The City’s Son by Tom Pollock is the first book in The Skyscraper Throne. The next book in this new young adult urban fantasy series, The Glass Republic, will be released in the UK in August 2013. (While The City’s Son was recently released in both the UK and the US, I was unable to find a release date for the second book in the US.)
Years ago, the Goddess of the Streets left London and her son Filius behind. She also left behind her rivalry with Reach, the Crane God of urban sickness, which now falls to Filius. When rumors of the return of the Goddess begin, Reach becomes more aggressive in his attacks. Gutterglass, the Goddess’ seneschal who raised Filius, advises Filius that it is time for him to raise an army against Reach before he can take the skyscraper throne, but Filius fears he is no match for his mother’s old foe. Filius is considering running away from his problems until he meets Beth Bradley, who persuades him to go up against Reach with her help.
When she meets Filius, Beth has just been expelled from her school and betrayed by her best friend. She is terrified that Social Services will realize that she’s basically been taking care of herself since her father has been too wrapped up in grief over her mother’s sudden death a few years ago to pay much attention to her. Without her father or her closest friend, Beth feels utterly alone and forms a connection with Filius, who doesn’t have his mother to help him stand against Reach. With him, she learns all about the hidden side of London that has talking statues, dancing streetlights, and railwraiths while the two of them gather forces and prepare to fight Reach.
The City’s Son is an exceptionally creative, unique urban fantasy in which the city quite literally comes to life. It has a rather unpredictable ending, and it also manages to avoid some of the common young adult tropes. For instance, there is a romantic relationship but no love triangle. While death of a parent is something both Beth and Filius have in common, part of the story is about Beth’s father becoming more involved in her life instead of being removed from the story. It also deals with issues such as teenage abuse by an adult authority in a way that is sympathetic (and not graphic or tasteless), and free will, faith and belief, and racism are all touched on as well. There is a lot to appreciate about The City’s Son. It’s a book that can be rather dark and takes some risks, and I think it’s a very strong and original debut. However, it was hampered by some pacing issues in the middle that kept me from wholeheartedly loving it despite the admiration I have for it.
The setting is a London in which much of the ordinary is alive. Filius dances with the streetlights, talks to statues, and is tended by a shapeshifting pile of garbage and insects with eggshells for eyes. He fears the cranes that belong to Reach, his mother’s enemy, and he and Beth meet when she happens across one of the railwraiths, ghostly trains with memories of people inside. Much of the book is dedicated to exploring this city, and I think this is where it faltered a bit for me. For awhile, Beth and Filius were just going around gathering an army. This was a good way of introducing both readers and Beth to the peculiarities of the city, but I thought it spent so much time on that that it hindered plot progression. Once the plot did move, it really moved, though. When it got closer to the end, I had difficulty putting the book down, and I was taken completely by surprise by what happened – and then taken by surprise again by a revelation near the conclusion. The ending was memorable but risky because I imagine some may not be happy with what happened. I love endings that are unexpected because I do remember them, though.
While Beth and Filius are the main characters, many character perspectives are seen in this book, including Beth’s best friend Pen and Beth’s father. I think this is another part of what made it seem slow to me. Some of the extra perspectives worked well, especially Pen’s (and I’m glad to see she seems to be the main character in the next book). Others seemed unnecessary as viewpoints, and it did seem a little odd that out of all the perspectives only Filius’ was in first person. The three more important characters were all interesting to read about, though. I thought it was mostly Beth’s story since she’s the one who has the most development. It is largely Beth’s choices that drive the story since her decision to seek out Filius leads to her persuading him to fight instead of running. Later in the book, Beth also has to face a really difficult decision, and the choice she makes is both important to what happens and important to showing just what her priorities are and what type of person she is. Over the course of the book, Beth also had to face issues of free will, starting with her guilt over convincing others to listen to her. In the end, she has to make yet another choice that hinges on whether or not to abide by someone else’s decision concerning their own fate, and I liked how this came up on a couple of occasions.
While there is some romance for Beth, her close friendship with Pen is not neglected. I am always happy to see relationships other than romances treated as important in novels, especially a bond of lifelong friendship like this one. Even though Beth left to find Filius because Pen betrayed her, she doesn’t forget about her best friend or abandon their friendship. I also loved how these two different girls had very different personalities but each had their own type of strength. Beth was more outspoken and likely to speak up and defend herself or Pen, but she also was completely aware that Pen had the strength of endurance:
Beth knew there was strength in Pen — she saw it every day — but it was a strength that withstood without ever resisting. Pen could soak up the blows, but she never hit back. [pp. 9 – 10]
(Quote taken from Search Inside This Book feature on Amazon since I have an ARC)
My one problem aside from the plot taking awhile to really pick up was how easily Beth accepted the fantastic part of London and Filius being the son of its Goddess. When Filius gives her a spiel about who he is and his mother the Goddess, Beth’s reaction can basically be summed up as, “Oh cool, you’re the son of a goddess. My life is so much more boring and I wish I could introduce myself as someone that interesting.” Since she has at that point already stumbled across a railwraith on her own and seen Filius face it, I don’t know if it’s quite fair for me to feel that way, though. She’s seen there’s more to the city, and I also got the impression that as a graffiti artist who knew the city so well it didn’t really take her by surprise to learn this.
The City’s Son has a lot of complexity and depth, and I very much appreciate the way it manages to include themes such as racism, choice, and belief in a very creative story. It also has some fantastic plot twists and a truly memorable ending. It is a novel that definitely stands apart as unique, although I found a lot of the middle dull since it spent more time on introducing the world than moving the plot forward. However, I think this is an amazing debut novel aside from that and found it well worth reading for its strengths.
My Rating: 7/10
Where I got my reading copy: I went to an author signing for a copy of the ARC at Book Expo America.
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