Review: A City Dreaming

city-dreamingBy Daniel Polansky

Hodder, out October 6

Tales from the New York that you only ever glimpse from the corner of your eye…

It’s not often that it feels as if someone has grabbed a familiar genre by the scruff of the neck and given it a complete makeover, but that’s what Daniel Polansky has done for the urban fantasy with this stunning piece of work. I’ve noted before that each book seems to have represented a personal best, but this one is in a different league.

This feels like Tales of the City set in New York for a 21st century genre audience, a collection of linked tales – some mere vignettes, others with enough material in them to provide other authors with enough material for a trilogy – that follows M as he returns to the City. It’s both the New York that you know if you visit it, and yet not – this one has the subway that the real city deserves; it has the plethora of coffee shops that spring out of nowhere (and somehow manage to still be empty at the stroke of midday when everywhere around them is packed to the gills!). It has the orgies, the murders, the drugs and the hedonism that you suspect are just there but not quite within grasp, and it’s got the hipsters louching their way through it all. It’s the New York that you know those who live there somehow are tied into, in a way that an outsider will never completely understand.

And Polansky captures it all, one sentence cutting to the rotten core of something with a bon mot in M’s mouth, the next rocking you back with an insight into the strengths and weaknesses of all of us. It’s crude and colloquial one moment, lyrically poetic the next – whatever is appropriate to the senses to which he’s appealing at any given time. There’s some of his most optimistic writing, and other sections which make the Warden in Low Town seem like Pollyanna orgasming while on the biggest uppers she could get. (And it’s the sort of book that makes you start thinking in such wild analogies!) There’s high fantasy (and the sharpest takedown of epic fantasy I’ve read in a long time), black magic and blacker humour, and…

Put simply, this is a book to savour, and one to go back to. And when M makes his next visit to New York, I’ll be waiting eagerly.

Verdict: Start spreading the news – a beautiful, harsh, wonderful book. 10/10

Paul Simpson

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