Spunky girl writer accidentally gets hired to write a humorous book for a subculture she never knew existed, while solving a mystery before the end of the world. Plus obligatory romance.
I just described one of my lowest rated books of 2012 and one of my favorite of 2013.
What makes The Shambling Guide to New York City so great is it never loses that humorous part. It doesn’t take an underground publishing company run by a vampire, a zombie, and an incubus too seriously. Or seriously at all. It’s definitely a book that requires suspension of disbelief.
Zoe, a human, stumbles into a coterie, (that would be the politically correct term for monsters and magical beings,) bookstore. That probably shouldn’t happen, but we’re not going to worry about it. She finds a flyer for editor of a new publishing company. Convenient, considering she JUST left an editing job and is looking for work in the field! The head of the company is there and none too impressed by her “breathing” and “having a heartbeat”. Still, she manages to land the gig and dives right into learning about a world that’s been hiding in plain sight.
TSGtNYC doesn’t dwell on the absurdity of its plot, and neither should you. It’s fun. It takes a new, interesting look at some well known mythologies, (I liked the idea of zombies being functioning when they’re full and feral when they’re hungry,) and introduces some not-so well known ones. Sure the vampires are pretty standard, along with the fae, but seeing them all interact in a business setting remains delightful.
The world building is pretty spectacular, with most of NYC’s famous landmarks being reimagined as mystical symbols. For example, the Statue of Liberty? Sarcophagus for an ancient demon. The book focuses mostly on hiding in plain sight, though there are a few magically-hidden portals to the rats’ nest of tunnels used by coterie cabbies. Fair folk can take advantage of the boom of veg*an restaurants, while those that feed on human emotions can just sit near the hipsters. Incubus and succubus enjoy a wide variety of strip and sex clubs, including the setting of the only hard-R scene, (keeping the book firmly out of the YA section.)
I will say, using the homeless as a network of spies for the government felt odd and a little tacky. Same with the mystical but “crazy” homeless mentor. I think it’s supposed to be a commentary about how homeless people are everywhere and no one notices them, just like the coterie, but when it’s a real issue that affects 50,000 people in NYC alone? Kind of makes my fun fantasy about water sprites and death goddesses less fun.
The end fell down a bit with eleventh-hour powers and confusing action sequences. There are passages that needed to be read multiple times, and even then I’m not sure they really made sense. Example: Morgen’s maybe-death read very difficulty for me. Not only was the action hard to parse, but because there was no break or mourning, I was confused on whether she was with the group or not for the remainder of the battle. Still, I thought it was a very strong, entertaining book.
Obviously the coterie are the most interesting characters and I LOVED Morgen, Fanny, and Gwen. Granny Good Mae has an amazing backstory that I’d love to learn more about. Likewise, can Orsen, the retired vampire hunter, and Benjamin, his doctor/semi-retired Zoetist, (Life-creators. Raisers of zombies and golems,) husband get their own wacky spin off? Because I will pay good money for that. The romance didn’t set my soul on fire, but with a sweet, spunky main character and a lot of...diverse side characters, I highly recommend you don’t overthink it and just give it a try.