I am in need of Urban Wizardry!
April 4, 2013 5:24 PM   Subscribe

I am querying the Mefiverse for any solid, literary-leaning fiction with an urban wizard setting. Hopefully not YA fiction, and definitely not Potter. Release the hounds!
posted by Lipstick Thespian to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Harry Dresden
posted by syncope at 5:27 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might try Charles de Lint.
posted by dilettante at 5:29 PM on April 4, 2013

I didn't read it but The Magicians by Lev Grossman came to mind.
posted by lyssabee at 5:30 PM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

The Magicians, which I have read, concerns wizards, sometimes in an urban setting, but not only. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is also wizards for adults, but again, it's settings are both urban and non-urban.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:33 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age books live in that approximate genre, although I have not read the modern ones yet. Two of them are set in Elizabethan England and they are great, and I've read a short story, the expanded version of which comes out this fall, that is set in Vegas and is likewise splendid. But Blood and Iron and its direct sequel, Whiskey and Water, are where you'd start.

Are you looking for specifically modern urban settings? And specifically real modern urban settings?
posted by restless_nomad at 5:36 PM on April 4, 2013

It's not exceedingly literary, but Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series is quite entertaining.
posted by zamboni at 5:40 PM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

Update: I've read Lev Grossman's The Magicians and thought it was okay. Definitely looking for modern urban settings. Think as a guide perhaps A Wizard of Earthsea if it were set in NYC, or Southern California.

I've also read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and LOVED IT. But would like something more contemporary in tone and setting.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:45 PM on April 4, 2013

I didn't read it but The Magicians by Lev Grossman came to mind.

This is an amazing book. I was going to recommend it, but was genuinely unsure if you meant "urban" as in "takes place in a city" or as a euphemism for "African-American focused."
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:46 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oops sorry cross-post.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:46 PM on April 4, 2013

I would second Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden except that you said literary leaning, which, um, kind of lets him out. It also more or less eliminates Kevin Hearne and Richard Kadrey and even Mike Carey, although he's really pretty good. But if you want fun pulp urban wizardry you could totally do worse than any of them. Kate Griffin is also excellent and somewhat closer to literary as are cstross' Laundry Files. And The Rook was terrific fun, I couldn't put it down.

You might like Charles de Lint a lot. Start with the Newford books. Oh and Richard Grant! He is too often overlooked but I bet you would love Tex and Molly in the Afterlife.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:53 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by pompomtom at 5:53 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might try Rosemary Edghill's Bast stories. She has a smaller chunk of Bast stories very cheap for the kindle only, which might give you an idea if it's your cup of tea or no. I enjoyed it very much! They are very urban (NYC), but more about Wicca and allied fields, if that's not an obstacle.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 6:03 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Tanya Huff's Summoner series is pretty urban, but not big city urban.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 6:04 PM on April 4, 2013

You might really enjoy Tim Powers: Declare and the Fault Lines series, most notably.
posted by Andrhia at 6:05 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'll second Tim Powers (Last Call is the first Fault Lines book) and add ...

Megan Lindholm / Robin Hobb, Wizard of the Pigeons
Sean Stewart, Mockingbird and Perfect Circle

Sean Stewart's near future stuff is in the same vein (urban, surreal, and literary-leaning) but obviously less connected to the present day. That's also what lets out Rachel Pollack's Unquenchable Fire and sequel, but it should be on your long list.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:27 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know you said hopefully not YA fiction, but Diane Duane's Young Wizards books are modern, urban (well, for the most part, sometimes they go off-planet) and the wizardry is heavily influenced by a scientific approach to the world. Some of them are pretty complex, even if they are billed as YA books.

Also nthing Charles de Lint, though there's crossover with other types of mythology as well eg Native American, Celtic etc. Not that that's a bad thing, just not all exclusively wizardy.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:30 PM on April 4, 2013

The Magician King is Lev Grossman's followup to The Magicians. It is so much better than the first book. (Like you I found the first book, "OK.") Give it a shot.
posted by themanwho at 6:36 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Update #2:

I've read both Sean Stewart and Tim Powers and loved them both, which is probably why I'm doing this thread tonight. I need more like this.

And this thread is making me so happy also - your recommendations are fantastic.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:42 PM on April 4, 2013

This isn't quite what you're asking for, but given the books you've said you loved, you might try Ilium and Olympos by Dan Simmons. Gorgeous, beautifully written books.
posted by Andrhia at 6:48 PM on April 4, 2013

There's an anime series called Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou (aka "Modern Magic made simple") which is about traditional magic (magic scepters, chanting, diagrams and such like) and modern magic (which is mostly done with computers).

There are four main characters: Misa is a practitioner of modern magic and makes her living at it. Yumiko is a user of traditional magic; she's good at what she does but her magic isn't varied because she's still learning. Kaho is Misa's student. She doesn't have the sight, and can't see magic, but she understands the principles and can write "spells" (i.e. computer programs) to do what she wants them to do. And the main character is Koyomi. She does have the sight, and her magic is traditional, but she can only do one thing: no matter what kind of magic she tries to do, it ends up sucking up magical power from existing spells and summoning metal wash basins (which last a few hours and then vanish). What this really means is that she has the power to nullify any existing spell, and looked at in those terms her magic turns out to be pretty useful when facing nasty opponents. Which she does, again and again.

Misa is about 28. The other three are all 17.

My opinion is that the concept was an intriguing one and the characters were nicely conceived, but ultimately the story telling wasn't very good. Misa, as a character, was rather repulsive because she's so cynical. The main way she makes her living is by casting spells for shop keepers that force people to enter the shop and buy things. She also works for a guy who puts on idol shows, creating spells that make the audiences love the performers. Koyomi comes to her attention by accidentally cancelling one of Misa's spells.

I don't classify the series as a success -- but I know that there were other people who liked it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:00 PM on April 4, 2013

The Young Wizard series by Diane Duane. The first book So You Want To Be A Wizard takes place in NYC and it's suburbs and the urban setting is pretty important to the plot (going so far as to have an alternate, magic-haunted version of Manhattan as a setting) and the incorporation of modern tech into magic is a major theme (Eye of newt? Please we have plastic now, who needs a tome of spells when you have a macbook?)
posted by The Whelk at 7:05 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

(oh sorry it's YA but doesn't read like YA, but the characters are about 12)
posted by The Whelk at 7:06 PM on April 4, 2013

I found it very difficult to get into the Harry Dresden or Kevin Hearne books, but did like upthread's Ben Aaronovitch, Mike Carey, Kate Griffin, Lev Grossman.

Read David Nickle's "Rasputin's Bastards". Weird, evocative, brilliant, with solid characters, plotting, and dialogue.

Night Watch is good, too.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:25 PM on April 4, 2013

There are a ton of good suggestions here already, I especially endorse the Rivers of London series.

Greg Stolze has three great books, very much in the world building nature of Powers if less polished, cheap if you have A kindle. Try also American Elsewhere. Anderson Prunty is nuts in a good way. Victor LaValle is litry as can be, although more in the new weird rather than capital W wizarding vein. Most of my suggestions are not urban per se, but non-leather codpiece, hark who goes there type stuff with grit. LaValle is as good at describing and making Queens, NY magical as anyone I've ever read. I'll buy you a egg team if you don't like least one of them. Also just get whatever mygothlaundry suggests.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:09 PM on April 4, 2013

Also the Milkweed series by Ian Tregillis, post-war London is heck of Urban.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:13 PM on April 4, 2013

Came to recommend Wizard of Pigeons, mentioned above. Great story.
posted by purenitrous at 8:21 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've always thought of William Gibson's console cowboys as wizards. But maybe that's too far outside the box. Count Zero would probably be the closest to YA.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:28 PM on April 4, 2013

If by urban you mean contemporary, as opposed to in a city, I definitely recommend Advent by James Treadwell. It has a sympathetic, psychologically complex protagonist, magic that feels satisfyingly weird and dangerous, and a well-structured plot with strands that come together without seeming forced.
posted by unsub at 9:07 PM on April 4, 2013

Each of these books is totally different from the other.

- A Madness of Angels, or, The Resurrection of Matthew Swift by Kate Griffin (cover isn't promising, took me a while to get into, but good)

- The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

- The Laundry Files books by mefi's own Charles Stross (less literary, but certainly better written that general popular urban magic stuff)
posted by wintersweet at 10:28 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh! Also
- Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
posted by wintersweet at 10:28 PM on April 4, 2013

Cannot believe I also forgot to recommend Diana Wynne Jones. Many of hers are pure fantasy, but she also has a few set in a kind of variation on our world in which wizardry definitely works. These are: A Sudden Wild Magic (definitely grown-up, but does switch between our/another world), Deep Secret (set in a con, also pretty grown-up) and The Merlin Conspiracy (mostly off-world and also nearly YA so I wouldn't start with this one, only if you get hooked on her, which I hope you do because she is awesome.) Fire and Hemlock is also urban/suburban um, well, not wizardry exactly but definitely Odd Things.

And also Neil Gaiman. Neverwhere, American Gods, Anansi Boys. More in the line of magic of various descriptions rather than wizardry per se, but definitely contemporary and more-or-less urban.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:16 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

How has nobody mentioned China Mieville's Kraken yet?

I'd also second The Rook.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:27 AM on April 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's not available in dead-tree form, and the Kindle version won't be out for a bit, but I really enjoyed The New York Magician, currently in installments on Everything2.
posted by Mayor West at 4:29 AM on April 5, 2013

Butcher's Dresden Files book one is ok/good for a first book, two felt kinda like a step back, and then 3-13 (14-15 now?) are incredibly awesome. Also pick up the illustrated adventure, Welcome to the Jungle.

Simon R Green has some good entries- mainly the Nightside series. Can't say I like his Drood stuff half as much.
posted by Jacen at 6:25 AM on April 5, 2013

Although Green steers closer to pulp than literary. His plotlines can be summed up as 'Awesome Dude is Awesome, Bad Guy Attempts To Be More Awesome, Quirky Friends Are Recruited, Awesome Dude Reasserts Awesomeness' - they are fun rides but very little feels earned.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:56 AM on April 5, 2013

Try Tim Pratt's Marla Mason series, about the chief wizard of a medium-sized American city. She's sort of the magical mayor of town, and a less appropriate person to be mayor of anything you could not find. Good stuff. Starts with Blood Engines and there are six or seven books total.
posted by Naberius at 6:56 AM on April 5, 2013

Update #3: Tried the Jim Butcher/Harry Dresden stuff today and hated it. The writing is awful.

However, am loving The Rook so far. Great thread! Keep them coming!
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:00 PM on April 5, 2013

Yes, the writing in the first Dresden novel is ... not good. People assure me it gets better later; I tried a random one and it WAS better, but still not more than random pulp.

Can't wait for the sequel to The Rook!
posted by wintersweet at 6:25 PM on April 6, 2013

On the Harry Dresden stuff - I actually started with the latest one, Cold Days. I did that intentionally, thinking his style would be cemented, and within the first five pages I was convinced that he had written the entire novel in six days or something. Total fluff, with limp ladles of machismo for spice. Very disappointing. It read like fan fiction.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:23 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, half of the Magician King takes place in a very urban setting.
Personally, I liked The Magicians much much better, it's a very different atmosphere.

Did you read Neil Gaiman's American Gods? Anansi Boys? Both of them take place in modern day America - mythology meet suburbia.

Another book that comes to mind is Perdido Street Station, by China MiƩville. Very urban, but definitely not modern day NYC.
posted by sockpuppetdirect at 9:14 AM on April 10, 2013

Update #4:

I've read American Gods and Perdido Street Station. Liked them both for entirely different reasons. Another book that brought me to create this thread was Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 11:13 AM on April 10, 2013

Just wanted to add that I just finished Blood and Iron (Whiskey and Water is next on my stack) and it's fucking fantastic and probably just about what you are looking for.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:39 PM on April 12, 2013

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