A marvellous, gonzo urban fantasy
M is an ageless drifter with a sharp tongue, few scruples, and the ability to bend reality to his will, ever so slightly. He’s come back to New York City after a long absence, and though he’d much rather spend his days drinking artisanal beer in his favorite local bar, his old friends — and his enemies — have other plans for him. One night M might find himself squaring off against the pirates who cruise the Gowanus Canal; another night sees him at a fashionable uptown charity auction where the waitstaff are all zombies. A subway ride through the inner circles of hell? In M’s world, that’s practically a pleasant diversion.
Before too long, M realizes he’s landed in the middle of a power struggle between Celise, the elegant White Queen of Manhattan, and Abilene, Brooklyn’s hip, free-spirited Red Queen, a rivalry that threatens to make New York go the way of Atlantis. To stop it, M will have to call in every favor, waste every charm, and blow every spell he’s ever acquired—he might even have to get out of bed before noon.
Enter a world of Wall Street wolves, slumming scenesters, desperate artists, drug-induced divinities, pocket steampunk universes, and demonic coffee shops. M’s New York, the infinite nexus of the universe, really is a city that never sleeps — but is always dreaming.
This is a very different kind of fantasy to Daniel Polansky’s debut Low Town series. For one thing, it’s set in New York. Only, it is certainly not the New York you are likely to know. A City Dreaming is wonderfully weird and extremely inventive. I very much enjoyed this.
That being said, I don’t really know how to review it. Part of the delight of reading the novel comes from not knowing what you are going to find. There are plenty of weird and wonderful ideas in the story — from bizarre, horrifying and entertaining magic, to colourful or dangerous denizens of New York’s magical underground. M and the others we get to know over the course of the novel are engaging and frequently very amusing, not to mention well-drawn. This is one of the first novels in quite some time to make me laugh out loud. Ok, it was a bit of a cackle. The story, while not exactly laser-focused, was nevertheless engaging and entertainingly told.
The novel is overflowing with ideas and invention. Underground New York has plenty of its own potential hazards and predators as “regular” New York, and many peculiar variations on those found in “regular” NYC, too. Each locale is twisted just a little bit to make it recognizable while also new and sometimes alien. There is plenty of shrewd and intelligent satire about New York and certain neighbourhoods.
Fear and loathing in New York’s magical underground, A City Dreaming is very highly recommended. A shot in the arm of urban fantasy that was very much needed and long overdue. It is unlike any recent novel that I’ve read. A must read of the year. I really hope there are more novels featuring M.