Today’s review is of a book that was described as being for fans of Ben Aaronovitch, which I would consider myself to be — magical crime fiction is something I’ve got into in recent years. (There’s a surprising amount of it around, actually.) I definitely think the comparison was apt enough, but Aaronovitch still wins out for me: I think he’s funnier, and I also had a few issues with this book.
Mostly that Poison City was really, really violent.
I picked this book up because I requested the sequel from NetGalley without realising it wasn’t the first book, and after realising my mistake, figured I should probably read this one first so that I can give the other one a fair review. Of course, the danger there is always that I’ll dislike the first one and have committed myself to the second one, but fortunately I didn’t exactly dislike this one.
I wouldn’t entirely say I liked it, though.
It was well-written, that’s certainly true. I was pulled straight into the story, and while the worldbuilding was complex and largely drew on material that was unfamiliar to me, I didn’t spend too long being confused. The early chapters had a good balance of explanation that never felt like info-dumping. The writing style was crisp, with enough humour to draw me in without being a laugh-out-loud kind of book.
The characters, too, are complex and interesting. I didn’t get to see as much of some of them as I might have liked — the story is from Gideon “London” Tau’s perspective, and he’s the only one whose backstory we really dig into. I would have liked to know more about Armitage, who was a great character — badass with occasional moments of softness. But London’s backstory is plenty engaging. He’s driven by his daughter,s death, details of which are given in dribs and drabs throughout the book, just to eke out the emotions. He’s constantly faced with difficult choices, which makes him an interesting narrator .
And he’s definitely not perfect. This is a morally complicated book: everybody keeps screwing up, and identifying good guys and bad guys isn’t easy, because actually it’s more a matter of “outright bad guys” and “slightly less terrible guys who still did bad stuff but might’ve had better intentions”. I find these kinds of stories much more engaging than black and white narratives, most of the time, so I enjoyed that.
However… well, the book is horrifically violent. There’s a lot of really gruesome murder and gore, which for someone with an overly vivid imagination like me is a little bit difficult to read. There are references to violence against children, too, although that’s mostly not shown explicitly. There are parts where I literally winced just because of the sheer amount of violence happening on one page. It was definitely not a book for the squeamish.
I also found it an uncomfortable book on a theological level. I try not to let my personal beliefs interfere with my enjoyment of books about the supernatural (not least because I’m not at all sure what my personal beliefs actually are), but I still find it hard to get comfortable with a book that starts talking about the sin of God, who by the way is dead. Like. That’s big. That’s not very easy to swallow.
Books that use and amuse mythology don’t bother me, but religion’s a slightly different matter — and while I know that to many readers, the two are indistinguishable because they’re not their beliefs, I was raised in a Christian family and I still consider myself on the Christian end of agnostic, so I found it challenging, and it definitely interfered with my enjoyment of the book. I’m cool with angels, but once it started getting into, like, Actual God, that was different.
That said, if this isn’t something that bothers you (e.g. you’re an atheist, or just not concerned by that kind of thing), then you might enjoy this one a fair bit.
However, since that plotline is kind of … dealt with?… I feel like the sequel might not focus so much on that element, which could make it more enjoyable for me. We’ll see. I won’t be reading it straight away — for a start, I read this instead of doing work, so I’m now extra behind on my Irish translation, but also I have a bunch of other things to get to — but reading this didn’t entirely put me off book two.
The writing style was a strength. The talking dog wasn’t my favourite thing about it, but it wasn’t a negative point, either. Armitage was cool, as were several of the other people London worked with. And London himself was interesting: I look forward to seeing how he tackles other supernatural problems.
Just, you know, not ones that are Literally God.