“In a world where cities are personified and history hollows out their bones. What started with Paris Burning is now blazing out of control. Do not expect a happy ending.”
- caption on thecitysmith’s blog
Paris Burning is a Les Misérables fanfic written by thecitysmith. It imagines a universe in which all cities with a sufficient population and sense of group identity have near-immortal anthropomorphic personifications. Grantaire is the personification of Paris, driven by the accumulated trauma and bitterness of his long life to flee from his role as City and distract himself with drink. The fanfic became the seed for an expansive worldbuilding project by thecitysmith and fans of the story, involving headcanons about numerous Cities throughout the world and a plot dealing with the intense politics amongst Cities, the increasingly fraught relationship between the Cities and humankind, an uprising of vengeful Lost Cities, and an Eldritch Abomination or five.Paris Burning can be read here. The additional worldbuilding can be explored on thecitysmith’s blog and in the Paris Burning tag on tumblr.
Adorkable: Washington DC has a massive crush on Canberra and a tendency to pine in his diary.
London takes on shades of this in her romance with Lisbon.
Alternate Universe: Whilst obviously originally being a Les Mis AU, the City Verse is more of an AU of history itself.
Related to Atlantis and the Lost Cities: "Atlantis lives", "there's something in the water and it knows your name", "singing in the deep"
Related to the being in Antarctica: "join us", "lovely and (cold)"note (yes, the parentheses are part of the arc word)
Related the other Eldritch Abominations of the world: "praise them", "don't fall asleep"/"please wake up"
Others: "Capitals are not kind", "the Cities are getting angry", "Cities are good at keeping secrets"
Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Upon dying and/or losing their humans, if a City meets their fate with more love in their heart than hate, they may “Transcend” rather than becoming Lost. Not much information about Transcended Cities has been revealed, but they seem to have good intentions towards humankind.
Assimilation Plot: The mysterious being in Antarctica appears to have this intention.
Asskicking Equals Authority: Capital status is usually held by Cities who have won it in Silent Wars, which involve both social manipulation and combat. Part of the reason Planned Cities are frowned upon is because they attain authority without earning it through asskicking.
Atlantis: A major plot element. The legendary disaster was caused by the City of Atlantis himself, who wanted to wipe out his humans in order to be free of their control. Having succeeded in this, he decided to share his newfound freedom with his fellow Cities… and if they didn’t want it, he would just have to force them to accept it. For their own good, of course.
Bad Samaritan: Atlantis often positions himself to act as such to ghost Cities and others who seem close to the Despair Event Horizon, offering them a new life with renewed purpose, free from human influence. None of which he's actually lying about, but the agenda he asks them to serve is rather monstrous, and any City who refuses him had best be prepared to defend their decision with their life.
Break His Heart to Save Him: In order to maintain secrecy while infiltrating Atlantis' group, the members of Ocean's Eleven had to pretend to those outside the group that they were becoming Lost, thus breaking the hearts of their humans and their City friends and loved ones in order to help save the entire world.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Aberdeen, in her capacity as an MI6 contractor. Her apparent inability to speak a recognizable language leads people to talk carelessly in her presence; she also has a City's awareness of what goes on within her boundaries and considerable breaking-and-entering skills. This makes her a worthy hire despite her unintelligibility and general eccentricity (and her Cityhood, which would normally bar her from most employments not related to her own government).
Cast Full of Gay: A good number of the featured Cities so far are decidedly Not Straight or Not Cis.
The Cavalry: Arguably the team dubbed "Ocean's Eleven" - Alang note India, Bacolod note Philippines, Portsmouth note England, Galway note Ireland, Hamburg note Germany, Seattle note USA, San Juan note Puerto Rico, Cape Town note South Africa, Recife note Brazil and Maracaibo note Venezuela, plus Fukushima note Japan as Mission Control.
Crossover: thecitysmith and her followers sometimes engage in speculation about the Cities of other fictional universes. Examples may be found here.
Deader than Dead: Death is a multi-layered affair for Cities. Usually, if a City's humanoid body is killed, their Healing Factor allows them to recover within a few days. A City can die permanently if the city they personify is totally destroyed or abandoned, if their body is destroyed by fire (although Capitals can survive that if the physical city remains intact), if they suffer a bodily death in circumstances so traumatic that they don't want to recover, or if they stay outside the borders of their city for too long. In any case, a dead City continues to exist as a ghost and eventually passes through one of three "doors" that determine their future:
If the City wishes to remain in the world in order to avenge their death or otherwise cause harm to the living, they become Lost.
If the City wishes to remain in the world in order to help and protect the living, they Transcend.
Downer Ending: Unsurprising, since it's based on Les Misérables, but it's still pretty upsetting.
Dreaming of Things to Come: Sometimes experienced by Cities. Several examples are described in Paris Burning, and it was a dream that lead Paris/Grantaire to find Enjolras and his group.
Driven to Suicide: Pompeii threw herself into the volcano after a human lover was killed, causing the famous eruption. Her ghost was subsequently recruited by Atlantis.
Drop the Hammer: York starts off carrying a normal hammer that he uses in his work as a blacksmith; by the time he's killed several other Cities during a Silent War, it's grown into a warhammer that's nearly 1.5m long with a particularly vicious spike out the back of the head.
Dysfunction Junction: The lives of Cities are difficult, violent, and lonely. An entire cast of them pretty much inevitably falls into this.
Eldritch Abomination: Several of these inhabit the Paris Burning ‘verse, the most prominent of which so far is the being in Antarctica. The tag on thecitysmith’s blog for posts about the Antarctic thing is “join us”; posts about other abominations are tagged “praise him" or “praise them”.
Many human cultures regard Cities with wariness and seek to control their activities and/or expect them to be paragons of virtue and display perfect, selfless dedication to the needs of their inhabitants.
On the flip side, Cities tend not to regard humans as equals, although most are kindly disposed at least towards their own citizens. At the extreme end of things, there's Atlantis' faction, who regard humans as the irredeemable tormentors and enslavers of Cities and intend to wipe us out.
Within City culture, there's a prejudice against Planned Cities - those that were built as whole cities with a specific purpose rather than growing "naturally" from a small town.
Belmopan, capital of Belize, is a Planned City who thinks she and those like her are superior to "natural-born" Cities, although she doesn't seem to bear any active ill intent towards them.
Fisher King: While Cities are usually influenced by the state of their lands and people, the reverse is not unheard of. For example, in one chapter of Paris Burning a torrential rainfall is triggered by Paris' emotional turmoil.
Ghost Memory: New personifications of cities whose old personifications have died experience echoes of their predecessor's memories. Brighton experiences a similar phenomenon after absorbing Hove.
Gossipy Hens: All the Cities. Usually via text. Usually about Berlin and Portsmouth.
Happily Married: London and Lisbon considered themselves married after same-sex marriage was legalized in the UK, although given their differing nationalities and the legal complications of their Cityhood, it is unclear whether their union was legally formalized. They remained happily married until Lisbon found out that London had been keeping Paris' continued existence secret at the beginning of the Atlantis arc.
Healing Factor: All Cities are capable of quickly regenerating damaged body parts and reviving from lethal injuries. Capitals have a superior healing factor; while any City can recover from a temporary death within a few days, Capitals can heal instantly (unless the damage is caused by fire, to which all Cities are vulnerable). This is explained in greater detail on the blog here.
Several figures of Arthurian mythology were Cities. The King himself was Cardiff, disguised as a man so her presence on the battlefield wouldn't draw undue attention. Sir Gawain was Edinburgh, the Lady of the Lake was London bringing Cardiff a spare sword, and Merlin was a Transcended City named Avalon.
It’s implied that Washington DC assassinated JFK.
Plato'sHemocrates, a lost dialogue which would have contained details of the downfall of Atlantis, was suppressed by Athens to uphold the Cities' Treachery Cover Up.
"I’m just saying," Seattle held up his hands. "We’re working in the Atlantic Ocean. There are Eleven of us. Clearly, we should be Ocean’s Eleven." There was a chorus of groans. Alang punched Portsmouth's arm. "Ow! What was that for?" "Your language. Your fault I can understand that pun." "Fair enough," Portsmouth rubbed his arm.
Bath seems to be hoping to deliberately enact this trope. Plymouth objects.
Also discussed (in the tags) here, wherein an unidentified Breton City accuses St. Malo of trying to love-redeem Ys.
Magnificent Bastard: In-Universe example: London admired Henry V because she saw him as being one of these, and aspires to emulate his ruthlessness and political skills.
Mayfly-December Romance: Human-City romances invariably fall into this. Cities are said to prefer human partners who have established themselves as leaders or public figures of some sort, so that after the human shuffles off this mortal coil, the City will not be the only one to remember and admire their former partner.
My Grandson Myself: "Edinburgh ... turns up to battles to die heroically so he can turn up again in a few years to avenge his ‘father’. He thinks it’s very clever and that no one’s noticed. Everyone has noticed, they just haven’t mentioned."
Psychic Link: Cities are linked to their inhabitants. This leads to some troubling questions of free will, as Cities are highly susceptible to having their beliefs and opinions shaped by those of the majority of their people. The link goes both ways; a City’s emotional state may influence their people’s moods or dreams, and when a City is attacked their people may experience a psychic compulsion to protect or avenge them.
Scars Are Forever: Cities, despite their Healing Factor, can acquire permanent scars from events of particular emotional weight or historical significance. Scars may come from an injury to the City's human body or be symbolic of damage to the buildings or inhabitants of the physical city.
London keeps the secret that Paris is still alive after the events of Paris Burning.
Annapolis, Hong Kong, the Internet, and Cairo are Secret Keepers for Ocean's Eleven.
Species Loyalty: While Cities may fight amongst themselves for territory or Capitalhood, they all share a sense of solidarity in the face of the unique hardships and complexities of life as a City. There's a bit of a double standard arising from this: City-on-City violence in some circumstances is accepted as a fact of life, but any human who deliberately harms a City in any way is likely to face swift and violent retribution from fellow Cities.
The polar vortex that affected the Midwestern US and Canada in January of 2014 prompted many jokes and comments from readers attributing the cold to Antarctica’s Eldritch Abomination. (Turns out it was "actually" the result of a confrontation between Antarctica and another eldritch abomination who resides at the North Pole.)
About a month earlier, thecitysmith herself commented on storm surges in her native England, which in-universe could be signs of an immenent attack by the Lost Cities. The fourth wall will protect no one, not even the author.
Plymouth: "This isn’t one of your stories Bath, where, where true love conquers all. Where you have to be the heroine and put up with someone like him."
Time Abyss: Emphasized with the earliest African Cities.
Too Many Mouths: The Antarctic thing’s text messages often include smiley faces with two or more mouths :)) Some of them also have too many eyes.
Treachery Cover Up: After Atlantis' first war on humanity ended, the Cities who defeated him destroyed all records of the war and forbade any information about it from being shared with humans, presumably to prevent future human generations from judging all Cities by Atlantis' madness.
Wham Line: The final line of Paris Burning: "Down in the deep, Atlantis waited".
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Debate over what political and social rights Cities are entitled to, whether or not they have souls, and what their role in society ought to be has persisted throughout human history. Human attitudes towards seem to have grown more restrictive and demanding over time, and the growing frustration of many Cities with this issue is central to the narrative.
Who Shot JFK?: A City (implied to be Washington DC) did the deed, apparently to prevent the administration from implementing some policy that would have been detrimental to the welfare of the US Cities.
Would Hurt a Child: Most Cities would not hesitate to kill a Could-Be City (personification of a smaller town with the potential to grow into a City, usually childlike in appearance) if the Could-Be City is perceived as a threat to the full-fledged City's territory or status.
You Can't Go Home Again: Ocean's Eleven must force their humans to believe they have abandoned them, meaning that they cannot return to them.