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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
The Shambling Guide to New York City - Mur Lafferty Mildly disappointing because I expected to love this, especially based on the first few pages. The following are my immediate thoughts, which may or may not, get expanded into a coherent review.

Basic premise: Zoe Norris, having lost her previous editing job because she dated the boss, who, unbeknownst to her, was married (to a psycho), secures new employment with a New York City publishing company that produces travel guides. Zoe is totally qualified for the job except in one respect. She's human and the publishing company and the guide's intended audience are monsters (coterie).

Stuff I liked
The cover. Okay, so that's not even remotely a valid criticism. But my comic book geek self loves cartoon covers. Cutesy cartoon covers, when they were in fashion a few years ago, got me to read many humorous/light romances. Which means I should probably run like hell from toonish covers, since most of those romances sucked like a lamprey. But the cover is why I read a review of The Shambling Guide to New York, and decide to request a copy from the library. So cover. Yay!

The approach to urban fantasy, which is kind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, War for the Oaks, and Neverwhere-ish. Like Buffy, the tone is a bit campy, with a motley crew of adventurers working to save New York from a big bad. Like War for the Oaks and Neverwhere, the protagonist is an ordinary human who learns there's a whole other world, filled with magical/mythical beings, just under the surface of the mundane.

The protagonist, Zoe, isn't an embittered, grim slayer of vampires/demons/zombies with a chip on her shoulder.

The men of A Shambling Guide aren't the usual seven-foot-tall, sexy vampire/shifters with a physique by steroids, and whose pheromones are strong enough to make a city's environmental department issue an air quality alert.

The zombies are kind of adorable, in as much as people with rotting flesh can be adorable.

The idea of a travel guide to New York, written specifically for monsters, I mean coterie, is too fun. The excerpts of the guide, posted after every chapter, are some of the funniest parts of the novel.

Morgen, the water sprite and Gwen the death goddess, Zoe's coterie friends.


Stuff I did not like

The world building. I noticed a lot of readers liked this aspect, but I found it riddled with inconsistencies and sloppy. Public Works baffled me. On one hand, they are positioned as supernatural enforcers, and yet they aren't terribly competent. This seems to be in part because they don't always know that much about the coterie. Except when it's convenient for the story line for them to know. I.e., more often than not, Public Works' employees seem to function as exposition fairies. All the while being rather bumbling when it comes to actually dealing with coterie. (We are told they kill zombies and other beasties, but that happens largely off-screen).

The funny. In short, not. Zoe gets some funny zingers going in her early internal dialogues, but overall the story is short on humor. It's not grim; but it lacks the wry voice of War for the Oaks or Neverwhere. The tone turns rather flat and lifeless in the action scenes and reads more like reporting than storytelling.

The men of The Shambling Guide to New York. While I love that Phil, John, and Arthur didn't walk straight off the set of True Blood (not that I don't love me some Erik Northman), they lack sex appeal, period. Or personality. Arthur, the human love interest, is totally charmless. John, being a succubus, is at times sexy, but in a creeper, borderline rapist way, so...not appealing. Phil, the vampire, is wonderfully inhuman, but...the problem with making him so detached from human concerns is that he isn't particularly accessible to me, as a reader.

Which leads to...the dialogue. It was clear and functional, but honestly, lacked any flavor. With the exception of Morgen and Granny Good Mae, if you stripped away the dialogue tags it would be very difficult to even guess who was talking. Let me clarify. The dialogue wasn't bad, but for this kind of camp to work, the characters really need to come alive and sparkle through their dialogue. Instead, everyone sounds the same.

Consequently, the characterization was weak. I didn't connect with any of the secondary characters and didn't care about their fates. By the time I reached the final chapters, when the villain is preparing to destroy the city (because it's New York and always on the verge of annihilation), I started skimming.

In general, it felt like the story was trying to date two tones, all-out camp and more serious urban fantasy, and in refusing to commit to either, broke both relationships.