I’ll admit, although the premise of Steve Wiley’s The Fairytale Chicago of Francesca Finnegan is a really clever one that will immediately appeal to locals — basically, that there’s an entire urban-fantasy secret history of the city, including an underwater “lavender line” el train that runs through a submerged east side of Chicago — I had been half-expecting the actual book itself to be only subpar, because it’s written with the deliberately flowery simplicity of a fairytale, and in general I have had bad luck in the past with self-published urban-fantasy novels written in the style of fairytales. So it was a welcome surprise, then, that Wiley’s take on the genre turns out to be quite delightful while still maintaining a dark, mature tone, a book that successfully straddles that fine line between whimsical and treacly.
Chock-full of wonderfully twisted references that only locals will get — a personal favorite, for example, are the drunk elves enjoying an absinthe-style ritualized round of Malort, which according to the narrator tastes like it does because it’s been infused with the evil dead spirit of Al Capone — this is exactly the kind of book for people who hear a term like “The Green Mill” and picture a literal mill painted green out in the wilds of the city edges, a novel that quite ingeniously incorporates all manner of actual local landmarks and legends then blows them up to the level of high fantasy. I love having a chance to recommend tiny press runs like these that would normally escape your attention, so do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this short, fast-reading novel soon.
Out of 10: 8.7