I read a fantasy novel in the late 1980s or early '90s, I think, but I'm not sure if it was published at that time. There's a female secondary character (daughter? sister?) who lives on the roof of a tenement building because she has tuberculosis, and the cold air aids her respiration.

There are several 'witches' who use the power of the menstruum to give them power to enact their nefarious deeds, and this power is thwarted by the protagonist, of whom I have no recollection. There are several instances where the story shifts to locations in the Catskills, Adirondacks, or otherwise mountainous locations north of NYC (or Knickerbocker,) where an almost Lovecraftian (degenerate?, low-intelligence?, faerie?) race of humans live in isolated hamlets.

Any help identifying the story would set my mind at ease, as I have a clear recollection of reading and being enthralled by the story, but I can't remember more details. The witches, the girl on the roof, and the mountain locations & people are the only things I remember.

  • 1
    Do you recall whether the protagonist was male or female? Commented Apr 30, 2022 at 19:01
  • Lin Carter's (deservedly) obscure Zarkon series is set in a city called Knickerbocker that is obviously New York, but it doesn't fit the rest of the description. Commented May 1, 2022 at 4:47

1 Answer 1


Some elements of your description fit "Winter's Tale", a 1983 novel by Mark Helprin and one of my all-time favorites. Other elements are wildly off. So either you've conflated multiple books, you've mangled part of the plot, or this isn't the tale you are looking for. Highly recommended in either case.

Brief synopsis: The action takes place in both New York City and a fictional "Lake of the Coheeries". A hefty dose of magical realism colors scenes in both places. A major thread tying things together is the life of Peter Lake, who we follow first as a young man in the late 1800s. Peter disappears for 30 years or so. When he reappears in NYC (still apparently a young man) he gets involved with a group of people supporting a mayoral candidate whose family turns out to be related to people Peter knew from the Coheeries decades earlier.

What fits:

  • Fictionalized New York in late 1800s + early 1900s
  • Beverley Penn (Peter Lake falls in love with her) is the tubercular daughter of a newspaper tycoon. She lives in a room on top of her father's mansion, keeping it cold, as you say, to aid her breathing.
  • The Penns have a family retreat in a mysterious area upstate. In the words of the Wikipedia entry:

Lake of the Coheeries is a semi-mythical lake and village, playing the role of Faerie, Elfland, or Alfheim. Lake of the Coheeries is fictional, supposedly located in upstate New York across a mountain range from the Hudson River Valley. Virginia Gamely is a resident there, living with her mother, Mrs. Gamely. Both women ultimately play roles in New York City at the end of the tale. Virginia's daughter is resurrected by Peter Lake.

  • I don't think Sarah Gamely can be called a witch, but she does at one point produce a poultice with mysterious healing powers.
  • Peter Lake, the protagonist, is harried periodically by a gang called the Short Tails. The scenes in which they appear are rather surreal, as in magical realism, and their description made me think of imps or goblins. It was never clear exactly what they were after or where they came from.

What doesn't fit:

  • Beverley lived in a mansion, not a tenement.
  • No witches.
  • No nefarious deeds by anyone that I can recall. Certainly not by witches.
  • The city is not named "Knickerbocker"
  • 1
    And several instances of knickers, but no knickerbockers
    – Valorum
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 7:28
  • I've downloaded the Kindle version and will start reading it. After thinking more about the story, I remember a kind of 5 Points neighborhood in Manhattan and Gangs of New York story line, which fits your description.
    – IconDaemon
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 19:47
  • Thank you, Ethan. This is indeed the story I've been looking for.
    – IconDaemon
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 18:50

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