There is something about urban fantasy that takes place in a city well-known to the reader that adds a level of charm and attraction. The Toronto setting of The Tenants of 7C was a bonus for me, but even without knowing the Kensington Market district, this is a delightful collection of connected short stories.
Above the Heaven & Earth Bakery, in an obscure back alley, the tenants of apartment 7C are an eclectic mixture of decidedly non-human characters: a young werewolf, a Japanese demon, and a very young satyr. They share the rooms of 7C: rooms that aren’t in the same dimension as the actual building, and frequently don’t stay in one place. The bakery itself isn’t really meant for humans either, its breads and cinnamon rolls providing sustenance to a wide range of supernatural creatures. How these three co-exist and survive in a their dual world, both with other “others” and with humans are the central conflict of each story.
While in some ways reminiscent of Charles deLint’s books, especially his early work set in Ottawa, The Tenants of 7C focuses on the lives of the ‘others’, not the lives of humans who interact with them. The characters of the werewolf Nick, Takehiko, the Japanese demon, and Yiannis, the satyr child, are not just stereotypes, but dimensioned individuals whose personalities develop over the collection. Nick, who is the protagonist, is especially well-realized, completely believable as a seventeen-year old who doesn’t fit in but is doing his best to manage his life, attending an alternative high-school, worried about his relationship with his parents, wishing his life were easier. It’s just that his problems, unlike most troubled adolescents, involve him turning into a wolf.
Degan’s writing is polished and competent and the tone and structure fits the action and mood of each story appropriately. She can switch the mood from light-hearted or contemplative to frightening in a few sentences, and uses enough manga, gaming and Doctor Who connections to make the stories attractive to a young adult/new adult audience (I verified this with a early-twenties friend), but the stories are also deeply rooted in, and consistent with, older traditions of fantasy. Degan blends these strands of different fantasy genres and traditions well, not an easy feat.
I had only a couple of niggles. Because the stories in The Tenants of 7C are not a linear narrative, but rather vignettes and episodes in a larger world-under-construction, there are some loose ends, sub-plots that arise but are not completed in this volume, and some inconsistencies. I wanted to know what happened in those subplots and to those characters that are introduced but disappear. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the next book!
Overall, 4 stars. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy, The Tenants of 7C is definitely worth your time.