Tag Archives: Urban fantasy

The Stranger Times by CK McDonnell

Bantam Press | 2021 (14 January) | 415p | Review copy | Buy the book

Hannah Willis has got all sorts of problems since leaving her husband, home and privileged life behind – not that she regrets it – and now, for the first time in her life, she needs to find a job. Apparently her qualifications, of which she has none, are perfect for The Stranger Times and, after a particularly peculiar interview, finds herself appointed as the assistant editor of this Manchester paper. Of course, this means she has to work for Vincent Bancroft, the Editor, one of the most obnoxious and unstable people you could meet, who has fallen on bad times and would like to take it out on anyone he meets and especially those he employs.

But this is no ordinary paper. Its unusual band of reporters are on the look out for the strange and unexplainable – whether it’s a haunted toilet or a dog that was eaten by homework. But even they aren’t ready for Moretti, a very short American who has just arrived in Manchester, who leaves behind him a trail of deaths, murder, misery and pure evil. Sometimes the monsters are real.

The Stranger Times has such a great premise – as well as being a really attractive hardback – and I couldn’t wait to read it. CK McDonnell is such a witty writer. He’s also a good observer of people and it’s the people that really give this novel its colour and shine. The focus is largely on the paper’s employees. I particularly liked Reggie, a well-mannered rather posh gentle man, who, on the rare occasions when he’s riled, comes out as the Scouser he presumably once once. But each of the characters has a story that makes reading about them entertaining, and also rather touching. Stella, the office girl or lost waif, is so well drawn. Hannah is the main character and carries the story well as she looks on with bemusement while being very ready to roll up her sleeves and get on with it.

Manchester is such a fantastic location and is a character in all its own right. I spent my teenage years near the place (in the glory days of the Hacienda) and I loved the reminder of familiar names and places. It’s a great city and I think that’s captured. It’s full of life but there’s also an undercurrent, a potential mythology to it, every bit as much as there is to London, and it’s good to see the novel is set away from the capitol.

The Stranger Times is undoubtedly a very entertaining read. I loved the extracts from the newspaper’s pages that can be found scattered throughout. I laughed a great deal. I must admit, though, that the urban fantasy, and the horror, at the heart of the novel doesn’t feel particularly innovative or new. My main issue, though, is the character of Vincent Bancroft. A reviewer on the back of the book mentions Mick Herron and I did find that Bancroft was just too similar to Jackson Lamb. I’m a huge fan of Lamb and so I did have trouble getting past this. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the laughs that The Stranger Times gave me and I became very fond of Hannah and Stella. And I loved spending time in Manchester again.

A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon

Angry Robot | 2017 (3 August) | 384p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

A Man of Shadows by Jeff NoonWithin the world lies a very strange city indeed, concealed by a dome. Almost half of it is called Dayzone, where endless bright lamps reproduce hot sunlight for every hour of the day. Connected to it by train is its opposite – the endless night of Nocturna. But, to travel between the two, the train must pass through an area of fog and permanent gloom called Dusk and therein lives the unexplained and the terrifying. As if all of this weren’t strange enough, the whole city has turned its back on the linear time of the outside world. Hundreds, if not thousands, of timelines co-exist, many available to be bought, and they mean that the inhabitants of Dayzone and Nocturna move from timeline to timeline, often obsessed with their watches and clocks. Never has the question ‘what’s the time?’ seemed so vital and yet also such a waste of time.

Moving between the timelines is a feared killer called Quicksilver, managing to commit murder in broad faked daylight, sometimes in front of an unsuspecting audience. Private detective John Nyquist has taken on the case of a runaway wealthy young woman Eleanor but he’s soon sure that there are links with Quicksilver. His pursuit of Eleanor takes him not only across Dayzone and Nocturna but also into the place he dreads the most, Dusk, and even to the very edges of his sanity. And all the time, all of the times, he has that feeling that he’s being watched and judged.

A Man of Shadows is a quite extraordinary novel. Its world building is absolutely fantastic – intricate, complex, moody and disturbingly real. The movement between timelines means that John Nyquist rarely sleeps and you can strongly sense his extreme fatigue as the hours pass. People who become too time-obsessed almost literally lose their minds and you know that Nyquist is well on the way to this state. It gives his task an extra urgency and desperation.

Dayzone and Nocturna are brilliantly visualised and would have been sufficiently impressive on their own but the skill of Jeff Noon astounds even further with his treatment of time. I found myself wondering why anybody would chose to live such an existence, what its appeal might be. Many of the inhabitants of this city have almost a euphoria about them as they defy the restrictions of a conventional life but others are clearly damaged by it. This is a book that makes you think as you read it. It is extremely clever.

We never see the world beyond the city, although occasionally characters are nostalgic for a sight of the real sun or the real stars. The city itself has a 1950s’ feel to it, just as the mystery element of the novel is detective noir. Now and again we’re given extracts from guidebooks which tell us a little of the background to Dayzone, Nocturna and Dusk, but generally we experience it all through the increasingly fraught mind of John Nyquist. This can be claustrophobic at times and there is also chaos and confusion. It is certainly atmospheric.

In the final third of the novel, the mystery inevitably takes us into Dusk, and what a frightening place this is. I must admit that I did become a little lost during this section as it becomes increasingly surreal and fantastical. Throw in some mind bending drugs and you get an idea of the state of Nyquist’s mind during this phase of his hunt. It’s hugely disturbing. Personally, and this is probably because I’m more of a science fiction reader than a fantasy reader, I enjoyed more the majority of the novel which portrays so brilliantly life in a world of endless day or endless night, in which time is a force to be controlled, manipulated and even sold. And all the time, outside the city lies the ‘real’ world, out of reach in so many ways to a man such as John Nyquist.

I was completely absorbed by A Man of Shadows and deeply impressed by the skill and imagination of this author. This is the first novel I’ve read by Jeff Noon and I’m not sure why that is – there are such big ideas here that provide an unusual and quirky perspective on our own lives. I love a book that makes me think while also entertaining me and A Man of Shadows does just that.

I love the cover – it really contributes to the mood of 1940s’ and 1950s’ detective noir in an extraordinary environment.

Happy New Year and Book Review of 2014 part 3 – The Oldies and Completed Trilogies

Happy New Year!

I hope you all had a good year’s reading in 2014 and are now busily erecting your 2015 TBR piles. Mine is already happily teetering. I finished my GoodReads Reading Challenge for 2014 on 156 books and have now set my 2015 target as 116. I don’t want to set it too high, mostly because I don’t want to be frightened by it. I’m easily intimidated. But I do have a few reading resolutions for 2015.

Firstly, I want to read more books that I might not have considered reading a few years ago. I want to expand my reading. Not at the cost of historical fiction and science fiction, which are my own true loves, but in addition to those. I dabbled a bit in fantasy novels in 2014, I even read a couple of psychological thrillers. I discovered that not only did I survive the experience but I also enjoyed it. I’m not saying I’m going to be picking up a book with elves in it anytime soon but I’ve learned not to pigeonhole genres quite as much as I did. There is a lot more to fantasy fiction than elves and dragons and I have also learned that crime fiction is much more varied than I imagined. Not that I know much about what I’m talking about, I’m a newbie in these worlds. I’m not going overboard, though. I want to focus as always on science fiction and historical fiction, with a few thrillers thrown into the mix.

Secondly, I’ll continue to read older books. I enjoy new books enormously but I’m always trying to catch up with the backlists of favourite authors and new writers that I discover. I didn’t manage to review every book I read in 2014 but I will continue trying to review everything, whether it’s a review copy or a bought book. My reading is probably divided half and half between the two and I like that.

Thirdly, I’m going to enforce my 100 page rule. If a book hasn’t grabbed me by page 101 then it’s going to get discarded. I pick up every book with the intention and desire of finishing it, I hate giving up, but some books just aren’t made for me and I don’t want to spend too long finding that out. I’m going to be tough! Hopefully…

Fourthly, I’m considering making some minor changes to the blog as it’s now coming up to four years old. My emphasis is and always will be on reviews but I would like to chat more with you about books, so I’m envisioning some kind of monthly review and preview post, but I’m still thinking this through.

Book Review of 2014 – The Oldies

So before I get on with 2015 reviews – and I already have a big backlog because I don’t like to review books until the year they’re published (which is awkward as most of them are published today) – here’s my final Book Review of 2014. This time I want to highlight some of the fantastic older books I’ve read over the last twelve months as well as the authors I’ve binged on. I’ll also include here a couple of trilogies which were completed in 2014 but which I read in their entirety one after another during the last twelve months.

The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. HamiltonPeter F. Hamilton – The Night’s Dawn Trilogy
In the early months of 2014 I read and adored Peter F. Hamilton’s masterpiece, The Night’s Dawn Trilogy. Well over 3000 pages in total, this series isn’t just mindboggling, rich and extraordinary in every single way, it’s also large enough to form a piece of furniture. I live in a tiny flat and actually got rid of a lamp table so that I could keep these three books. Brilliant to read and also functional. Without doubt, this is my favourite trilogy and my reading highlight of 2014. The reviews are here: The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist and The Naked God. I also got to meet Peter F. Hamilton in 2014! Amazingly, I wasn’t reduced to a blubbering wreck. I even managed to ask him a relatively coherent question.

The Terror by Dan SimmonsDan Simmons
After reading The Abominable in 2013, I realised that I needed to read much more Dan Simmons. As a writer, he intrigues me. He has produced enormously atmospheric and chilly books about the world’s most inhospitable environments and he has also written powerful and imaginative – and still chilly – science fiction. In 2014, I dabbled with both. Firstly, I read Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t manage to review these. I think I felt a little not up to the challenge. But these stories of spacefaring pilgrims and the absolutely terrifying shrike that each must encounter were mesmerising. Each of the tales in Hyperion were memorable and shocking, packed with twists and ideas that took my breath away. The story of Rachel Weintraub is not one I’ll ever forget. Later in the year I read The Terror, another classic novel, bringing to life the awful and harrowing Franklin Expedition into the Arctic in the middle of the 19th century. A substantial book, it is as moving and exciting as it is long. It is also more than a little frightening as the men seek to keep ahead of whatever it is that stalks them on the ice. The review is here.

Absolution Gap by Alastair ReynoldsAlastair Reynolds
Since reading Blue Remembered Earth and its sequel On the Steel Breeze, Alastair Reynolds has become one of my very favourite authors. In 2013, I read and loved Pushing Ice, one of my top science fiction books, and in 2014 I returned to the Revelation Space trilogy, finishing it with Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap. As it happened, Absolution Gap turned into one of my top reads of 2014. Full of enormous ideas, gorgeous views over strange worlds and fascinating characters, it was an immensely rewarding read, quite often tragic and even humorous in unusual ways. I also read House of Suns in 2014. I have yet to review this but it was an outstanding SF read, containing one scene in particular (and if you’ve read it I think you’ll know which one) which I can never forget. I have more Reynolds’ novels in the TBR pile and in 2015, I look forward to reading more by this wonderful author whose imagination is irresistible.

The Last Policeman by Ben H. WintersThe Last Policeman trilogy by Ben H. Winters
I discovered this series in the GoodReads top reads of 2014 poll. I couldn’t believe that I’d missed it – an apocalyptic trilogy that is extraordinarily rich in character, featuring the deeply sympathetic figure of police detective Hank Palace. Hank isn’t your typical hero – he is obsessive, quirky, pernickity but he is immensely likeable, loyal and determined. With the world collapsing around him in the face of an increasingly imminent asteroid strike Hank cannot let justice die. He is indeed The Last Policeman. The three novels become more and more intense as things shift towards the end. The books are packed with action and emotion, hopes and fears. It all felt frighteningly real and I was so desperate to learn what would happen to Hank and his friends and family that I read all three books one after another. A huge reading highlight of 2014. The reviews are here: The Last Policeman, Countdown City, World of Trouble.

The City's Son by Tom PollockThe Skyscraper Throne trilogy by Tom Pollock
Another trilogy that I read back to back in 2014 was the urban fantasy Skyscraper Throne set of books by Tom Pollock. This was probably my first foray into urban fantasy and I discovered that I really enjoyed the mix of the recognisably real and the fantastic that is concealed beneath, whether it’s in an underground tunnel, in a streetlight, in a statue, or in the reflections of a mirror. Tom Pollock made me look at London, a city I lived in for years, in a completely different way and I loved what I found. It’s frightening, it really is, but it is also beautiful and rich. I was captivated instantly by The City’s Son, the novel that introduces us to graffiti artist Beth. 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. And then that fabulous story is rivaled, if not even surpassed, by the story of Pen in The Glass Republic. The trilogy concluded during 2014 with the tumultuous and completely satisfying Our Lady of the Streets. This trilogy was one which I would never have thought before that I would enjoy but how wrong I was. Tom Pollock is one of those authors who’s given me a welcome nudge to look outside the expected for my reads.

The Golem and the Djinni by Helen WeckerThe Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
Another book destined to expand my reading was one of the very first novels I read in 2014 and it stood out throughout the rest of the year – The Golem and the Djinni. It is 1899 and immigration to New York City is at its height. Not all newcomers, though, are as they seem. Chava is a golem. A creature made from clay, life breathed in to her through spells, binding her to the man who wakes her. But upon being woken aboard the ship sailing from the old world her husband dies, leaving her as alone as one ever could be in a foreign world. On docking, she jumps into the sea and walks to the city underneath the water, dragging seaweed wrapped round her boots. She finds refuge of a sort with a kindly, elderly rabbi and she becomes part of the New York Jewish community, endlessly working, baking and sewing, never needing to sleep or eat, quietly searching for a purpose. Across the city, Ahmad awakes. He is a creature of fire, a djinni born in the Syrian desert hundreds and hundreds of years before, able to take many forms, but trapped in a brass flask by a wizard of immense evil powers. Ahmad is freed from the flask by a metalworker but an iron band around his wrist enslaves him in human form. He works for the metalworker, heating the metal with his bare hands, becoming a part of the Christian community of New York. Ahmad also never sleeps, instead he explores by night this magical city, protecting himself with an umbrella from the rain that would quench his spirit. The Golem and the Djinni is a remarkable novel, haunting and mesmerising with the most beautiful prose and alive with perfectly drawn characters, including the character of New York City itself. What a place it would have seemed to the immigrants of the earliest 20th century, and its strangeness and wonder is intensified as we witness it through the eyes and experiences of two beings from another world entirely.

The Lion and the Lamb by John Henry ClayThe Lion and the Lamb by John Henry Clay
The Lion and the Lamb is one of my favourite historical fiction reads of 2014 and I was very annoyed that I left it so long. I think the main reason for the delay is that it’s set in late Roman Britain, a time which didn’t particularly interest me. I was so wrong. After reading this novel, this period of transformation has now become one of my favourites. This is a fabulous book, not least because it features strong female characters alongside the men and takes a fascinating look at the development of the early Christian church in Britain and its relationship to the other religions beloved by the Romans. I also loved how it brought familiar Roman sites in Britain, such as Chedworth, to life. The novel tours the country, from Hadrian’s Wall and beyond to the south and this adds so much to its depiction of this time and place.

Gaius Cironius Agnus Paulus is a prince of the Dobunni, son of a senator of Rome, a man truly privileged in these declining decades of Roman rule in Britain. But in AD 362 Paul is trapped in a stream, naked with a sword at his throat, ready to accept his fate as punishment for what he has become – a banished son and brother, a sinner, whose life is forfeit. But when Paul is saved by a peasant, Victor, the two are given a fresh start, discovering new lives in the most desperate and unlikely of circumstances. They are pressganged into the Roman army and are sent north to Hadrian’s Wall and beyond. The depleted and ill-provisioned forces are expecting trouble and they get it. The Picts and the other northern tribes are joining together, ready to take on Rome. The threat, though, doesn’t come from the north alone. The longer Paul fights on the edge of empire, the more he learns about the other dangers facing Roman Britain. There comes a point when Paul must weigh up the fear of returning home to the southern hills against his need to save his family. This alone would make The Lion and the Lamb a potentially gripping novel but there is so much more to it than that.

Doomsday Book by Connie WillisDoomsday Book by Connie Willis
Last but not least, I wanted to include Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, a novel that managed to both infuriate and captivate me. Written at a time when it was easier to foresee time travel than mobile phones, it combines the most memerising account of a young woman’s journey back to plague-stricken Oxfordshire in the mid 14th century with the frustrating account of the struggle of those she left behind in a near-future Oxford to bring her back. But those frustrations count as nothing once you reach the incredible and spellbinding final third of the novel. What Kivrin, the woman from the future, experiences is almost beyond imagining. The dialogue and prose is wonderful and real. The people Kivrin meets have such power and authenticity. The priest Roche is an outstanding character and the way we learn about him through Kivrin’s experiences is crafted beautifully. The young child Agnes is a delight. I can’t think of another child in a modern novel I’ve loved as much. She’s so real. And over time Kivrin herself is transformed in the most remarkable way. As she says at one point, despite it all she never would have wished not to have come. An extraordinary read that wiped me out emotionally for quite some time. I love books that can do that.

So there we have it – the final Book Review of 2014 post, which means that now I can look ahead to some of the wonderful books 2015 holds in store, many of which I don’t yet know about – exciting! There are lots of books published today, 1 January, that I can recommend but haven’t reviewed yet. These include Empire (The Chronicles of the Invaders 2) by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, another late Roman Britain novel War at the Edge of the World by Ian Ross and the follow up to Red Rising, Golden Son by Pierce Brown. If Golden Son doesn’t feature as one of my ten best reads of 2015, I’ll be very surprised. 2015 is starting very well on the bookreading front – long may it continue! Happy New Year!

Our Lady of the Streets by Tom Pollock (The Skyscraper Throne 3)

Publisher: Jo Fletcher
Pages: 438
Year: 2014 (7 August)
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

Our Lady of the Streets by Tom PollockReview
Our Lady of the Streets is the final novel in Tom Pollock’s urban fantasy trilogy. I would advise you to tread no further if you don’t want to hear spoilers for The City’s Son and The Glass Republic.

London is ill, disease is spreading through its streets with the most frightening of symptoms – people are sealed up within houses that suddenly lose all windows and doors, their screams heard for a short while before whole streets become silent graves of brick; fire rages through other neighbourhoods, burning everyone and everything with a ferocious, unnatural heat. Mater Vitae has returned from London-Under-Glass, a reflected city, a reflected goddess, to reclaim her skyscraper throne. But her arrival has triggered war and among its casualties is Beth, our heroine, who is slowly becoming as one with the streets and so she too is sickening, becoming weaker by the day though never has the need for strength been more important.

Pen, the heart and soul of The Glass Republic, continues to search for her Steeplejill, caught on the other side of the mirror, but as her own London becomes increasingly threatened Pen makes a great sacrifice to pull the danger out of the city. Pen’s sacrifice isn’t the only one – Our Lady of the Streets is full of bravery, honour, risk and tragedy. The stakes are high, no less than the life of London itself, and the cost is enormous for all of the souls that we have grown to care about over the course of this powerful and striking trilogy.

The Skyscraper Throne trilogy is quite an achievement, to put it mildly. The City’s Son, the first of the three was such a tour de force that I was compelled to read the entire trilogy one after another – a very rare thing for me. I am delighted, although not surprised, to report that Our Lady of the Streets is every bit as excellent as I hoped, providing a fitting conclusion to the series and to the whole drama. It stays true to the characters of Beth and Pen, continuing to develop their characters while bringing their stories to a height and then to a fitting close. As before, Pollock continues to pull no punches – there is blood, death and intense suffering. Some characters that we have grown to love perish with barely a sound, lost among the victims of this great assault, and this leads to some heartbreaking moments and not just for the other characters either.

The worldbuilding is as strong as ever, breathing life and heart into the buildings and monuments, just as Beth is herself transformed. The story moves through the streets, over rooftops, through shops and tunnels, so many inhabited by creatures that most dwellers of London would never see, as events unfold towards the explosive conclusion.

All three books are thrilling but along with the action they also have a great deal of heart and fire, the characters always as important as the action. Tom Pollock’s portrait of London is extraordinary and I’ll never look at the city – its statues, cemeteries, tubes, cranes or glass towers – in the same way again. That’s quite a gift the author has given us.

Other reviews
The City’s Son
The Glass Republic

Also see reviews at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm and A Fantastical Librarian

The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock (The Skyscraper Throne 2)

Publisher: Jo Fletcher
Pages: 439
Year: 2013, Pb 2014 (31 July)
Buy: Paperback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

The Glass Republic by Tom PollockReview
The Glass Republic is the second of The Skyscraper Throne trilogy and so do be warned that the review below may include spoilers for the first, the marvellous The City’s Son (review here).

Pen is scarred from recent events, not just physically but psychologically. With closest friend Beth now more absent than present, Pen is back at school on her own, having to endure the curious eyes and unkind words of the bullies. Her scars make Pen stand out, fascinating her peers, but it’s not kindness that draws the bullies to her and so Pen takes comfort in solitude, finding secret places of the school, where she can be calm. One such place has a mirror and it is through these mirrors that Pen is thrown back into the fantastical London that so nearly killed her. Pen’s reflection is alive, caught in London-Under-Glass, the other London, reflected through the mirrors, and the reflection (Parva) has become a sister to her original. One day Pen must watch as Parva is dragged out of her view, leaving behind a bloody handprint on the reflected floor. There is nothing that Pen won’t do, or bargain, to follow Parva through the mirror into this other London, to save her sister, whatever the cost. The price that she must pay for the potion to cross worlds is heartbreaking.

The Glass Republic is the sequel to The City’s Son but despite its many connections it is such an ingeniously different and original novel. For much of this second book, we are with Pen in City-Under-Glass giving author Tom Pollock the perfect opportunity to let his wonderful imagination soar. From Pen’s dramatic arrival in the distorted city, to the rich and detailed building of a world populated by the strangest of people, to the thoroughly exciting and tense conclusion, setting the stage perfectly for the trilogy’s finale, The Glass Republic is magnificent.

There are plenty of jaw-dropping moments, as in the first novel, and the descriptions of the stretched, elongated London with its half-faced or no-faced inhabitants are memorable – the ids that are used to complete the missing sections of a reflected face manage to be both cleverly horrible and tragic at the same time. But also just like The City’s Son, there is much that is painful. The relationship between Pen and her steeplejill is beautiful and delicate, as is the character of Pen herself. There are old favourites to enjoy here, too, my personal favourites being the understandably bad tempered stone priests

There is far less Beth than Pen in The Glass Republic but it doesn’t matter – these novels complement each other as they prepare for Our Lady of the Streets and the conclusion. The perspectives continue to shift and the themes continue to be powerful – perceptions of beauty and ugliness, fitting in, love, desire and fear, loss, parenthood and sisterhood. Again these are all themes that would speak to a teenage readership but they speak just as loudly to me. Tom Pollock should be proud of what he’s achieved with Pen. Middle novels aren’t always the easiest to read in a trilogy but Tom has done great things here, creating a novel that is at least the equal of its predecessor while pointing clearly and most tantalisingly towards the conclusion. That conclusion, Our Lady of the Streets, is published on 7 August – this is the perfect time to catch up with this outstanding sequence of novels.

Other review
The City’s Son (The Skyscraper Throne 1)

The City’s Son by Tom Pollock (The Skyscraper Throne 1)

Publisher: Jo Fletcher
Pages: 454
Year: 2012, Pb 2013
Buy: Paperback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

The City's Son by Tom PollockReview
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.

The Waking Machine by David Edison

Publisher: Tor Books
Pages: 396
Year: 2014
Buy: Hardback
Source: Review copy

The Waking Engine by David EdisonReview
The City Unspoken is the place where the dead come to die. After centuries, longer even, of death and rebirth on different worlds, all humanity, Earthborn or otherwise, ends their days in the City Unspoken. When Cooper, late of New York City, wakes in the city he is taken under the wing of Sesstri and Asher, two long-lived beings who are looking for a miracle worker. The pilgrims who come to the City Unspoken to die are no longer dying. Instead, they are causing a flood that threatens to overwhelm the land. Cooper has that rarest of things – a belly button – making him stand out from all others who wake in the city. Sesstri and Asher latch on to him but they do so rather carelessly and so Cooper is mostly left to his own dangerous devices, exploring the city and the men and women, gods, angels and demons who walk and haunt this unfamiliar world.

Cooper’s story isn’t the only one. Next to the city is a Dome, the home of the aristocrats. These glamorous men and women have been sealed into their glittering prison, their souls bound to their bodies by witchcraft. The result is that the merest affront to etiquette is met with swords and dismemberment. But nothing can prevent these merciless beautiful monsters from being endlessly reborn encased in the same bodies. But as The Waking Machine opens, the Dome’s ruler has vanished while a killer is loose, inflicting actual Death on the inhabitants. As the novel continues it becomes more and more likely that all these events, and much, much more, may be tied together and Cooper might just have the answer.

The Waking Engine is an extraordinary novel, a compelling urban fantasy, full of layers of wonder. There are so many memorable characters, not least a witch-like queen who is more machine than flesh, who is powered my little mechanical devices fuelled by impaled fairies. In other scenes, there is a daughter who every day tortures to death her long-suffering (literally), long-loving father. Along with the pilgrims who arrive in the city to die, there are those who are tied to it – the three types of whore, the devil-worshippers who prey on those who are thrilled by the promise of death, and those who visit the temple to cast off their religion. There is also the fun of discovering souls from history, most notably, for me, Cleopatra.

I’m not a big reader of fantasy, including urban fantasy, and so I wasn’t sure if The Waking Engine would suit me but its first half completely beguiled me. There are so many ideas and images flying around, I was caught up in them. The novel has a great premise and the worldbuilding lives up to it. However, as the novel continued it began to leave me behind. It is such an ambitious story that I found that there was far too much going on, too many main characters for the pages and so many surreal episodes that I lost my grip on it. A little more organisation would have gone a long way. Perhaps more importantly, I began to lose interest in Cooper. He might be the main character but he had too much competition for my attention and his story was arguably the least interesting of them all.

David Edison is clearly an interesting writer, with an imagination that flies, and the power to ensnare his reader in a beautifully-visualised world. I look forward to seeing where he goes from here as there is much to build on. It is also more than possible that if you have a strong taste for fantasy in which anything and everything can happen then The Waking Engine might fit more with you than it did for this reader.

As an aside, what a beautiful cover!