Spira City / Paris Revisited

More than twenty years ago, I spent several strange weeks in Paris (some of that story told here). It was the site of my first big escape, the most perfect freedom I’ve ever known, and my introduction to capital-A Art.

Years later, when I started writing a story about a vanishing girl spy with a knife in her boot unwittingly caught up in a conflict between immortal siblings that puts everyone and everything she cares about at stake, I set the story in a wintry alterna-Paris that I called Spira City. The third and final book in the trilogy, JULIA UNBOUND, is out today (!!!) and in it Julia & co. return to Spira City.

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I was in Paris for a week this summer, thinking about the ways in which I used the city as a loose template for Spira City and the ways in which I chickened out (as I see it now), making Spira City its own thing, only loosely mapping onto the real Paris. Now I wish I’d been more shameless about the homage, but here are a few Spira / Paris overlaps.


Cyrambel Temple does a lot of looming in both JULIA VANISHES and JULIA UNBOUND and it is completely meant to be the gothic, gorgeous Notre Dame Cathedral. In the first book, after breaking up with her cheating lover, about to go and do a terrible, series-defining (heh) THING that her employer has trapped her into, Julia pauses in the shadow of Cyrambel Temple to gather herself back together and push her fears and emotions aside.


The river Syne plays a huge role in the books. Here is a tour boat plying the Seine, but in Spira City, the river is where witches are drowned – tossed off government barges in chains. There is the palace on the left, which Julia infiltrates in JULIA UNBOUND, double-agent-style, reporting to both Casimir and the revolutionary leaders. It’s also the setting for one of my favorite scenes in the third book, when a spell causes the river to boil and spit out the bleached bones of witches.

IMG_5424The Marais is quite a posh area now, but it has had its seedy periods, and the Twist was meant to be a seedy-but-still-lively version of this part of Paris. Fitch Square and Esme’s building are a very run-down version of the beautiful Places des Vosges. See Wyn’s attic window up there on the left?

IMG_5073Take away the cars and TV antennas – replace them with electric hackneys – and this could be a street in the Scola, based loosely on the artsy Left Bank in the early 20th Century. (I replaced the Eiffel Tower with a university).

IMG_5107One of the broad cobbled streets of Mount Heriot, home to many of Spira City’s religious dissidents – and based on beautiful Montmartre.

White-domed Capriss Temple, topping Mount Heriot, is, of course, Sacre Coeur:


I loved introducing Paris to my kids. The city holds so many memories for me, both real and fictional. Here is Kid1, trying to demonstrate that no wall is too high or smooth to be climbed. He reminds me a little too much of Julia some days…




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