London City is alive. When Beth and her best friend Pen are caught spraying graffiti at their school, Pen turns Beth in. Reeling from the betrayal, Beth stumbles into another London, one where railwraiths transport memories of passengers, where the lights are living glass people who dance at night, where the statues are imprisoned men, repaying their debts to their absent goddess, and where a danger threatens the very essence of the city that no one sees. And that city has a son.
Rich garbage pours over my skin and I can feel the juices soaking into it, patching it up. I’m washed in old rainwater, in sticky Coco-Cola and congealing sweet-and-sour sauce. They are the city, as much as concrete and tar, these discarded treasures, and a nourishing broth to my almost-broken system.
Wow, I’m not sure how much I can express my love of Tom Pollock’s hidden London without spoiling the discovery for others. It reminds me of how children’s imaginations create worlds out of the incredibly mundane environment that surrounds them, street lights can be beautiful and exotic women that dance and flirt and real dangers such as trains and barbed wire can be turned into monsters.
After Beth’s ride on the railwraith she meets Filius, son of Mater Viae, the goddess who the creatures of London worship. At first, she takes him for a dirty street urchin but she saves his life and he hers and she finds herself following him further into his world, where Reach threatens the existence of those who have called the streets home for centuries. Reach is the god of cranes; they appear on the horizon wherever he is erecting his mirrored skyscrapers, something residents of London will know well. Reach represents progress destroying the character and essence of London.
Our memories are like a city: we tear some structures down, and we use rubble of the old to raise up new ones. Some memories are bright glass, blindingly beautiful when they catch the sun, but then there are the darker days, when they reflect only the crumbling walls of their derelict neighbours. Some memories are buried under years of patient construction; their echoing halls may never again be seen or walked down, but still they are the foundations for everything that stands above them.
Meanwhile, Pen has her reasons for her betrayal to Beth and her story is a sad one. She sees Beth’s paintings on the walls and follows her, with no inclination of the danger she could be in. Amongst the story of the city there are some very real themes threaded throughout and I think Pen’s parting words sums things up perfectly. Beth’s father is also suffering from deep depression after the loss of his wife and Beth’s mother and now he must face the idea that his daughter is lost too. There are some incredibly touching moments amongst the fantastical.
There is also a spattering of humour, mostly from the wonderful character of Victor, a homeless Russian who offers his translation services and whose friendly manner evolves into a sort of surrogate father figure for Beth. This lightens what is otherwise a dark, yet utterly brilliant tale.
There’s no denying that The City’s Son put’s the urban into urban fantasy, the setting being crucial. Scenes may be a little disturbing for younger readers although I’m not sure it’s being marketed towards young adults despite the teenage characters.
The City’s Son will be published by Jo Fletcher Books in the UK from 2nd August 2012 in hardback and ebook editions. The US edition, published by Flux, is due out 8th September 2012. Thanks go to Flux for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley.
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