

Black City Demon by Richard A. KnaakBlack City Demon by Richard A. KnaakBlack City Demon by Richard A. Knaak

Black City Demon (2017) is the second BLACK CITY SAINT adventure of 1930s ghost-hunter Nick Medea, who is really Georgius, or Saint George, and who is sixteen hundred years old. Currently living in Chicago, Nick, who is also the guardian of the Gate between our realm and Faerie, combats human evil and the worst of the Faerie influences that come through the Gate. He has very few people he considers friends, but several allies he can’t completely trust… and a strong, beautiful woman who is the current incarnation of the princess he loved when he was Georgius.

Richard A. Knaack’s historical urban fantasy series delves into the history of Chicago and provides a different spin. In Black City Saint, the first book, we learned that the Great Chicago Fire was magically caused during Georgius’s first battle with Oberon, the King of Faerie. Black City Demon takes a look at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, and the terrible murders committed by Herman Webster Mudgett, who went by H.H. Holmes, during the Exposition.

The Frost Moon has passed. Nick, with the help of his friends and the dragon who shares his soul, defeated Oberon a second time. Oberon is reliably believed to be dead. Things should be getting back to normal, but strange things are happening and they get stranger. Diocletian, the Roman Emperor who martyred Georgius for his belief in the nascent Christian faith, has always been visible to Nick as a ghost. Now, though, others are starting to see him. Nick is seeing a ghost of a woman named Claudette, a previous incarnation of his first love, even though she has already incarnated as Claryce, who we met in book one. Soon, Nick is investigating strange goings-on at the building where H. H. Holmes tortured and murdered at least 27 people during the Exposition, including Claudette. It turns out at certain points in time, the Frost Moon leaves a magical wake, and while our realm is in that wake, certain magics are more powerful. The revenant of Holmes has awakened during this period and has very bad plans for everybody.

The story is almost purely magical, but Knaack creates a hard-boiled detective tone that is consistent throughout the story. Black City Demon has a sensibility that would not have been out of place in a pulp detective magazine like Black Mask. Nick’s faerie hound sidekick Fetch constantly tries out slang to humorous effect. Nick is pursued by gangsters and bootleggers as well as magical creatures, and the world in these stories is well-evoked and deep.

In Black City Demon, Claryce grows even more as a character and actively helps Nick. She is no longer just the damsel in distress, and her connection to the dead Claudette, who is an earlier version of herself, is interesting and different.

As always, Nick struggles with who he can trust. He will not forgive Diocletian. Kravayik, a Fae who has fled into our realm and converted to Christianity, is helpful, but is plainly keeping secrets. Meanwhile, Fetch has adopted his own refugee from the land of Faerie and Nick doesn’t know what to make of that. He continues to spar with Detective Cortez, a mundane, honest cop whose devout wife seems to have a sixth sense about certain things. The dragon’s struggles for ascendancy are getting more worrisome. Nick wants to hold Claryce at arm’s length to keep her safe, but by the end of this book that is clearly not happening.

The visuals are striking, original and creepy. While Nick’s final confrontation with Holmes goes on a bit too long, it held my interest. I think the magical ideas here are unusual, and well-developed, and by the end of Black City Demon a new, or rather very old, adversary of Nick’s is on the horizon.

The BLACK CITY SAINT series gets compared to Jim Butcher’s THE DRESDEN FILES because of the detective vibe and because of Chicago. There are other similarities; like Harry Dresden, Nick has an angel that shows up now and then to give advice. The two series aren’t that much alike to me, but I could believe that Nick Medea was Harry Dresden’s grand-dad without too much trouble. Black City Demon is an interesting, entertaining read.

Publication date: March 14, 2017. Since he became the guardian of the Gate between our world and Feirie sixteen hundred years ago, Nick Medea, once Saint George, has battled to keep the darkest Feirie–the Wyld–from invading the mortal plane. With the dragon an unwilling part of him, Nick maintains balance between realms, often at great cost to him and those nearest to him. Nick and his ragtag confederates–including the shape-shifter Fetch and Nick’s reincarnated love, Claryce–have battled the Wyld, but mortals as sinister as the darkest Feirie. Now, with Prohibition in full swing and bootlegger wars embattling Chicago, a murderous evil born of the mortal world has turned its attention to the power of the Gate…and Nick himself. Nick must turn again to his most untrustworthy ally: the dragon within. Yet even together they may not be enough to face what was once a man…but is now a creature even dragons may fear.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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