BOOK REVIEW: The Shambing Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty
REVIEW SUMMARY: A fun story of New York City’s monsters trying to destroy a likable writer who just wants to get over her past, meet a good guy, and finish her tour guide of the city’s secret culture.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A down-and-out writer is hired by a monster-run publishing company to write a tour guide to the monster underbelly of New York City. Her research leads to attacks by incubuses, zombies, golems and a secret villain who wants to turn the city on its head and unleash the brewing war between human and monster.
PROS: Likable heroine; fun supporting cast; creative world building that almost makes you want this kind of New York City to exist; establishes setting for many exciting stories.
CONS: The safeguards that allowed the heroine to intermingle with the monster culture also guarded the reader from feeling truly afraid for her life; humor fell flat too often; the ending jeopardizes future interest in this series.
BOTTOM LINE: The Shambling Guide to New York City starts out well enough to keep you reading, gets even better in the middle, and may or may not satisfy in the end. Unfortunately, for this reader the ending watered down the experience.
In The Shambling Guide to New York City, the main character, Zoe, is immediately likable. She acknowledges a somewhat innocent mistake that has caused her to start fresh where she grew up, New York City. The book makes a profound statement about how a city can feel alive, which created a strong connection to the heroine’s perspective and a desire to live this story through her. She is not only perceptive to the surreal, but she’s also desperate to survive and succeed. The job she finds introduces her to a secret culture of monsters operating in NYC under the moderation of the Public Works Department — talk about a surrealist’s dreamworld. You keep reading because you want this quirky writer and her stubbornness to succeed and survive in a job working with monsters that want to eat her, have incubus sex with her, kill her, or just plain make her quit.
In spite of these threats, there was barely ever a fear that she was really going to suffer. The tone was more like a trip to an amusement park or zoo than as if she were meeting these monsters in their natural habitat. The heroine’s humor is hit-or-miss on making you laugh out loud, and is helped out by a few secondary characters making jokes. The light-hearted tone had a place in adding interest in the story, but a better balance between humor and believable danger would have been welcome. There are hints where the narrative reminds the reader of real danger, but the heroine is almost always rescued. The stakes rose in the middle — including an excellent fight scene with a giant snake — but as soon as the golems appeared at the airport, the story read more like a cartoon.
This sense of watching a cartoon increased with an airplane golem tearing a hole in the ceiling, and a golem that formed out of flying buildings. This may have been too far-fetched, or maybe just lacked more touch on description, but the result was this reader emotionally detached from the story. The irony there is that the author explains how society does not know about monsters because their existence is too hard to accept, and then the same thing that happened to this reader. The issue with the unrealistic tone of the novel could just be a matter of preference. Your mileage may vary.
Without keeping count, it also seems like the heroine was bailed out of her problems a lot more than she actively resolved them, especially at the end. The supporting cast is a very interesting set of characters, but they may have been too active, and the result was watching the ending happen instead of being the force that caused the story to end.
There are more reasons to like The Shambling Guide to New York City than to dismiss it. It’s an addicting read that I don’t regret picking up, and my disappointment in the ending is partly enhanced by how much I liked the first two-thirds.
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