And You Thought Your Job Sucked – Mur Lafferty’s The Shambling Guide To New York City

So I’m not huge into the urban fantasy genre.  I’ve enjoyed some author’s takes on it, most especially Gaiman’s Neverwhere.  But as a general rule, I find it kind of boring.  Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series is one that I never picked up after reading the first one, same with authors like Kim Harrison and Charlaine Harris (though at the Southern Vampire books really urban fantasy? Bah, close enough…).

That said, I’ve tried to remain open-minded to new additions to the genre, especially when the backbone of the novel is a focus on books!  BOOKS!  I love books, obviously. They stack up around me, more and more every week… and I’m not sick of them yet.  My wife might be, but… that’s a story for another post.

So… is The Shambling Guide to New York City the novel to drag me kicking and screaming back into the urban fantasy genre?

The Shambling Guide to New York City
Mur Lafferty
358 Pages
Orbit Books
May 28, 2013

Zoe Norris has returned to New York City after a disastrous exit from her last job in an attempt to rebalance her life and find some semblance of normalcy in the Big Apple.  Zoe finds a job posting for a travel guide editor posted on the corkboard of an extremely odd bookstore and decides to go for it.

Little does she know that Underground Publishing is a publishing house that caters to a very exclusive group… specifically zombies, vampires, succubi, incubi, and various other creatures of the night – referred to in the novel as the coterie.

Zoe interviews for the job with a vampire named Phil, who also runs the publishing company.  After getting the job, her co-workers are a couple vampires, some zombies, a death goddess, and a water sprite.  Oh and a succubus named John who doesn’t take no for an answer.

So far, so good, right?  If the rest of the novel following was about Zoe and her attempts to get in touch with the coterie and write the actual book that she gets hired to write… I would probably have enjoyed the novel a lot more.  But… things get convoluted and overstuffed pretty quickly for my tastes.

Instead of focusing on the writing of a travel guide for the coterie, the novel becomes a battle against the end of the world.  Now this isn’t entirely unprecedented, as Zoe is taught to defend herself against the more evil members of the coterie by a woman named Granny Good Mae and this seems to indicate the direction the novel will be going, but…

It just doesn’t work for me.  A lot of this comes from the sheer amount of coincidences that come together as the novel draws to a close.  Not only is Zoe’s hunky next-door neighbor Arthur involved in the weirdness that’s going on, but so is a member of Zoe’s previous life in Raleigh, NC.

That said… there’s good humor in the novel and the general plot works well enough.  I was entertained enough to keep on reading to the end and Lafferty does a great job of making Zoe feel distinctly uncomfortable in her role as savior of New York City.  She isn’t some kind of superhero, ably meeting every challenge presented to her.  Instead, she’s a spunky every-woman who only wanted a job editing and writing a book.  And I can respect that aspect of the character deeply.

I just feel that I’m not the target audience for this novel.

In fact, I’m certain that my dislike of this novel isn’t so much a knock against the novel itself, but of my general distaste for urban fantasy as a whole. If you’re a fan of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, or Laurell K Hamilton’s pre-porn novels… you will probably enjoy this.

And Mur Lafferty runs a fantastic website that houses her fantastic podcast I Should Be Writing, among other things.  Even if you’re not into urban fantasy, like me, there’s plenty to enjoy in that series!

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