Review: Poison City

Poison CityBy Paul Crilley

Hodder, out August 11

Meet Gideon “London” Tau – and his dog. Not the people you might necessarily want holding the fate of humanity in their hands and paws…

Paul Crilley’s debut adult novel (which does have a few Easter egg nods to his earlier Victorian set children’s series) is an energetic urban fantasy that will appeal to those who like Lauren Beukes, Joan de la Haye or Charlie Human’s tales of the darker side of South Africa. It pulls you in on the opening page with its description of Tau’s spirit assistant – a sherry-swilling, foul-mouthed terrier who helps. If he has to. And there’s nothing better to watch on the soap operas – and then keeps your interest with a story of gods and monsters that escalates towards a climax that mixes myths and religions from across the world (and the odd nod to Philip Pullman).

Crilley isn’t particularly charting new ground in this novel, but he throws lots of ideas into the mix as part of his world-building, some of which are clearly laying the ground for future stories. Tau is not quite as world weary as he makes himself out to be initially and Crilley carefully layers in his backstory in such a way that you understand why he makes some of the choices later in the book – ones which, looked at objectively, would seem daft, to put it mildly.

The book is packed with pop culture references and doesn’t shy away from describing the horrors Tau and the team he works with are facing. There’s plenty of black humour as well, set alongside some surprisingly affecting passages. I’m not quite sure how Crilley will raise the stakes for the second book in the series, given the nature of those involved in the climax of this one, but I’ll be eagerly waiting to find out.

Verdict: A well-constructed dark urban fantasy. 8/10

Paul Simpson

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