The City’s Son by Tom Pollock
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 trilogy: a story about family, friends and monsters, and how you can’t always tell which is which.
It’s always great reading debut fiction, and The City’s Son is one in particular that I have been waiting to read for some time now. With author Tom Pollock quite possibly being a bigger China Mieville fan than I am, I was definitely keen to see just how creative his imagination could be in comparison.
First off, I have to mention the artwork for this novel because it’s absolutely stunning and even more beautiful in the flesh! I think it really sets it apart from other fantasy titles in shops at the moment, and will almost certainly gain attention.
As for Pollock’s imagination, there is no doubt that he is positively buzzing with creativity here. The City’s Son is set in an alternate London that exists inside of our own – in other words, it’s there but people just don’t take notice of it because it really is the underbelly of the city. Young graffiti artist Beth and her pal Pen share the most endearing friendship I’ve come across for a long time in fiction. I’d say it’s refreshing to have two central female characters for a change, though it is something I’ve seen before in Mieville’s Un Lun Dun, but compared to the majority of books within this market – it’s definitely more interesting! I’m sure readers will love Beth for her tough yet witty attitude that was no doubt born from a rough childhood after the death of her mother. She feels very realistic in terms of today’s society, and almost seems like someone you already know. After running away from a father that can’t seem to escape the grief over his wife’s death, and therefore takes little notice of Beth, she scrambles upon a whole other world in the underbelly of London. Here she meets Filius Viae, son of a goddess who has left the fate of London in his hands.
This alternate London is full of weird creatures varying from Railwraiths (trains that feed off the memory of its previous passengers) to Scaffwolves (wolves made from scaffolding), to the Fleet (an army of cats), and spiders that feed from people’s voices. As you can see there are some wonderful ideas here, and I have to commend Pollock on his clever imagination. However, if I were to find fault in this novel it would be to say that I felt Pollock almost had too many ideas, and didn’t explore some of the best ones enough to really excite me – in particular the Fleet. I also struggled to get my head around some of the creatures, such as the glass people made of light, who glowed in the street lamps who I just couldn’t visualise at all.
The concept of this novel is magical, and truly inventive and feels perfect for a young adult audience. I think I would be slightly hesitant to recommend it to adults, as despite a few instances in the language of the text, for me, it feels a little too YA and didn’t really delve as deep into the world, or perhaps go quite as dark as I wanted it to. If I was looking at this book from a YA market point of view, I would definitely consider this a refreshing and unique novel for that market, but I think for adults the alternate London thing feels a little overdone now – what with Rivers of London, Neverwhere, Un Lun Dun etc.
My other quibble is that the characters seem far too accepting of this other world they discover and never question any of the strange creatures they encounter. Even Beth’s father seemed very accepting, and although some would say his judgement may be clouded by grief, it still didn’t feel entirely plausible.
To sum up, I think this imaginative debut shows great promise for Pollock and bags of potential for future books. It’s not without its flaws, but then debuts rarely are. There too many questionable concepts, and too many ideas and not enough explored as thoroughly as an adult audience would demand, but despite these negative points, I have to say the novel ended in a place that made me feel I would want to see what happens in book two of this trilogy. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to teens who love fantasy, or who are just getting into the genre.
The City’s Son is out now, published by Jo Fletcher Books. A massive thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with an early review copy.