Black City Saint (Black City #1) by Richard A. Knaak Book Review

Write on: Tue, 11 Sep 2018 by  in Charles' Reviews Be the first to comment! Read 2581


I've mentioned how much of a huge fan I am of Richard A. Knaak. He's the guy who made minotaurs a viable alternative to orcs in Dungeons and Dragons, made some of the most entertaining World of Warcraft fiction, and has written some really great independent fiction as well. It was the latter I was most interested in as while I was always a fan of him playing in other worlds, I wanted to see what he could do in his own universe. He decided to do that by combining two genres that often intersect but rarely so directly in a noir urban fantasy novel.

BLACK CITY SAINT is the story of Nick Medea, who is formerly Saint George of Catholic theology. Specifically, the Byzantine dragonslaying knight who became the patron saint of England. He is the titular Black City's Saint. The book is set in 1920s Chicago, which puts it in the era of Al Capone, Prohibition, and that city's most famous era (excluding its appearance in the Blues Brothers). Saint George works as a private investigator and occultist who deals with things like the Fair Folk, ghosts, as well as other oddities. Due to his magic, the only people who can find him as those who have encounters with real monsters.

Nick Medea is a character with some superficial similarities to other famous occult detectives like Harry Dresden, John Constantine, and the Nightside's John Taylor. He's his own character, though, with a backstory of betrayal and screw-ups contrasted to being a legendary hero among mundanes. He maintains his faith in God despite being surrounded by pagan spirits but is continually challenged on that faith due to how tragic his life has been since slaying THE Dragon.

I like the eccentric collection of characters which Richard Knaak has assembled around his main character. These include the Emperor Diocletian's ghost, a talking dog, and a woman who has died repeatedly yet keeps coming back. He has a gift for going beyond the usual bounds of urban fantasy. There's no vampire or werewolf feud here but a conflict over a gate that serves as the barrier between this world as well as the next.

Richard Knaak's vision of Chicago is well done and the time period is well-realized with constant references to the events of the day from the conflict between the North and South Sides, race riots, and casual references to technology of the time. He also weaves together a bunch of fantastic elements that fit in both a fantasy novel as well as a more grounded contemporary piece. Really, the only problem I had is that there's so much strange and unusual thrown at the reader that it took me awhile to figure out how the setting worked.

Despite this, I really liked the book's tone that reminded me a bit of the White Wolf Tabletop Roleplaying game. The book has a very somber and Gothic feel to it despite also feeling like a fantasy novel set in the "real" world of the 1920s. Nick Saint is a character who is weighed down by his past choices and manages to capture the heavy-heartedness of certain detectives far better than most. I wanted to know what Nick had done during World War 1 and other events of history. I also became invested in his reincarnation romance that dated back millennia.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Black City Saint and I think the book is the kind which could form its own series. While there's a preponderance of occult detectives in fiction right now, Nick Medea has his own unique voice. The weight of guilt coupled with the heaviness of immortality manages to invoke my favorite part of vampire stories without getting bogged down in their mythology (similar to the Highlander franchise). Anyone looking for a well-written fantasy story that doesn't fall into the usual traps of vampires, werewolves, and wizards shall find this right up their alley.

Last modified on Sunday, 01 December 2019 12:15
C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.


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