Review: The City's Son / Author: Tom Pollock / Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books / Release Date: Out Now
Tom Pollock’s debut novel starts with the words ‘I’m hunting’, immediately throwing the reader directly into the mind of its titular protagonist. With a breathless first-person, present-tense narrative, we’re grabbed by the lapels and hauled into the story. Filius Vitae is hunting a creature called a Railwraith but, as these are his thoughts, we’re never directly told what this creature is; we’re treated maturely, with only Fil’s words to help us figure things out, while our imagination fills in the blanks. It’s an exciting, intriguing first chapter.
To say it gets worse after that would be unfair, but in the next chapter we are introduced to Beth Bradley, teenage graffiti artist who, with her best friend Pen, prowls the streets at night painting their mural and writing poetry. Now, I’ve not read much Urban Fantasy, but there does seem to be a lot of stories where a ‘normal’ person is dragged into the ‘weird’ world, and the reader is given exposition through their eyes. It’s a writer’s tool, of course, and it admittedly works in this book, never laboured or strained.
Fil and Beth meet, teaming up to do battle against the Crane King, architect of destruction. Along the way, we (and Beth) are introduced to the various fantastical denizens of London, and it’s here where the author’s imagination truly shines. Pollock himself admits that the works of Neil Gaiman and China Mieville were ‘especially important’ during the writing of this book and, while this is clear to see, he’s created some unique and wonderful beings. His is a rich and compelling world in which streetlights wage war with one another, statues have watched and waited for centuries, where scaffold and waste can be brought to life.
It’s a book I found difficult to put down, although I did feel there was something missing. After its superb, strong start, the rest seemed weak by comparison; I’d have preferred to read the words of The City’s Son himself, rather than his narrative being interspersed amongst the standard third-person voice. However, the story is about Beth; it’s her journey, and that of those around her, such as her father and Pen. The advantage of this is that supporting characters are given their own agendas, making them important to the story.
The plot is predictable in places, having a certain inevitability, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment. It’s sturdy and believable, with an emotionally satisfying and compelling denouement. There are, however, times when it feels that Pollock has had to rein himself in, and not go ‘too weird’. I’d have liked ‘too weird’, to have heard this author’s voice throughout the novel, rather than in places. Speaking of voices, Pollock has a damned good ear for the native London accent. Again, sadly, it’s something that is used intermittently in the dialogue, and the same character who came across as cockney in one scene will sound somewhat bland in the next. First book nerves, perhaps?
The City’s Son is a good book, especially so for a first novel, but I can’t shake the feeling that it could have been great. Still, there’s no doubt that Tom Pollock is a talented author, one to keep an eye on, and I look forward to the second instalment of the Skyscraper Throne trilogy.