Canada is a vast and diverse nation. Different regions have different customs and habits, not to mention differences of opinion (political and otherwise) with other regions. But they share one sentiment: Canadians generally hate Toronto. It may seem odd that a country would dislike its largest, most diverse city, a city in which one in twelve Canadians resides, a community that is responsible for one-fifth of the national economy and much of our cultural wealth, and even odder that Ontarians join in, given that the Ontario economy would collapse like a rotted fruit without Toronto, but there it is: Toronto-phobia.
Canadians are so notoriously Toronto-averse that Canadian cop show Flashpoint made a point of never explicitly stating that it was set in Toronto, leaving viewers outside Toronto free to imagine that the program was set in any large Canadian city that happened to possess the CN Tower that kept appearing in establishing shots.
[I would include a helpful picture of the CN Tower here, but I’d prefer not to be sued for doing so…]
Happily, not every Canadian SFF writer suffers from Toronto-phobia. Here are five examples of books set in the city from the fantasy side of the ledger.
Above by Leah Bobet
Far below Toronto’s streets, Safe provides a refuge to beings living with marvelous gifts and onerous curses—people who, if caught by the authorities, would be subjected to unpleasant experiments. Some of the refugees have been so subjected before they escaped to Safe.
Matthew is able to pass for a regular human. He can venture above to buy necessary supplies without letting any normal know that Safe exists.
Safe takes precautions against the mundane authorities. It never occurs to them that they are in any danger from supernatural entities—such as those who invade the refuge. Only Matthew and a handful of companions escape. If they are to save their community, they must discover who these invaders are, and how they can be fought.
The Night Girl by James Bow
Like so many before her, Perpetua Collins journeys to Toronto in search of a better life. Also like so many before her, she finds opportunity scarce and rent far too expensive. Welcome to the exciting world of homelessness in a town whose winter temps can hit -30o C… Fortune in the form of an enigmatic want ad smiles on Perpetua. Perpetua is just the human face needed to staff the front desk of T.P. Earthenhouse: Bouncers, Rare Coins, and Art Installations.
Toronto is even more diverse than it knows. Earthenhouse provides employment to one of Toronto’s more unusual demographics: supernatural beings like goblins and trolls. Earthenhouse himself is a goblin. But the fair folk have carefully hidden from humans for millennia and Earthenhouse’s plans endanger that masquerade. There will be consequences, and Perpetua will soon find herself threatened by them.
Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed
Nick Prasad’s best friend Joanna “Johnny” Chambers is wealthy, white, and happens to be the world’s smartest teen. She’s this world’s answer to Reed Richards. The two teenagers have been friends since childhood. Nick is infatuated with Johnny and Johnny…values Nick as a chum.
Romantic frustration must be put to one side. Johnny’s latest invention is a miraculous power source, the key to solving climate change. All humanity will want it. So too will the unspeakable cosmic beings who covet our world. Turns out that the power source is also a dimensional gate.
Puny humans like Johnny and Nick can’t stand against such eldritch horrors. Nevertheless, they’re all that humanity has. Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes!
The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson
Mixed-race Sojourner “Scotch” Smith is too white to be black in the eyes of her black schoolmates, too black to be white to her white schoolmates. Still, school is tolerable; school and the time Scotch spends with the Raw Gyals dance troupe both provide refuge from her parents’ draconian discipline.
There are a few other problems, such as the fact that her BFF Gloria seems to be eyeing Scotch’s ex-boyfriend. Oh, and the fact that Scotch has developed a weird skin condition and has been seeing floating heads…
All of these troubles pale in comparison to an unexpected volcanic eruption and an invasion by entities out of myth and legend, of course. Life just got all too interesting, and possibly quite short.
Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey
Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother left Lissa three legacies: haunting grief, a large, empty house, and a clientele that expects Lissa to step into her grandmother’s role as Toronto’s premier koldun’ia (Russian witch). The role is unwanted but necessary: Many of the old lady’s spells stopped working when she died and Lissa may be the only person who can restore them.
The spell Maksim Volkov purchased kept the supernaturally enhanced man’s violent urges under control. Without the magic, Maksim gives in to bloodlust and licks the open wound of mugging victim Nick. Maksim is cognizant enough to realise that he has probably passed his curse on to the young man. Maksim and Lissa will have to find Nick before he becomes a danger to Toronto. If only Maksim had any idea as to who Nick is or where he lives… If only the price that Lissa will pay was not so high…
Doubtless I haven’t mentioned your favorite Toronto-based SFF book, so tell me about it in the comments.
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He was a finalist for the 2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo Award, is one of four candidates for the 2020 Down Under Fan Fund, and is surprisingly flammable.