When Beth Bradley, graffiti artist, born fighter, is betrayed by her closest friend, Pen, she runs from school and home into another London altogether. Aboard a train that is no train at all, Beth inadvertently saves the life of Filius Viae, the prince of London, son of its mother goddess, a boy with cement-coloured skin who can call any part of the city home. Both Fil and Beth are, to all intents and purposes, parentless and each finds him or herself drawn to the other. It’s just as well – Reach, an ancient enemy who lives in the cranes that surround St Paul’s, is awake for the first time in centuries. With no sign of London’s Mother Goddess, Mater Viae, there is no-one but her son, and now Beth, to put the monster back to sleep. It will take all of their courage and ingenuity to call the goddess’s priests and soldiers to arms.
There is no synopsis that can even attempt to do justice to the wonders and treats that you will find within the pages of The City’s Son. From the very beginning it transported me to a London and world that spoke to me, reminding me of my childhood fantasies about this ancient city, presenting me with its secret tunnels, monster cranes, dancing broken lights, the mirror of the Thames, the Gothic graveyards and littered alleys, its enormous glass towers and its ruinous brick monuments. But Tom Pollock’s imagination soars even higher. There is not a chapter in this book that didn’t captivate me, as adventure follows adventure for Fil and Beth, both fabulous heroes, contemporary but timeless.
But quite apart from the incredible sights and ‘people’ that we encounter through Beth and Fil, a great strength of this wonderful novel is its superb, sympathetic and deft handling of some very large themes – parenthood, friendship, same-sex love, opposite-sex love, desire, abuse and grief. The City’s Son is Young Adult and some of the issues handled would resonate with many youngsters. I would argue, though, that as with any novel that excels, The City’s Son has a much broader appeal and defies such labels. It most definitely has much to offer older readers.
No punches are pulled – there’s swearing, torture and extreme pain and loss within these pages. The heartstrings aren’t spared either. Pollock has given us three characters that it’s impossible not to care deeply for – Beth, Fil and Pen – but you’ll care for others. For me, Beth’s father especially stands out but so too do the stone priests who, once killed, are reborn as newborn babes encased once more in stone, never to know a human touch. This is a book that appeals as much to the heart as it does to the head.
With the final book in the trilogy published this August, I was glad of the opportunity to start and complete the three books in one go, rather than having to wait for a year between each. I had no idea, though, that I would be so captivated by The City’s Son and Tom Pollock’s extraordinary vision and style that I would read all three one after another without pause. I read The City’s Son over 24 hours, grabbing every moment with it I could. I loved every page and as soon as I finished it I began (and soon finished) the equally marvellous The Glass Republic. I am addicted. Outstanding work from Tom Pollock.