“The City’s Son” by Tom Pollock – A Review

“The City’s Son” by Tom Pollock

(Jo Fletcher Books, 422pp, £12.99)

I’m not a particularly avid reader of Young Adult (YA) fiction, so felt a little out of my depth going into Tom Pollock’s debut novel. I had no idea whether to expect a piece of fantasy for early-teens, or something harder and grittier more suited to older readers (so broad and poorly defined is the concept, in my mind). To settle any doubt, I can confirm this belongs to the second camp.

The story primarily follows Beth, a random teenage girl, as she discovers a fantastical version of London (in a “city-within-the-city” sort of thing) and it’s street-urchin prince Filius Viae. She is dragged into a secret war against unassailable foes, a war between parts of the city itself.

Firstly, this is a really entertaining and enjoyable story. It’s very fast paced, brimming with imagination, and the characterisation is excellent. I defy you not to care for the major players as if they were real people by the end. I was unable to put this book down, and consumed it in a matter of days.

Secondly, it doesn’t take any prisoners. The story is brutal, at times harrowing, and when I use the words “fantasy” and “young adult” to describe it don’t expect the fight scenes to be sanitised and fluffy. I’ve already said that I’m no afficienado of YA fiction, but reading it I was impressed that it doesn’t patronise the reader. As a grown up (well…debatable…) I found it as thrilling as I expect its target audience will, and the conclusion didn’t cop out- honestly, I think the climax and resolution was my favourite part.

The “first book of the series” addendum on the front gave me a moment’s pause. Series are all well and good, but the prospect of having to read endless volumes (not to mention waiting for them) to get any sort of closure on the story can be a bit of a mood-killer (*cough* I’m looking at you George R.R. Martin). Thankfully, The City’s Son doesn’t fall into that camp. The novel could stand on its own, leaving the prospect of a sequel as a promise of delight to come, not a chore.

I did have some issues with the way in which it was written. At the beginning, the pace takes a while to build up, which makes the perspective flitting a little disorientating. Filius’ parts are written in first person, which is a good touch, but the fact that all the other characters’ storylines are in third person means it takes a few paragraphs to figure out whose shoes you’re in after a chapter break.

As I got deeper into the story, and the pace ratcheted up, I felt that problem went away, but to the reader starting out it might be something of a roadblock. I would recommend you push past it, though. It’s very definitely worth it.

In his acknowledgements, Pollock credits his influences, but they are very clearly worn. There is the distinctive mark of Neil Gaiman on Pollock’s imagination, and I had strong flavours of China Meiville’s fantastical love affair with London. This is absolutely not a criticism- Pollock has made this novel his own- but a clear indicator that if you like either of those two genre giants, you’re more than likely to enjoy this.

In the end, The City’s Son isn’t a flawless novel. It has its problems, its drawbacks, and the occasional jutting nail that snags the flow of the reading experience. But it is fun. Fast, slick, weird, crazy fun. And really I think that’s more important, don’t you?

Revealed: Boris Johnson’s Daring New Policy

The embattled Mayor of London has hit on an excellent Dalek-recycling idea, whilst in Brighton the Greens are welcoming them onto public transport

Spotted today at Tower Hill tube station, it seems Boris Johnson has found an excellent use for all those old, disused Daleks! Given the number of failed invasion attempts that the plunger-armed psuedo-Nazis have launched on the capital, by my reckoning there have to be a fair number of the things cluttering up London streets. Now, as a part of the Mayor’s re-election strategy, they are apparently to find a new lease of life as litter bins on the underground!

Meanwhile, on the sunny south coast, the Green administration of Brighton and Hove seem to be welcoming our alien overlords onto local buses. Perhaps “Dalek bus passes” will be featuring in the Green Party mayorship candidate Jenny Jones’ manifesto.

With all this Who-fever taking over the mayoral race, how long before Ken Livingstone pledges to return blue police boxes to the corner of every road? Only time will tell!

Non-political Politics

Scenes like these, which have marred the cities of England the past few days, are disgraceful. But as well as stopping these riots, we need to find out why they have happened, if we are to prevent them from happening again

Last November, I took part in a mass-march in London, organised by the NUS, against the Tory-led coalition government’s plans to treble tuition fees. I left before they turned into the violent disorder which came to define them, but when the rage of thousands of students crashed like a wave against Millbank (containing Conservative Party HQ), it was clearly politically driven.

Over the last few days, I’ve been watching violent riots and looting, which started in North London and spread across the country. It started because the police communicated poorly after a man was shot and killed in Tottenham, and stemmed from a general deep mistrust of the police in the area. Very quickly it moved beyond that, and young people across London and other cities were rioting, looting and destroying things. And yet, the government’s line is that this isn’t political.

Now, I don’t follow that. I absolutely deplore the destruction that has been rolling across English cities, and if any of them try it here they’ll have to go through me (and, I suspect, a fair number of other Wargrave residents). But calling it “criminality pure and simple”, whilst not being inaccurate, seems to miss the point.

What these young people are doing is criminal, and should be punished, but simply saying that and ignoring any deeper causes seems at best foolish, and at worst catastrophic. Simply put, if the reasons why this has happened aren’t explored and dealt with, then it will just happen again, and in a year or maybe two the shops of London, Manchester, Birmingham and more will be aflame again.

I don’t know the answers to this. However, I have my suspicions. These riots have started, and progressed, in particularly poor areas. Branding the people who live there as “chavs” and “scum” is simplistic. They’re still people, and people who for the most part have had to live all their lives in extreme poverty, and in a materialistic society which prizes products above people. It seems clear to me that when their frustration boils over, it would take the form of such looting as we’ve been seeing.

The fact is that most of these people feel that the world, and specifically the government, don’t care about them. This is underlined by a cabinet full of millionaires, and a Prime Minister whose primary source of irritation at yesterday’s press conference seemed to be that he’d had to cut his holiday short to run the country he is paradoxically leader of. I know that I take very badly to lectures about poverty from people who have never so much as seen it. I can only imagine how angry it makes people who live in that poverty.

I agree that these riots need to stop. They are hurting a lot of people, and are an exercise in selfishness. I’m uneasy about water cannons, rubber bullets and martial law, but a police surge in London seemed to do the trick last night. But what must not happen is for this to be allowed to be labelled “non-political” and left at that.

Politics is not something that happens once every four/five years. Just because the rioters aren’t carrying placards doesn’t mean that this has nothing to do with politics. Politics includes most things in life, and the fact that these people have very little, and what they do have is being slowly taken away through government cuts and disinterest, whilst not even beginning to justify their actions, goes some way to explain the feeling behind them.

What needs to happen is an honest, open debate about why this has happened. And government refusal to engage, as hinted by Cameron’s speech, and more explicitly shown by Michael Gove trying to shout down Harriet Harman making that point on last night’s Newsnight, shows the kind of “brush it under the carpet” philosophy which could tear British society apart before this parliament is finished.


An Open Letter to Students

My fellow students,


Those who attacked Millbank Tower were thugs and cowards, who took advantage of students' anger, and who have damaged the cause that they claim to believe in.

Yesterday I marched with you in London, protesting against the Coalition plans to cut the Higher Education budget by 40%, treble tuition fees, abolish EMA, and a host of other ill-advised and regressive policies. For the most part it was a pleasure to be a part of. We marched from LSE down towards Parliament, shouting slogans (and general verbal abuse of Lib Dems/Conservatives) and waving placards (some of which were a bit mental, but hey, it’s a protest- you’re allowed to be a little mental).

Then, after about 2pm, it all went wrong. The attack on Millbank Tower (regardless of whether it was or wasn’t Tory HQ) was a stupid move. It turned what was a respectful, peaceful demonstration, into a riot. And maybe some of you are looking at today’s headlines and realising what a mistake it really was.

The fact is, that most of the 50,000 students gathered behaved completely respectably, and didn’t engage in stupid acts of aggression and violence. The ones who attacked Millbank Tower and tried to occupy it were a minority, hailing from certain factions of the left and of the student community. I won’t specify who, but I’m sure that all of you who know anything about this are aware of who I mean. And I suspect that a good deal of that minority went to the demonstration spoiling for a fight.

I can understand the anger and frustration that led to it. Everyone there was passionately against the unfair moves being taken by the government, and in particular at the broken promises of the Liberal Democrats. I’m sure that if Lib Dem HQ wasn’t hidden down an anonymous sidestreet they would have seen much more aggression than they actually did. In the end, students were angry about policies that would disproportionately hit the poor, and that anger both boiled over and was taken advantage of by certain elements.

The end result is that the protest has been sullied. The focus is on the minority of violent individuals who acted unacceptably, not the overwhelming majority who behaved more reasonably. I think it’s exemplified by the fact that David Cameron was able to give a statement on the performance of the police and the unacceptability of rioting, and completely ignore the issues that we were protesting against.

And the worst part, for me, was that we had the moral high ground. For the most part, we weren’t protesting for ourselves. The impact of these cuts and policies on present students will be minimal. It’s the future generations who will be disadvantaged, and it was for them who we were marching for.

Please understand that my criticisms were aimed at those who perpetrated the attacks on Millbank Tower, and not to the rest of the students. In particular, those who broke windows, tried to occupy the building, and unbelievably dropped things off the top of the building. I am a student. I am a left winger. But I like to think I’m not an idiot. This hasn’t helped anyone, and has hurt our movement and our aims.

Those who gave in to violence, vandalism and thuggery make me ashamed to have been there. However, all of you who didn’t disgrace yourselves, who peacefully demonstrated to make our voices heard. All of you make me proud to be a student, and to have been on the march which will unfortunately be remembered for the idiocy of a few.



Matthew S. Dent

(3rd year LLB student, University of Sussex)

This Day…We March!

Marching for the rights of future students

Tomorrow, we march on the capital.

Tomorrow, thousands of angry students will descend on Parliament to protest the crippling cuts and fee rises proposed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government. Thousands of voices will be heard crying out for our politicians to hear our voices and listen to them. And for the Lib Dems especially, to remember what they promised in the election.

I will be there. So will over three hundred students from the University of Sussex. I have no idea how many people will be there from other universities, but I know this is going to be something spectacular.

I’d like to point out something in particular: we are not doing this for us. The tuition fee rise will not affect present students. The cuts to the Higher Education budget will, for some of us. But not for me, and not for thousands of other final year students who will be there. We are not marching for ourselves. We’re marching for the generations of students who will bear the brunt of this.

The rises are not progressive. They will dissuade the very poorest members of society from going to university, and transform Higher Education into something reserved for a rich elite. And the massive cuts to the Higher Education budget will decimate universities, resulting in students paying massively more for massively less.

This is why I’m going to London tomorrow. This is why thousands of others are doing the same. This is why I’m asking you to come.

Whether you’re a student or not doesn’t matter. You could be someone who will be applying to university in the next couple of years. You could be the parent of someone who will be applying. Or you could just care about the state of education in this country. Whoever you are, come along and show your support. If you’re interested, take a look at the NUS website for details, and get involved.

Thank you