Tom Pollock – The City’s Son

Expelled from school, betrayed by her best friend and virtually ignored by her dad, who’s never recovered from the death of her mum, Beth Bradley retreats to the sanctuary of the streets, looking for a new home.

What she finds is Filius Viae, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London, who opens her eyes to the place she’s never truly seen.

But the hidden London is on the brink of destruction. Reach, the King of the Cranes, is a malign god of demolition, and he wants Filius dead. In the absence of the Lady of the Streets, Filius’ goddess mother, Beth rouses Filius to raise an alleyway army, to reclaim London’s skyscraper throne for the mother he’s never known.

Beth has almost forgotten her old life – until her best friend and her father come searching for her, and she must choose between the streets and the life she left behind.

Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son was a much buzzed about debut earlier this year and one I was completely looking forward to as well. A novel in the tradition of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun, novels which I both loved, and similarly set in London, The City’s Son has a magic all its own. Pollock’s created a fantastic read, which I’m actually finding rather hard to review, as I can’t think of a bad thing to say; I just want to rave about how wonderful I found it and how much I loved it. It’s hard to pinpoint why I loved it, I just want to say everything. Still, I’m going to try and be a little more coherent about it, but you have been warned!

The environment Pollock creates – the unseen London, if you will – is fantastic. It is a rich creation, which takes places known and loved and distils their essence and lets said essence inform the creatures that inhabit them. I loved his creatures and their personalities. Both the creatures of Mater Viae and those of Reach have a feeling of wildness, capriciousness, and danger to them: the Sodiumites and Blankleits, who both burn and light your way; the Pylon Spiders, feeding of human voices; the Railwraiths; the Scaffwolves, the Wire Mistress, the Pavement priests. They are all part of the fabric of the city, perhaps that part that makes London magical. One of my favourite terms in the book is urbosynthesis. It’s the way Filius feeds; he nourishes and replenishes himself with the energy of the city, like a plant on sunlight. And I recognised it, as it’s the same feeling I have when I visit London: that jolt of energy that comes just from being there and walking its streets.

To inhabit his version of London, Pollock has created some really wonderful characters. The first and most important of which is Beth. She’s my new favourite YA heroine; she’s brave, smart, and loyal, but oh so flawed—and knows it. I loved how her jaded outlook on life overlaid an idealist who stands by both her friends and what she believes is right, even if it’s to her own detriment. Her most important connections in the book are those to Pen and Filius. While the romance between Beth and Filius is a little obvious, I liked that it was hesitant and tentative, so it worked for me. Even if there is a strong attraction for Beth to Filius’ wildness, her connection to Pen is far stronger and I loved the depth of their friendship. Beth and Pen have the sort of friendship that can withstand anything, even each other, and I loved how Pollock used it to anchor Beth to the mundane world. Filius is a fascinating character, but also a tragic one. We get to know him quite well, as those parts of the narrative told from his perspective are in first person. We really get to look inside his head and see how conflicted he is about being the Urchin Prince, destined to save the City from Reach. Even so, he never became as alive for me as Beth or even Pen. Because, while Pen may not be able to act for much of the book, when she does and when we get to see her view of things, she shone. And I was really excited to see on the Jo Fletcher website that she’ll have a large role in the next book The Glass Republic. One character that completely broke my heart was Beth’s dad. While I wanted to shake him for the way he’s neglected Beth after his wife’s death, at the same time I felt such pity for his collapse. And the way he ‘wakes up’ out of his depression and realises what he’s done and how he tries to make up for it, was rather touching.

The City’s Son‘s plot was very well done too. The structure is interesting, reaching several crescendo’s in the form of battles, confrontations and other shenanigans and keeps developing right up until the end. There were several twists I hadn’t seen coming, which all served to deepen the plot and the characters. In addition to the structure of the plot I also found the narrative structure, which uses first person narration for Filius and third person for everyone else, very appealing. Though it seems to become more prevalent, as I’ve read several such books this year, it’s still a fairly original approach and one I really enjoy.

The City’s Son is a stunning debut from Tom Pollock; his is a unique voice and vision of London. His love for the city bleeds off the page and makes me long to be able to visit the city once more. The book is an absolute contender for favourite read of the year and I can’t wait for the sequel, The Glass Republic, due out in August 2013.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.