Author: Tom Pollock
Genre: YA, Urban Fantasy
Publication Date: September 8, 2012 (Flux – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC/NetGalley Review Copy
Summary: Running from her traitorous best friend and her estranged father, graffiti artist Beth Bradley is looking for sanctuary. What she finds is Urchin, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London’s mystical underworld. Urchin opens Beth’s eyes to the city she’s never truly seen-where vast spiders crawl telephone wires seeking voices to steal, railwraiths escape their tethers, and statues conceal an ancient priesthood robed in bronze.
But it all teeters on the brink of destruction. Amid rumors that Urchin’s goddess mother will soon return from her 15-year exile, Reach, a malign god of urban decay, wants the young prince dead. Helping Urchin raise an alleyway army to reclaim his skyscraper throne, Beth soon forgets her old life. But when her best friend is captured, Beth must choose between this wondrous existence and the life she left behind.
☆: 4.5/5 stars – absolutely gorgeous, China Mieville would be proud!
Review: Wow. I don’t know what I was expecting out of this one, guys, but what I got was just gorgeous and brutal, and Pollock’s work would make China Mieville proud. Have you ever wondered if there’s really a secret city within your city? In “The City’s Son”, we find out that there is indeed an “Inception”-like inner city in London, and the reader is in for quite the ride (and all the feels). Unforgiving in some parts and tender in others, there’s no question that I’ll be reading book two, and that this book should be on my best of 2012 so far list.
City-based urban fantasy has always had a place in my heart. I’m Los Angeles born and raised, and so I know what it feels like to measure the heartbeat of the city as it helps raise you as a child. Living in Tokyo also doubled that feeling, that wonder of the old and the new together, fighting for purchase, fighting for attention from its people. So whenever I find an urban fantasy book that’s based on cities, whether real or imagined, I know that it’s going to be good. And “The City’s Son” definitely does not disappoint.
The only issue I had with this book: pacing. It was uneven for the first third of the book, but after that, it finally evens out. Within the first third, it goes slowly, then very quickly, then slowly again. Upon reflection, it seems like this problem matched the POV – Filius’ sections in the first third went very quickly, but Beth’s did not. However, once the second third begins, it feels like Pollock hits his stride, and everything evens out just fine. But really, the rest of this book (worldbuilding, characters, sensory language and imagery) more than make up for this issue, thus my high rating.
It’s hard to believe that this is Pollock’s debut. The way he handled worldbuilding was nothing less than masterful. The secret royal city within London with a Goddess and her son absolutely floored me. I wasn’t prepared for how intricate (and at the same time, how simple) it would be. This is gritty urban fantasy at its finest, and Pollock interweaves the oldest, decaying parts of London along with the new, and by doing so, also setting up the major conflict of the old against the new (Filius/Mater Viae versus Reach) of the main arc. We go everywhere, and through different characters, different times throughout London’s history as a city, and it all just flows really well. If I had to make a comparison to help the unsure reader out in terms of how Pollock does worldbuilding – think of China Mieville’s “The City and The City” in terms of topography and writing, add a lot of magic and old myth and you get “The City’s Son”. The relationship web school of worldbuilding isn’t used here, it’s almost purely topography-based (map-based). And it’s such a unique way of doing things, so it’s a breath of fresh air.
The people made out of all of the different kinds of street lights (all descended from the powerful Gaslights), the Pavement Priests, the Chemical Synod and their expensive alchemies, the Fleet Cats all helped contribute to the worldbuilding as well. All of these secret subjects (along with their opponents like the Wire Mistress) weave back into their world, which makes the world all the more real and believable, as apart of my own standard for good worldbuilding on the author’s part. There’s such a variety of characters on both sides of the conflict, and at its heart, the issue of humanity and the divine – what makes divinity? Two best friends are about to be wrenched apart over this choice of whether to become divine or stay human, and everyone takes sides. The conflict set up by the main characters alone (the background characters/lesser characters/general world itself aside) is extremely powerful and I felt it resonate very deeply within me.
Finally, sensory language and imagery – Pollock can do it very, very well. Whenever Gutterglass came along and had to construct hir (his/her) body out of trash, sometimes the sensory input by Pollock was so strong that I had to put the book down and get some air because I feel like I could smell that garbage right in front of me. All of the locales of London – from the nicest parts to the not-so-nice parts were painted so vividly it’s as if I were there alongside Pen, Beth, and Fil the whole time. Splendidly done.
Final verdict? If you’re into China Mieville’s work, you’re going to love Pollock’s. If you’re looking for something new and strange, this book is so very totally for you. If not, I still encourage you to stretch your horizons a bit and try this book. “The City’s Son” is out now from Flux in North America, so be sure to check it out!