Author: Tom Pollock
Where I got it: Waterstones (Glasgow)
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books (an imprint of Quercus)
Published: August 2nd, 2012
From the cover:
“Hidden under the surface of everyday London is a city of monsters and miracles, where wild train spirits stampede over the tracks and glass-skinned dancers with glowing veins light the streets.
When a devastating betrayal drives her from her home, graffiti artist Beth Bradley stumbles into the secret city, where she finds Filius Viae, London’s ragged crown prince, just when he needs someone most. An ancient enemy has returned to the darkness under St Paul’s Cathedral, bent on reigniting a centuries-old war, and Beth and Fil find themselves in a desperate race through a bizarre urban wonderland, searching for a way to save the city they both love.”
The City’s Son is the first book of The Skyscraper Throne series and, also according to the cover, “a story about family, friends and monsters, and how you can’t always tell which is which”. This description fits it perfectly, but in addition to this, I believe it just might be a perfect example, despite all the grey areas surrounding the term, of ‘urban fantasy’ – and when I say perfect, I mean just that…
While the characters in this book are fascinating and engaging in their own right, it quickly becomes apparent (at least to me) that the real star of this show is London itself. The author shines a light on the city in such a way that it feels every bit as tangible as the people in it – and what I love most about this focus is that there’s no clean, detached ‘overview’ feel to the narration when it comes to bringing us, as readers, into this world. Whether the action and drama happens at street level or high among the eponymous skyscrapers, it is uncompromisingly gritty, realistic, wonderfully tangible – and also, it must be said, downright dirty.
But when you have a supporting character (‘Gutterglass’) who manifests him/herself entirely out of rubbish left in the streets with the help of a swarm of rats, ‘dirty’ is more or less inevitable.
This book is … weird. And yet it’s not. The hidden ‘wonderland’ of London is full of such beings as the aforementioned Gutterglass, all born or formed of various aspects of the city itself. If this is an urban version of a fairytale, it’s clearly unlike any fairytale I’ve read – though a comparison to Neil Gaiman is perhaps inevitable (indeed, the writer namechecks him as an inspiration in the acknowledgements). That said, Tom Pollock has made a remarkable impression with this writing style in his debut novel.
The ‘street level’ approach has two sides, of course; there is no literal hidden world in this version of London. There are no rabbit holes to fall down or mysterious doors to go through – the ‘hidden’ London is right there alongside the ‘real’ London. When Beth joins Filius to fight to save their city, they are fighting for the exact same streets, against an enemy corrupting everything they both love. Filius’s world is only hidden from Beth’s because the people in it don’t see – or choose not to see – what’s wandering those streets along with them every day. It’s a clever approach to the worldbuilding, and some of the scenes that result from it – Beth meeting Filius, and her setting out to find him again – let me really lose myself in her quest.
The story itself is deftly handled, and while there’s no cliffhanger-style ending to this book to precede the next, as I had half-expected, I still got a thoroughly satisfying experience out of reading it. The climax of the final battle with Reach (The Crane King, aka The Villain) came as a genuine shock to me, and left my budding-little-fangirl self quite distraught. Quite, I say.
No, I will not spoil it for you. Go and read it if you want to know!
That said, I am indeed very interesting in learning what our filthy little street gang will get up to next, so I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Book Two (The Glass Republic). Tag me impressed.