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.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of The City’s Son:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

First, a few quick updates.

Update on reviews: Sorry it’s been such a slow week this last week! I had a review draft written that I was planning to put up last week, but it was such a hectic week at work that I was too exhausted to concentrate on revising it in the evenings this last week. With the long weekend (yay!), getting it posted this week shouldn’t be a problem, though. Next I’ll be starting on a review of The Tainted City, the second book in The Shattered Sigil series by Courtney Schafer. I just finished it last night and loved it.

Update on The Midnight Court giveaway: The winner has been drawn and contacted and let me know which book they wanted so that giveaway is over.

On to the books – this week brought two finished copies and one ARC.

The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams

The Emperor’s Knife (The Tower and Knife #1) by Mazarkis Williams

I am so excited to read this. I’ve been wanting to read it since before it was released at the end of last year!

The Emperor’s Knife is now available in hardcover, ebook, and trade paperback. Chapter Three is available to read online. The second book in the trilogy, Knife Sworn, will be released in hardcover and ebook in November.

There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire: a plague that attacks young and old, rich and poor alike. Geometric patterns spread across the skin, until you die in agony, or become a Carrier, doing the bidding of an evil intelligence, the Pattern Master. Anyone showing the tell-tale marks is put to death; that is Emperor Beyon’s law…but now the pattern is running over the Emperor’s own arms. His body servants have been executed, he ignores his wives, but he is doomed, for soon the pattern will reach his face. While Beyon’s agents scour the land for a cure, Sarmin, the Emperor’s only surviving brother, awaits his bride, Mesema, a windreader from the northern plains. Unused to the Imperial Court’s stifling protocols and deadly intrigues, Mesema has no one to turn to but an aging imperial assassin, the Emperor’s Knife.

As long-planned conspiracies boil over into open violence, the invincible Pattern Master appears from the deep desert. Only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl from the steppes who once saw a path in a pattern — a path that might save them all.

The Hobbit Illustrated by David Wenzel, Adapted by Charles Dixon

The Hobbit Illustrated by David Wenzel & Adapted by Charles Dixon

This expanded edition of the graphic novel of The Hobbit contains six new pages of artwork. The trade paperback reprint was released on September 25.

It’s been about 10 years since I read The Hobbit so this may be a nice way of refreshing my memory on the story if I decide to I want to before watching the movie!

AN ILLUSTRATED EDITION OF THE FANTASY CLASSIC WITH SIX NEW PAGES OF ILLUSTRATIONS!
 
First published in the United States more than seventy-five years ago, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is one of the best-loved books of all time. Now a blockbuster film by Peter Jackson, Academy Award–winning director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit was also adapted into a fully painted graphic novel, a classic in its own right, presented here in a new expanded edition.
 
When Thorin Oakenshield and his band of dwarves embark upon a dangerous quest to reclaim stolen treasure from the evil dragon Smaug, Gandalf the wizard suggests an unlikely accomplice: Bilbo Baggins, a quiet and contented hobbit. Along the way, the company faces trolls, goblins, giant spiders, and worse. But in the end it is Bilbo alone who must face the most dreaded dragon in all Middle-earth—and a destiny that waits in the dark caverns beneath the Misty Mountains, where a twisted creature known as Gollum jealously guards a precious magic ring.

Shades of Earth by Beth Revis

Shades of Earth (Across the Universe #3) by Beth Revis

The final book in the Across the Universe trilogy will be released in hardcover and ebook in January 2013. The previous two books are Across the Universe and A Million Suns, in that order. You can read the first chapter from Across the Universe online.

I probably won’t read this one since it would require tracking down the first two books, but I am really glad to see some science fiction for young adults!

The final book in the trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis!

Amy and Elder have finally left the oppressive walls of the spaceship Godspeed behind. They’re ready to start life afresh–to build a home–on Centauri-Earth, the planet that Amy has traveled 25 trillion miles across the universe to experience. But this new Earth isn’t the paradise that Amy had been hoping for. Amy and Elder must race to uncover who–or what–else is out there if they are to have any hope of saving their struggling colony and building a future together. But as each new discovery brings more danger, Amy and Elder will have to look inward to the very fabric of what makes them human on this, their most harrowing journey yet. Because if the colony collapses? Then everything they have sacrificed–friends, family, life on Earth–will have been meaningless.

Instead of writing one huge post of all the books I’m looking forward to in 2012 with info on them, I had decided to highlight some of these books in their own posts throughout the rest of 2011. I’ve decided to carry this feature forward into this year as I discover new books coming out this year that sound interesting and continue with books of 2013 as it gets closer to the end of the year.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

I discovered Laini Taylor’s writing in 2009 when I was contacted about reviewing her Dreamdark books by the publisher. They’re middle grade, which I didn’t realize at the time – and I’m glad I didn’t since I quite possibly would have thought they were too young for me to enjoy and passed up the opportunity to read a couple of wonderful books. Blackbringer, the first of these, was quite good, but it was the second book, Silksinger, that convinced me I must read anything I could get a hold of written by Laini Taylor. Later that year, Lips Touch: Three Times was released, and I purchased a copy soon after it was available even though it was a collection of 3 stories and I don’t tend to have great luck with shorter fiction. I loved it, especially the dark story “Hatchling” (which remains my favorite of her stories, including her novel length stories).

Naturally, I was thrilled when Daughter of Smoke & Bone was one of the ARCs available at last year’s BEA and was second in line for the author signing. I started reading it on the long bus ride home even though it was the end of May and the book wasn’t out until the fall (I don’t usually read my early copies that early and try to wait until closer to release date). Once again, I found a book I loved for the gorgeous writing, the dialogue, the characters, and the mythology. But what continues to stand out to me the most about Laini Taylor’s books is the writing – no one writes quite like she does. Her writing isn’t dense, but she has such a way with words and can do everything from write a beautiful passage to humorous dialogue to a description of emotion that cuts right to the heart of how it feels.

When Laini Taylor posted a picture of her author copy on her blog the other day, it reminded me that the wait is almost over! On November 6, Days of Blood & Starlight will be released in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. The aforementioned blog post mentions it’s Laini Taylor’s longest book yet and is 100 pages longer than the first book in the trilogy. It also has a link to read the first seven chapters of the book. If you haven’t read the first book, don’t read that one since there will be major spoilers! You can read this excerpt from Daughter of Smoke & Bone instead.

I haven’t read the excerpt from Days of Blood & Starlight since I prefer just to read the whole book at once, but from the sounds of the comments it does end on a huge cliffhanger – so if that’s going to bother you, beware!

Also, there are spoilers for book 1 in the description of book 2 below. I’m not quite sure just how spoilery they’d be to someone reading it who knew nothing about the first book, but those who haven’t read the first book may want to skip it just in case.

About Days of Blood & Starlight:

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Ar student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is–and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

Other Books of 2012:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week brought four surprise books – two ARCs and two finished copies of books that showed up as ARCs earlier. One of these ARCs has me very excited!

Since I already talked about the two finished copies, I’m not going to go over them in detail again. If you’re curious about either of them, here are the links to read more:

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone (Release Date: October 2)

Tomorrow the Killing by Daniel Polansky (UK Release Date: October 11)

On to the new books!

Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip

Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip

This is a short story collection of previously published stories by World Fantasy Award winner Patricia A. McKillip. It also contains an introduction by Charles de Lint and “What Inspires Me” (Patricia McKillip’s Guest of Honor speech from Wiscon 2004). My ARC says it will be available in trade paperback in November, but you may be able to get it earlier. Amazon says it will be available on October 1 and Barnes and Noble seems to have it now. The table of contents and a sample can be read on Amazon.

When this showed up, I was curious since I’ve been interested in reading the work of Patricia McKillip, but I didn’t really think I’d end up reading it since short story collections often don’t manage to hold my interest for very long. On Friday night, I picked it up to see what the beginning looked like. Charles de Lint’s introduction was so heartfelt it made me want to read everything Patricia McKillip had ever written. Still, it was short stories, which often sound good to me in theory but don’t manage to keep me reading. I’d probably end up starting with a novel since she’s written quite a few of them, but I would read a page or two just to see what her writing style was like.

I read a little bit of the first short story.. and then the whole thing… and then the next story… I’ve now read about 100 pages in this book and just LOVE her writing. This is one short story collection I’ll be reading in its entirety, and I’ve also been adding more of her books to my wishlist. Any suggestions for which book should be my second experience with her writing?

Stylistically rooted in fairy tale and mythology, imperceptible landscapes are explored in these opulent stories from a beloved fantasy icon. There are princesses dancing with dead suitors, a knight in love with an official of exotic lineage, and fortune’s fool stealing into the present instead of the future. In one mesmerizing tale, a time-traveling angel is forbidden to intervene in Cotton Mather’s religious ravings, while another narrative finds a wizard seduced in his youth by the Faerie Queen and returning the treasure that is rightfully hers. Bewitching, bittersweet, and deeply intoxicating, this collection draws elements from the fables of history and re-creates them in startlingly magical ways.

Luck of the Draw by Piers Anthony

Luck of the Draw (Xanth #36) by Piers Anthony

The latest book in the long-running Xanth series will be released in hardcover and ebook on December 24. (I haven’t read any of the books in the series so I don’t have much to add, especially since it’s a bit early for excerpts to be out there.)

Bryce is summoned to Xanth as part of a wager between the Demons Earth and Xanth. To his surprise, he has left behind his home and family and eighty-year-old body forever, in exchange for youth and magic….and a quest. He must court and marry Princess Harmony, who is anything but willing to be courted!

Luck of the Draw is Anthony’s thirty-sixth pun-filled adventure in the magical land of Xanth.

I just realized I never announced the winner of the signed copy of House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier! (The winner has been contacted and knows the book is on its way, but I like to try to mention winners so other people who were hoping to win don’t wonder if the winner was actually ever drawn, like I used to when I entered giveaways for books I was DYING to win.) The winner is:

Jennifer from Scotland

Congratulations, and I hope you love the book as much as I did! (I admit I am a bit envious of the signed copy.)

Clean is the first book in the Mindspace Investigations series by debut author Alex Hughes. The second book in the series, Sharp, will be released in April 2013. The month before that a novella titled Payoff will be released.

First of all, I apologize if the following plot description for this novel is awkwardly phrased. The name of the first person narrator in this book is not revealed until the very end so I am going to avoid using his name and refer to him as “MP” (short for “Main Protagonist”).

As a powerful telepath with precognitive skills, MP used his Ability to work for the Telepaths’ Guild until he developed a drug habit that got in the way of his duties. Now he works for the police department, where he is their most successful interrogator and a consultant on matters related to telepathy and the Guild. In this latter task, MP must walk the fine line between revealing enough information to help the cops he is working with without revealing so much that the Guild decides he’s a problem. Furthermore, every day is a struggle to remain clean with his need for the drug Satin permeating his life.

When a string of people are murdered and the Homicide Department has no leads, Detective Isabella Cherabino decides to bring MP to the scene of the latest murder and see if he can glean any information about what happened with his Ability. The deeper MP gets into the investigation, the more convinced he is that the person behind the murders is a very dangerous person with at least one Ability of his or her own. The stakes are even higher when he has a vision in which he is being killed by the murderer while Cherabino is nearby and has obviously been abused. Can he change the future for both of them – and more importantly, can he stay clean long enough to even have the chance to try?

Clean is described as a dystopian thriller on the author’s website. While there are some elements of speculative fiction, it’s more of a crime novel than a science fiction novel that explores the society it’s set in. Because it is does have a standard mystery plot and only a little world-building, I did find it fairly forgettable once I finished reading it. That’s not to say I didn’t have some fun with it while I was reading it because the last 150 pages or so kept me entertained and on the very edge of my seat with suspense. Yet it took awhile for it to get to the point where I really wanted to keep reading, and there wasn’t anything about the book that made it stand out from many others I’ve read in the end. The world, plot twists, writing and dialogue, and characters all faded into the background once the book was done and out of sight, and if not for writing this review (and doing some rereading in preparation) they probably would have stayed there.

The setting in Clean is an altered future caused by a major event, the Tech Wars. Computer technology was used to wreak havoc on the world, and as a result, it’s illegal to own most types of computer technology. It also lead to the Guild gaining prominence since they were instrumental in ending the wars. However, they used terrifying means to do so and are also feared for their power. This is only mentioned briefly, and the details of what they did are not explained though it is also mentioned that people with a certain level of Ability are required to join whether they like it or not. Despite the fact that the main character has some wariness about them, I don’t think there’s enough specific information about the Guild to really get a sense of how terrifying they are. Between the restrictions on technology and the power the Guild has, there’s potential for the series to lean more toward a dystopia, but I didn’t think the effects of the society were shown enough in this book for it to seem particularly dystopian. It remains part of the background for now, and this installment was focused more on the case of the serial murders.

The murder mystery/investigation was spiced up a bit by the main character’s use of telepathy and Mindspace to gather information about the killers, but there was still a lot of the standard questioning that comes with police dramas. Some extra suspense was added with the main character’s vision of himself and Cherabino in the grasp of the killer and the question of whether or not the future could be changed. The conclusion was a page-turner, but at the same time the way it was wrapped up was a bit of a letdown. Certain parts of the resolution were very coincidentally tied to the past of one of the characters, and this seemed rather random and like a contrived way to make the situation more personal.

Most of the characters were not particularly developed, and the only two who had any significant time dedicated to their characters were Cherabino and the narrator. I did think Hughes struck a good balance with the main protagonist when it came to his drug addiction. It is shown that his addiction impacts every part of his life, but he was kept busy enough with the investigation that he didn’t gripe about wanting Satin so much that it became too much to bear. Most of Cherabino’s character exploration is just learning about her past, but the narrator’s character does actually develop over the course of the book. By the end, he’s come to a realization and made an important decision, and I liked that he at least didn’t remain static throughout the entire book.

Clean wasn’t a bad book, and the fast-paced second half did make up for some earlier setup and slowness. However, there’s not much about the book that stands out as above average once it is finished, and there are parts that seem too convenient. The occurrence that drives events at the end seems too random to be natural. All in all, Clean offers some entertainment value but there’s not much to linger on once it is completed.

My Rating: 5.5/10 – Mostly ok but there were some entertaining moments.

Where I got my reading copy: I was contacted about reviewing the book by the author and received a copy of the book from the publisher.

Read a Guest Post by Alex Hughes: A Quick Guide to the World of Clean

Read an Excerpt from Clean

Other Reviews of Clean: