The Fairytale Chicago of Francesca Finnegan
By Steve Wiley
Lavender Line Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
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