Fiction Reviews

The Shambling Guide to New York City

(2013) Mur Lafferty, Orbit, £7.99, pbk, 338 pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50190-1


Zoe Norris is forced to flee to New York. Her boss at Misconceptions Publishing, where she worked, did not tell her that he actually was married and she was forced when his wife found out. In a bookstore she accidentally encounters Philip Rand, head of Underground Press. Hearing that he is looking for travel guide writers, she talks herself into getting an interview. Zoe finds herself as the managing editor of Underground Press’ new range of travel guides for supernatural creatures referred to as coterie, starting with New York.

The story starts well, despite having to drag the token wise mentor and trainer figure, Granny Good Mae. There are a lot of imaginative details about how the undercover monster world works. Then halfway through the book, the difficulties start. There is a scene where Zoe is in a sex club with an incubus co-worker that goes into the question of when consent is given by a person who is under the influence of something affecting their mind. Admittedly Zoe is rescued before it goes into full on sex, but the scene is so uncomfortable and unnecessary, it is hard to see why it is in the narrative. Unless you believe that anything related to urban fantasy has to have a section relating to sex.

Then as the narrative continues, it feels like everybody that is near Zoe or who she knew is involved with the supernatural. This includes the person who turns out to be the major villain of the story. The main aim of the villain is basically to create havoc and destruction so that there can be an action-packed climax.  Zoe also turns out to have a supernatural skill of her own. I realise that this makes the plotting the narrative easier but the whole premise of an ordinary person becoming involved in this world has rather got lost at this point.

The climax is interesting with a lot of new variations on a familiar type of monster.  However, by the time it arrives, it feels as if the story has been made to become a more conventional urban fantasy, with action scenes and fights, going against the lighter tone that the earlier chapters were establishing.

The story does have moments of charm and a good premise. It just suffers from a loss in confidence about its identity. It is as if the story has to be put into traditional narrative devices and patterns when it wants to go and explore the areas that it has invented for itself. There are moments when the story seems to have to be pushed back towards to its main premise. It is still a book that is hard to dislike and has a lot of imagination. What we end with, is something that is entertaining, but could have been greater if it stopped trying to be so conventional.

David Allkins

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