Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy
Edited by Ellen Datlow
Published 2011 537 pages
Summary (from the press release)
In this thrilling collection of original stories some of today's hottest paranormal authors delight, thrill and captivate readers with otherworldly tales of magic and mischief. In Jim Butcher's ' Curses' Harry Dresden investigates how to lift a curse laid by the Fair Folk on the Chicago Cubs. In Patricia Briggs' 'Fairy Gifts,' a vampire is called home by magic to save the Fae who freed him from a dark curse. In Melissa Marr's 'Guns for the Dead,' the newly dead Frankie Lee seeks a job in the afterlife on the wrong side of the law. In Holly Black's 'Noble Rot,' a dying rock star discovers that the young woman who brings him food every day has some strange appetites of her own.
Featuring original stories from 20 authors, this dark, captivating, fabulous and fantastical collection is sure to have readers coming back for more.
Okay, let’s get one thing clear straight from the start. In an anthology entitled “Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy” I don’t think it’s unfair for the reader to expect the story stories to be written in the established urban fantasy style. One would reasonably expect the editor of such a collection to insure that it contains stories in that genre. However, for some reason Ellen Datlow (a highly experienced SF/F anthology editor) decided to take the frankly bizarre decision to populate this anthology with tales of “urban” and “fantasy”, rather than tales of “urban fantasy”.
What’s the difference? Well, basically all the stories are given an urban setting and they are all some form of speculative fiction but unfortunately, cityscapes and speculation don’t necessarily make urban fantasy and with a handful of exceptions that is the case here. A couple of the stories are actually high fantasy, although most contributions read like contemporary fiction or contemporary horror.
Disappointment is compounded by the fact that the anthology boldly advertises its UF credentials – Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Melissa Marr and Holly Black – on the front cover. But these are the only established UF authors in this anthology – that’s four authors out of twenty contributors. The majority of other authors write other forms of speculative fiction and I think for a couple of writers this anthology may have been their first foray into fantasy.
It feels like I could go on forever about how Naked City has completely missed the point of being an urban fantasy anthology – namely that it needs to contain urban fantasy but I think you all get the general gist by now. Instead let’s concentrate on what’s worth reading in this collection.
Jim Butcher never disappoints, and “Curses” his Harry Dresden short story is everything any self respecting UF fan could wish for. Harry is called to investigate a long-running curse on his local baseball team – the investigation involves the Fae and goats. Concise, snappy and kinda fun this all new Dresden Files short story is one that Butcher’s legions of fans will enjoy – 4 stars.
Patricia Briggs serves up an enjoyable enough tale of vampires and fairies in “Fairy Gifts”. It doesn’t involve any of her established characters but instead she gives us a new character: Thomas a Chinese vampire who received an unusual gift from a fairy at the time of the 19th century Butte gold rush. Fast-forward to the present day and its time for Thomas to return the favour. Nicely written and with a good twist, it’s of the quality you’d expect from one of the UF genre’s bestselling authors – 4 stars.
“Noble Rot” by Holly Black is another favourite. It’s creepy and has a bit of an ick-factor but this tale of a young ghoul girl and dying rock star is really good. I’m a fan of Black’s Curse Workers books and Noble Rot shares the same slightly shabby East Coast resort city setting that she uses to good effect in those books. I found this short story to be unexpectedly brilliant – 4 stars.
However, by far the best story in this collection was “Priced To Sell” by Naomi Novik. Novik is well known for her historical fantasy stories featuring dragons and military adventure but she turns her hand to contemporary urban fantasy with ease and pulls off what could possibly be the best UF short story that I’ve read in a long time. Self-contained, concise, dramatic and witty – Priced To Sell ticks all the right boxes as it gives readers a glimpse into the work of the staff of a busy New York real estate agency with some very unusual clients. This one’s a gem – 5 stars!
Other stories worthy of note are “The Duke of Riverside” by Ellen Kushner. This story set in a run down riverside tavern is actually high fantasy but I liked the story enough to not hold that against its inclusion in this UF anthology. “Underbridge” by Peter S Beagle is a story in the contemporary horror style – animal lovers probably won’t appreciate it but I quite enjoyed finding out what Seattle’s concrete troll gets up to of an evening – 3 stars.
“Daddy Long Legs of The Evening” a horror story involving spiders by Jeffery Ford and “How The Pooka Came to New York City” a historical urban fantasy set in 19th century New York by Delia Sherman, have the distinction of being readable from start to finish if not exactly thrilling (2 stars).
Sadly I couldn’t finish any of the other twelve stories in this anthology and that’s saying something considering they were only short stories and I’m a pretty dedicated reader. I don’t quit easy but I made an exception in this case because, frankly, my life just seemed too short to waste on them. Nil points.
Aggregated star rating for the anthology as a whole: 1.35.
If you feel that you must read this book it’s probably best to borrow this one from the library…
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