Top Ten Favorite Books Taking Place in London

toptentuesday-1So this week, The Broke and the Bookish are focusing on settings. Top Ten Favorite Books from one setting. I chose London as my setting because I love London and I enjoy reading books taking place in this wonderful city. Especially because it seems to inspire some great writers too. This city seems to have a life of it’s own so that books taking place here, are always special because the city seems to be a character all on it’s own. So here’s a list of books taking place in London – do you know any other books taking place in London, I should read?

  1. China Miéville: Un Lun Dun. So London is not just London, no, beneath London there’s another city where all the lost and broken things of London end up. UnLondon is very different from London and much more dangerous but it’s still a wonderful place to visit – or, it is when you just have to read about it!
  2. Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere. So as in the previous book, in this book too there’s two Londons. A London Above and a London Below. Gaiman explains a lot of London place names in this one – and this is probably my favorite book on this list. Followed closely by the next two … and the first one … (My review)
  3. Félix J. Palma: The Map of Time. This book features not only one London, but two. Victorian London as well as a future version of London, devastated by war. Or so it seems. The novel also features some of the main persons from London’s history – like H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper. (My review)
  4. Dan Simmons: Drood. Dan Simmons shows us through the London of Dickens and Wilkie Collins, both the posh and poor parts of Victorian London. It’s a wonderful book and again, the book would never have worked in any other city. (My review)
  5. Marie Phillips: Gods Behaving Badly. So where have the Greek gods gone in the 21st century? Well, London of course! Artemis, Apollo, Aphrodite and more all live in Northern London, trying to combine being a god with normal life.
  6. Peter Ackroyd: London The Biography. No one seems to understand the power of London better than Peter Ackroyd – or the city’s ability to be it’s own character. He has written an entire book with the city as it’s main character – a biography of a city. I haven’t read all of it yet but what I have read, is extremely impressive.
  7. J.M. Barrie: Peter Pan. Yes, I know. Peter Pan doesn’t take place in London but for once on this list, London is not important because of all it’s wonders, but as a representative of the stiff society one wishes to escape from.
  8. Michael Bond: The Paddington series. Well, Paddington wouldn’t be Paddington if he hadn’t been named after Paddington station. I guess for many tourists, Paddington station is more important because of it’s significance in this wonderful series than because of it’s connection to the rest of the London Underground. And yes, I have been and seen the statue…
  9. Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes. Everyone knows that Sherlock Holmes resides at 221B Baker Street. Although he also ventures out of London to solve crimes, he does pop around London quite a bit – and Sherlock wouldn’t be Sherlock without London.
  10. Charles Dickens. I haven’t picked any particular book by Dickens because, really, isn’t London a part of almost all of them? When I think of Dickens, one of the main thing that pops into my head is Victorian London – which he knew thoroughly. So of course, Dickens had to be on this list.

There are of course lots of other books featuring London – like Gail Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate seriesHarry Potter and Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell series to name but a few – but I’ve tried to choose the ones where the city is more than just a background for the story and instead takes an explicit part in the book. I think London is an important player in all of these books. And of course, now I want to go back …

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26 thoughts on “Top Ten Favorite Books Taking Place in London

  1. Good list with quite a Number I’ve not read. Other titles which cd be considered wd be Zadie Smith’s NW, Monica Ali – Brick Lane, both of which feature a London most visitors don’t get to see. An alternative to the Ackroyd one you mention is Hawksmoor which introduces you to the history of some of its old churches.

    • Yes I have NW on my wish list. I need to get around to reading Zadie Smith soon. I’ve heard of the Ackroyd one as well. I haven’t read it, I find him a difficult author to read most times. And Capital by John Lanchester takes place in London too – but don’t use the city all that much, I think.

  2. We had a very interesting discussion in one of my books groups about books set in places we knew. Some of us loved them and others found them very irritating. I don’t mind as long as they’re accurate. If they aren’t then I find it hard to concentrate on the storyline.

    • It’s an interesting discussion. Not many books – if any – are set where I live so I haven’t been turned off from a book by inaccuracies. I know London just enough to love it and books set there but not enough to be bothered by mistakes.

    • I loved The Map of Time. There’s a second book out but I’m not sure how closely connected they are. I was a bit disappointed by Gods Behaving Badly but it’s still enjoyable. I love the idea of gods living among us (American Gods, the Percy Jackson series and more).

  3. Connie Willis, an amazing author who I find is often not well known, but with whom I have an almost 100% success rate in recommending her work to others, set her two volume novel, Blackout/All Clear, in London during the Blitz. There are other settings here and there in the book, but primarily it’s a very detailed journey through London at war, hiding in Underground stations, dashing through bombed-out department stores, etc. If you need any more of a “hook” than that — and you easily might — the story focuses on three Oxford students from the late 21st Century. They are time-travelers, because to get a postgraduate degree in History in the late 21st Century, you have to travel back and study the actual time and place you’re interested in. And for reasons they do not understand, something goes very wrong very early in their trip back to England in the Second World War — without revealing who they really are, they have to navigate a war-torn city to find each other, and then find a way home.

    It’s a great book about London, and a great book (in my opinion), but I think it’s even better for people familiar with the two previous novels she set in this “21st Century Oxford students travel back in time” setting — “Doomsday Book”, in which a young woman travels to medieval England unaware that, while she was gone, a pandemic would strike Oxford and make it impossible for her to return home, and “To Say Nothing of the Dog”, in which two students have to go back to the English countryside in the Victorian era to fix a tiny mistake that may imperil the future of humanity — one of them accidentally saved a cat’s life. These all probably place in my top 25 novels of all time, and I recommend them as often as I can — including, obviously, to bloggers I’ve just met. 🙂 Anyway, I think if you give them a try you won’t be disappointed, and I think that two-volume work I mentioned would fit in nicely with the excellent books you suggest above.

    • You know, I have added these to my wish list a while ago because they just sound amazing. But then I just kind of forgot about it and never did anything more about it. But your comment here really makes me want to pick them up soon and … well, devour them, because they sound like something I would really enjoy reading.

      • Oh good! I hope it goes well. The one caution I’ll give—some folks find Willis’s beginnings a little slow. I don’t feel that way, myself, but some folks have to push on a couple dozen pages past the “hmmm, why am I not into this yet?” moment. This is, of course, especially true of “Blackout”/”All Clear” since it’s a 1600+ page novel, really, in two volumes, involving a bunch of separate characters initially who will largely end up together, so there’s a longer stretch where you’re trying to keep up with names and figure out what to care about, before the hook. They all end up page-turners, to me — and to most folks I know (my sister finished “Blackout” on my advice, and emailed me to ask me how on earth I had waited six months for the story to continue in “All Clear”, since I was reading them as they were published — she drove out that night, I think, to buy the second volume). I re-read “Doomsday Book” almost every winter, given how wintry the book feels to me, so this is a good reminder that I should haul it out for the annual revisit. 🙂 I hope your reading goes well, whatever you take on!

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