The City’s Son by Tom Pollock
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 into 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 centuries-old war, and Beth and Fil find themselves in a desperate race through a bizarre urban wonderland, searching for a way to save the city they both love.
The City’s Son is the first book of The Skyscraper Throne trilogy: a story about family, friends and monsters, and how you can’t always tell which is which.
I remember reading somewhere, years ago, that a city has many faces. I couldn’t tell now where I read the phrase, but I liked the idea and it has always stayed with me. I’ve since come to the conclusion that when I’m reading well written urban fantasy the author is sharing tantalizing glimpses of these faces. The City’s Son, the debut novel by Tom Pollock, is a great example of this phenomenon. As the plot unfolds the reader gets to discover what lies behind the façade of the London we are all so familiar with.
When Beth is first introduced she is already a creature of the streets in her own way. Unruly and unforgiving due to problems at home, she escapes via the sights and sounds of the city. A chance encounter reveals a hidden side of London and Beth finds herself in the midst of a turf war between two opposing forces. Beth’s guide on this journey is the enigmatic Fil, part human and part something else. The relationship that develops between the two forms the core of the novel. Both are looking for answers to the mysteries in their lives and they very quickly form a strong bond.
Fil’s mother, Mater Viae, is the goddess of London’s streets. She is the embodiment of history and tradition, bricks and mortar. Mater Viae has existed since time immemorial. Meanwhile her opponent is known simply as Reach, the Crane King. Reach is driven by demolition and renovation; he draws his power from towers of glass and steel. These two characters opposing viewpoints work perfectly to illustrate the clash of cultures that has developed in this escalating cold war.
It’s almost Inevitable that there are going to be comparisons to other existing London based urban fantasy novels, Neverwhere, The Devil You Know and Sixty One Nails all immediately spring to mind, but I genuinely don’t think that these comparisons are necessary. Pollock has crafted a tale that is unique and deserves to be treated as such. If anything, the alternate reality that exists in The City’s Son reminded me more of the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli than another novel. This ‘other London’ is a shadowy world of sentient tube trains, pylon spiders and reincarnated criminals trapped in stone, can you imagine what Studio Ghibli could do with that? It’s certainly on my list of things I’d be willing to sell my soul to see.
There are a host of memorable characters and factions whose names and descriptions conjure up some wonderfully evocative imagery. From the sleazy powerbroker Johnny Naptha and the members of the Chemical Synod, the evangelical Pavement Priests, or Fil’s faithful servant, Gutterglass. Everyone you meet is going to stay with you. I loved the idea that this alternative society of fantastical beings exists just on the periphery of our own, hidden in plain sight.
Wait, I haven’t even got around to mentioning the fact that there are cats have I? Not just any old cats mind you. Oh no, these are very special cats. Obviously I’m going to be entirely evil and not tell you why, that would be far to spoilery. Lets just stick with – they are extremely important and based on this shocking revelation it’s highly likely that I’ll never be able to look at my two cats the same way ever again.
Pollock’s debut is a modern day fairy-tale wrapped up in the very cleverest of urban fantasy disguises. I was caught up in this roller-coaster adventure from the off and I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series. In fact, while I have your attention Internet – do me a favour will you? Pass on the following message to the powers that be – I demand someone stand over Tom Pollock and not let him move from his keyboard until book two is finished.
Last year, one of my favourite novels was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. It looks suspiciously like this year my favourite novel is again to come from a debut Young Adult author. Actually, thinking about it, categorizing this novel as Young Adult seems a trifle unfair. Like the anime of Studio Ghibli, this is a story that works on a number of levels and will appeal to young and old alike. The City’s Son isn’t just a good example of a Young Adult novel, it’s a good example of a novel full stop.
The City’s Son is published by Jo Fletcher Books and is available from 2nd August. Its sequel, The Glass Republic, is set to follow next year.