Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The City's Son

One of the weirdest books I've read recently is The City's Son (The Skyscraper Throne, Book 1), a young adult novel by Tom Pollock. It's written in Great Britain's English and has a very modern European feel even though it's fantasy, adding to its foreignness. But writing and author aside, this is still one of the odder ideas I've come across, an idea that, incidentally, works really well.

Beth is more than a tagger, but she does like to leave her mark wherever she goes, beautiful pieces of graffiti, works of art, all over London. Usually, her friend Pen is right beside her. But when Pen inexplicably turns against her, Beth finds herself alone on the streets in a London suddenly more wild than she'd ever imagined. It begins with the ghost of a train and leads to a boy with cement in his skin and oil in his veins, the teenage Prince of the streets. She's only human, something she took for granted before, but there's a whole city of non-human beings dying under the destructive forces of the Crane King, and Beth isn't about to turn her back on them, especially when she has no one else.

I confess, this book took some getting used to. It's dark and gritty and sometimes just plain gross. There's a creature who animates himself (sometimes herself) with garbage and vermin. The Prince sweats oil. Certain babies are born into stone skins, crying from hunger and thirst, not knowing why the world is dark and cold (as a mom, that got me the worst). But gross factor aside, it was rather fascinating to see the underbelly of a city like London come to life. Everything you might take for granted or downright ignore is what this book is about. A drunken bum actually plays an important role, and it has nothing to do with being drunk or a bum. This is imagination, and I haven't revealed the half of it. I wouldn't want to spoil it!

At the same time, I wouldn't recommend this book for everyone. It's dark. The presentation and ideas are sometimes mature. There's an implication of rape and another scene where two unmarried teens almost have sex (not nearly the same level as rape, but it's still on my list of moral degradation). There are gods and goddesses, but in this case, all that means is that they are super powerful beings who have followers and worshipers. (It's not really an attempt at explaining religion. For all intents and purposes, this is a strictly secular book, which I appreciate better than books that try to explain and rationalize the Christian God.) Finally, the dark roast icing on the espresso cake is one particular all-controlling, pain-inflicting villain I'd rather meet less than most other novels' bad guys.

If you're looking for something fresh, try this novel that conjures images of anything but. It's surprising, and surprises aren't so bad in a market inundated with trends.

Three and a half stars. Available in September.

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