If there was ever a SFF-lovers’ equivalent of a holiday read, this book is it. The Shambling Guide to New York City is light and funny, and as long as you’re not looking for anything more than that, it’s a blast. The basic set up – 30-something Zoë gets new job working for unique publishing company creating first travel guide for supernatural visitors to New York City – is promising, as is the ethnic cast list. It’s not all vampires and werewolves (zzzZZZZZ), (although, yes, the CEO of Underground Publishing is a vampire), we meet a broad spectrum of otherworldly types from a water sprite, a Welsh goddess of death, an incubus and a kitsune, to a dragon, some gremlins, several zombies and a fertility goddess. The plot is recognisable and fairly by-the-numbers, but then as I understand it, so is every beach book ever written, the whole idea being that your brain is on holiday as well as your body.
Anyhow, there’s lots to enjoy here:
- Zoë is great. I loved the opening in which desperate-for-a-job Zoë sees an advert while in a deeply unsavoury bookshop (who knew there could be such a thing as an unwelcoming bookstore?) only to be told by some random dude that she’s not what the advertiser is looking for. Something she gets told again by another random fella when she sees the ad in a nearby bakery. Which only makes her more determined to go for the job, naturally. She’s got chutzpah.
- Zoë’s introduction to the world of the supernatural, or the coterie as the monstrous element of the city like to be called, is a hoot (she thinks they’re cosplayers at first), and her subsequent research into this alternative world is a pretty fun way to learn how Lafferty envisions the supernatural NYC living alongside the mundane NYC. I’d have happily read nothing but Zoë learning the ropes and getting into low-level scrapes for all 338 pages.
- The situation with John the incubus, who’s only drop-dead gorgeous when he’s hungry and the rest of the time is a disappointing little man in a badly fitting suit was most amusing. I’d rather it didn’t go as far as it did, but it was still funny. (My Grandmother used to flip through the raunchy bits of books with a ‘tut’, and I actually caught myself doing that here – that’s right, I’ve skipped my Mom and become my Grandma).
- That the IT team are literally gremlins was also deeply amusing.
- Public Works are the police force for the coterie. Having access to all those miles and miles of sewers, which so many of the coterie who can’t pass for human use to traverse the city, makes them ideally placed to deal with the crap no-one else knows about – possibly the most credible bit of the entire book. Ha!
- The zoëists and constructs stuff was really interesting. I feel like a lot more could have been done with this and I was really into the hints of conflict between zoëists and the rest of the coterie.
- Granny Good Mae. She could take Buffy any day of the week. And she wouldn’t whinge while she was doing it, (sorrynotsorry Buffers).
And, while there’s also stuff that disappointed me, none of it is deal-breaking:
- There wasn’t enough about the zombies before they rampaged. I was particularly upset that I didn’t get to know Paul better before he was sacrificed in service to the plot.
- The Big Bad couldn’t just settle for getting Zoë, but had to go full-on power-crazy and try to take over the city. The keeping-it-small bad gals and guys can be just as scary as the megalomaniacs, it’s all about how you handle tension, I think. The last third of this book was about as tense as a sloth’s bottom.
- Silly boss fight at the end. Nope.
- Old love interest Godfrey is a bag of wet tissue. I found it unbelievable that Zoë would ever have found him in the slightest bit attractive.
- New love interest Arthur is predictable and boring. And I don’t like his name.
- Kate Griffin did the whole ‘soul of the city’ thing so well in her Matthew Swift books that Lafferty had no chance of living up to that. Griffin also did the creatures-made-out-of-human-stuff better.
So, in conclusion, two-thirds fun to one-third confusing and baggy (not baggy like comfy pants, baggy like socks that have lost their elastic). I heartily recommend all the funny dialogue and most of the excellent coterie characters. If you can ignore the rather blurry latter section, there’s still a lot of fun to be had. And I’m going to read the next book Ghost Train to New Orleans (because … well, see previous comments about brains needing holidays too).
“To most of them, you are a talking bowl of noodles. Sentient noodles that can be useful, but still more tasty than anything else.”