Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Can't we all just get along?

The answer as presented by The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Laferty, is yes, with a few qualifiers.

Zoë, our protagonist, has recently moved back to NYC from the Research Triangle in North Carolina not long after finding out her boss at the publishing firm (whom she was sleeping with) was not only married, but his wife, who is also a cop, is a little upset that Zoë has been sleeping with her husband.

So, being a good travel guide writer/editor, Zoë starts looking for out of the way places in the Big Apple. Which leads her to Mannegishi's Tricks, a run down bookstore in Manhattan, where the proprietor refuses to sell her anything. She does, however, find a flyer looking for someone with publishing experience to work for Underground Publishing. The owner, Phil, tells her not to apply. She wouldn't fit in.

Next, Zoë hits Bakery Under Starlight, where Carl takes orders and Tenagne passes them out with constant insults. She sees another Underground Publishing flyer, and this time, John, a customer at the bakery who happens to work for Underground, talks her into sending in her resume, even as he tells her she wouldn't fit in.She also buys tea for Granny Good Mae, a slightly batty old woman who talks in riddles.

One interview later, Phil takes her to dinner in an attempt to explain why she won't fit in at Underground. Which consists of going to an Italian restaurant with Air Sprite waiters, a zombie Maitre d', and demons eating gerbils. Phil, on the other hand is enjoying a nice pint of A positive, as he is indeed a vampire.  He tries to hypnotize her with limited success.

As should be expected, Zoë gets the job at Underground, working with an all coterie staff. Phil gives her a reading list to help her wrap her mind around the various species she'll be working with. These include Phil, the vampire CEO; John, the incubus; Morgen, the water sprite; and Paul and Montel, the zombies.

Then we get the new CR (Coterie Resources...no humans, other than Zoë), Wesley. Wesley is a construct (think Frankenstein's monster, although in this setting they get lumped in with golems of all shapes and sizes) with the head of Zoë's ex-boyfriend.

We also have Zoë's strange next door neighbor, Arthur, who works for Public Works, kind of the human coterie police. (If coterie members break the rules, Public Works breaks the coterie.)

What follows is a really strange mix of mystery (who's behind the formaldehyde in the zombie brain supply?), invasion (the plot hinges on the person behind everything trying to take over the whole of the city), a bit of romance (There's almost an office romance when Zoë accompanies John to a succubus/incubus feeding ground/bondage club; later on Arthur and Zoë figure out they have a lot in common). For the most part, it works, although there are a few places where the narrative gets a bogged down, or characters vanish for no apparent reason. Or some foreshadowing that borders on spoilers in the excerpts from the guide Zoë is writing in the book.

Regardless of any narrative issues, and also regardless of the rape trigger inducing incubus scene that toddles a fine line between creepy and erotic (and was not meant to be read while on public transit), it remains a fun read, in the spirit of the InCryptid novels.