(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?