Title: The City’s Son
Author: Tom Pollock
Genre: Urban Fantasy, YA
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books (UK) / Flux (US)
Publication date: August 2 (UK) / September 8 (US) 2012
Hardcover: 480 pages
Expelled from school, betrayed by her best friend and virtually ignored by her dad, who’s never recovered from the death of her mum, Beth Bradley retreats to the sanctuary of the streets, looking for a new home. What she finds is Filius Viae, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London, who opens her eyes to the place she’s never truly seen.
But the hidden London is on the brink of destruction. Reach, the King of the Cranes, is a malign god of demolition, and he wants Filius dead. In the absence of the Lady of the Streets, Filius’ goddess mother, Beth rouses Filius to raise an alleyway army, to reclaim London’s skyscraper throne for the mother he’s never known. Beth has almost forgotten her old life – until her best friend and her father come searching for her, and she must choose between the streets and the life she left behind.
Stand alone or series: First in the Skyscraper Throne series
How did I get this book: Review copy from the publishers
Why did I read this book: I’ve been waiting anxiously for this book for ages now and have heard nothing but praise for this book from these UK shores.
Urban Fantasy is a genre defined by setting and the very excellent The City’s Son is a prime example of it: in it, London comes to life and is a character as much as its protagonists. The City has its own arc and its tale interconnects with those of the other characters in both obvious and subtle ways.
The great City of London is at the brink of destruction as an old threat surfaces from the ashes and is building itself up. Reach, the King of Cranes is a God of demolition: be gone old masonry buildings, give way to the growth of new, shiny monsters of glass. Aided by the unstoppable, manic, Mistress of the Wire, there seems to be nothing that can stop Reach. Your prayers for help will not be answered either: not when Mater Viae , the old Lady of the Streets, the Goddess of London has been gone for such a long time.
Filius Viae, her only son, the cocksure Crown Prince whose sweat and blood are as grey as the City itself and whose strength comes from its pavements is all that stands now between Reach and the City. Reach is coming for you and your City, Filius: are you ready for it?
No, he would tell you. He wants to run as fast as he can away from Reach. He would tell you that his own death lies at the end of this dangerous path.
Enter Beth Bradley, teenage graffiti artist, a regular human, oblivious to this hidden London. She stumbles one night into a lonely escapee ghost train and is introduced to a world she never thought possible. Beth stands at a very vulnerable crossroads in her life: her best friend Pen just betrayed her horribly and she has been expelled from school as a direct result; her father ignores her completely, retreated into a world of his own since her mother’s death a few years ago.
This vulnerability and loneliness coupled with her usual recklessness and impulsivity lead her to join forces with Filius – perhaps too soon, perhaps too suddenly. It is of course, a bit jarring this immediate, abrupt connection to Filius and his cause. But Beth loves this city. She might not know it the same way Fil does, but she has explored its nooks and crannies. She has marked them with her art – London is as much hers and it is Fil’s. And so is the responsibility to save it. So yes, she steps up: for there is real motivation here – both in terms of the real threat to her city but also the dismantlement of her emotional connection to the London she knows. She has nothing to lose and much to gain. There is no going back though, Beth, are you SURE you are prepared for it?
They share the narrative, these two characters – one has known this City all his life. The other is only but starting to get to know it and she is the perfect guide for the reader’s own discovery of this London. There is awe but very little shock when she encounters these marvels (people made of glass and light; an entire army of entombed priests with their real flesh horribly trapped inside stone and marble).
A quick aside. This is probably my only real criticism here: that Beth takes the discovery of this hidden world so easily and with a low amount of “wtf” – this didn’t come across as completely realistic in terms of character reaction.
That said, it is through her eyes that we connect the dots – and it is through her viewpoint (which doesn’t come with the heavy history that Fil’s does) , that any questioning is possible. Because there is questioning to be done: is this dichotomy between the old and the new, between the Lady of the Streets and Reach a real dichotomy at all? Is there such a thing as a good guy and a bad guy in this story?
As such, there is a strong element of unreliability here as well. Neither Fil nor Beth are completely aware of what is going here in reality – Fil might think he knows what’s happening but does he really? Consider how he is Beth’s guide through this story: does she have all the information she needs? The extent of it all is only made plain at the end of the novel when the whole thing comes together beautifully, full circle.
In the midst of it all: relationships. There is romance, as bittersweet as they come. There are all sorts of parental-filial relationships and one of them is especially awesome: a father who looks for his daughter and in the process finally gets to truly know her.
Central stage though – at least for me – is the relationship between Beth and her best friend Pen. I left this to the very end because it is absolutely the best thing about The City’s Son. Beth and Fil might be the main characters and Pen might get a secondary spotlight but her arc is the most gut-wrenching, the most engaging of them all. From the unspoken secret of sexual abuse (dealt with by the author with care) to the courage that she shows when defending her best friend as well as her own city – there is so much loyalty here between the two girls and it’s just a beautiful thing to behold. Pen’s storyline really put my heart through the wringer and I loved the resolution of her arc.
There is a lot to digest here – and I have been less than systematic in my appreciation for this brilliant UF story. There are so many different threads to follow: the City’s arc, with its rich, vivid history. Fil’s arc and the build up of tension as he accepts the role as the City’s Son. There are battles in a war and an army that needs to be put together. And all the awesome characters with their bravery, their loyalty, they willingness to sacrifice. I suspect subsequent re-reads will unveil much more.
If it’s not clear: I loved the The City’s Son and it’s a favourite read of 2012.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
“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.
“Glas told me once that that’s what people are, mostly: memories, the memories in their own heads, and the memories of them in other people’s. And if memories are like a city, and we are our memories, then we are like cities too. I’ve always taken comfort in that.”
Additional Thoughts: Tom Pollock is guest blogging with us today. Go HERE to read his brilliant piece on Cities and Myth.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers
Buy the Book: (click on the links to purchase)