I had the pleasure of hearing Tom Pollock talk about worldbuilding in one of the best talks I’ve attended at any con – and I am something of a nerd when it comes to attending all those panels… It was a workshop with him and the marvellous Kate Elliott, another favourite author of mine, and the two of them were awesome. They both spoke fluently and passionately on a subject they both knew well. Just as importantly, they clearly liked and respected each other. I came away buzzing with excitement and ideas – and a promise to myself to get hold of his books. Well, it’s way later than it should have been, but I’ve finally got around to reading The City’s Son – was it worth the wait?
Hidden under the surface of everyday London is a city of monsters and miracles, where wild train spirits stampede over the tracks and glass-skinned dancers with glowing veins light the streets. When a devastating betrayal drives her from her home, graffiti artist Beth Bradley stumbles in the secret city, where she finds Filius Viae, London’s ragged crown prince, just when he needs someone most. An ancient enemy has returned to the darkness under St Paul’s Cathedral, bent on reigniting a race through a bizarre urban wonderland, searching for a way to save the city they both love.
Oh yes. This book is beautifully written, full of remarkable creatures, sights and smells. Though to be honest, I’m truly glad many of those smells and sights are consigned to the page and I did put it down while eating my breakfast, when Filius was talking to the litter monster who’d raised him. Pollock’s sensual writing had me imagining all too clearly the sour milk, eggshell eyes and rats scampering over the decomposing takeaway meals…
It’s all very well being able to write beautifully, though – is there also a strong story and wonderful characters? Oh yes. The narrative buckets along at a cracking pace and while the story deal with some hefty issues – loss and grief, betrayal, sacrifice and destruction – this isn’t a downbeat, grim read. Pollock’s cast of characters have to endure knee-buckling problems and he doesn’t slice them any free air just because they happen to be his protagonists. But behind the sharp awareness that it doesn’t end happily ever after, there is also a gritted joy in living and plenty of sly humour that had me quietly chuckling. It is shelved in the YA section, but to be honest, though the protagonists are teens, this book didn’t have a YA feel for me any more than Gaiman’s offerings do. The ending was certainly unexpected and has me wanting to get the next in the series to find out what happens next.
The blurb on the back of the book compares Pollock to Neil Gaiman and China Miéville – and for once, it is absolutely right. As well as being a delightful speaker, the man can write. In a year that so far has treated me to a slew of stormingly good books, this is yet another gem.