The term ‘most anticipated book of the year’ gets thrown around a lot in book blogging (I do it too, I know!) but I have genuinely been on the edge of my seat to read this since the announcement that it had been picked up – and it’s not even out until February 2020! The Last Smile in Sunder City is the debut novel by Luke Arnold, who just so happens to play my favourite character in one of my favourite shows, Black Sails (which you should totally watch). Great acting doesn’t necessarily mean great writing, so I was apprehensive, but wow, was this man blessed when they handed out creativity, because this book is absolutely PHENOMENAL.
Book: The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold
Read before: No
Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Orbit. All opinions my own.
Content warning: Violence (not that graphic, but pretty often!).
Where to start with this incredible book? It’s urban fantasy, with a noir twist, and not as you know it – though this is a gritty, dark cityscape, it’s not set in our world, and though some things seem familiar, there are deep differences from our world that keep this utterly fascinating. Fetch Phillips, our narrator and protagonist, is a man for hire – part detective, part fixer, he does the jobs no one else wants to do. When he’s hired to look into the disappearance of an elderly vampire, he becomes tangled up in something well above his pay grade…
The worldbuilding here is so fascinating. I loved that the culture was so close to our world in places – restaurants, libraries, schools, corrupt goverments – but so wildly different in others – magical races populate the world, but after a catastrophic event six years ago, the magic that sustained them is gone, and they are struggling to adapt to life without their powers (and in some cases, their life force). It’s a very dark world, full of tension and anti-human sentiment alongside the normal miserable setting you expect from the noir style. Seeing the different races jostling for position and resources is some incredible work in terms of worldbuilding – there’s a sadness and an anger in many of the characters, Fetch included, that makes the people feel very real and understandable, especially as you learn more about the last six years. But that’s not to say that this is a depressing read – there’s humour, and hope, and determination, which keeps it entertaining and on the right side of bleak. For all I’ve gone on about the darkness of the world, it’s a genuinely fun read – a difficult line to walk, especially for someone like me who doesn’t like grimdark, and it’s done incredibly well.
Fetch is a wonderful character, and a perfect narrator. He’s got a classic noir voice, full of cynical metaphors and an attempt to project apathy that juuuuust hides how deeply invested he really is. He’s so cocky on the outside, which is brilliant fun, but he has hidden depths and boy are they deep. I love characters where you have to dig past the hard exterior they present to get down to their real self, and Fetch is definitely one of these – his backstory is given to us in small chunks throughout the book, and we have to piece it together to get a sense of who he really is and what he’s been through. I wish I could talk more about how cleverly this is done, but it would be hugely spoilery, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. As Fetch’s history is unravelled, it gives you more and more insight into his present actions, so I’m already itching for a second read to see what I missed the first time around.
I loved this. I loved it. It’s smart, adult-feeling fantasy that does things I’ve never seen before. It’s amazing that such a broken world with such broken characters can be so full of heart and so hopeful, and I’m hugely invested in how this city will carry on surviving, and in Fetch’s life. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I read the last page – this has shot straight to my keep-always favourites shelf. It’s SO good. If you like complex moralities, incredible character insight, and unique worldbuilding, it’s a must-read. I would say read it immediately, but that’s gonna be tricky with a Feb release date so put it on pre-order and block out the 25th Feb to get lost in Sunder City.
In fact, you know what? I’m gonna break my own rule, and award the second ten cats out of five of this year. It’s so worth it!