A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky
|A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky|
|Reviewer: JY Saville|
|Summary: If you're looking for a satisfying fantasy novel with a heap of adventure in it, this is not for you. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a laid-back trip through the streets of New York in the company of fine imagery and poetic language, and you don't mind the odd diversion from reality, you may well love it.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: October 2016|
|Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton|
|External links: Author's website|
A City Dreaming guides us through a year in the life of the restless and enigmatic M as he returns to New York after travelling. A magical adept, well-known to the various non-human beings that frequent the alternative realities of New York City and not without power himself, you'd never guess any of it from his nonchalant hipper-than-thou attitude. He tries to keep out of local politics – opposing camps of magical affiliates in the city – but can be fiercely loyal to his closest associates. Though he reluctantly gets mixed up in various scrapes via his strange bunch of friends and acquaintances, and occasionally has to save the day, all he really wants is to be left alone to enjoy the sex, drugs and good coffee that abound in the city.
Though this is categorised as fantasy it has a definite literary bent, and will possibly appeal more to readers of New York novels on the look-out for something different, than genre fans. Daniel Polansky is the author of the Low Town trilogy of fantasy noir (hard-boiled crime in a high fantasy setting). I haven't read any of them but they get good reviews, so it's not as if he's unaware of fantasy tropes and conventions. You have to assume then that any departure from the norm is deliberate, playing with convention for effect. I liked what he was trying to do (I am sadly impressed by a veneer of cool) but I wasn't sure it lived up to its potential.
The book is only loosely a novel, it reads more like linked short stories with recurrent characters, which is something to be aware of if you're looking for a more traditional urban fantasy adventure. Few events seem to be referred back to or are relied upon later, and almost every chapter reads like a complete episode, though the story does build to a climax of sorts. If you're familiar with New York no doubt you'll get extra enjoyment, but as with Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series the love of the city shines through and draws you in regardless.
The drug-fuelled swagger seemed surprisingly 1980s to me whose only experience of New York is via novels and films, all punk rock and cocaine and high finance, and if it wasn't for the occasional text message I would probably have read it as being set back then. The characters are interesting and well-delineated, though perhaps some stray into stereotype. And for a book about magicians and magic, many of the conflicts are settled either by mundane fighting or wise-cracks and wordplay.
The arch cynicism and laid-back style go nicely with the poetic language and the sometimes trippy imagery to create a dreamy, detached feel. However, there's a fine line between a book told convincingly from the point of view of an unimpressed magician who's seen it all before, and one that makes you wonder why you wasted your tea-break reading it, and unfortunately this book strays across that line at times. M literally or metaphorically shrugs at the end of a sequence of events and as a reader it can be frustrating. It's full of anti-climaxes, there is little urgency even when a fight's going on, events are summarised sometimes which occasionally seems appropriate laziness on M's part but at other times feels disappointing, as though it's describing something that's happening a couple of blocks away, rather than to the main character who you (the reader) are with.
All that said, if you lapped up the sheer cool of Neuromancer and you like a bit of punk attitude you'll probably appreciate this book, likewise if you've enjoyed Michael Chabon's novels or Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. M reminded me in some strange way of Mouse in Nova by Samuel R Delany which is a sci-fi adventure from the sixties but might also be a fitting accompaniment to A City Dreaming as it seems to me to come from a similar headspace.
You can read more book reviews or buy A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.