rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Obligatory disclaimers: Author is a friend of mine. Also, the book isn't out yet, although you can pre-order it on Amazon, and I read it in an advance review copy.

This book starts with a situation that has been done by everyone up to and including the X-Men and then makes it work by dint of tone and a willingness to let things have consequences. Matthew, also called Teller, lives in Safe, which is a haven carved out of various sewers in Toronto by people who have odd powers and odd appearances. His mother had gills and his father had the feet of a lion; Matthew has scales down his back and clawed toenails, but he can pass in the world Above. Or he could, if he knew one thing about how it works apart from the fear-laden oral histories of his people. The one he loves, Ariel, has bee wings; one of the images I liked most, near the beginning, is of their room, layered in her shed wings, and the way they cloud the light.

The thing is, Safe is not necessarily Safe for everyone. Some years previously the leader of Safe threw out a resident, called Corner, on accusation of murder. Corner did not leave the underground, although sie wasn't allowed in Safe, and that is beginning to make things happen.

This book wouldn't work at all if it weren't willing to let itself contain ambiguities to the point of contradiction, but it does. It's true, for instance, both that doctors and psychiatrists have badly, badly hurt the people of Safe, to the point where Matthew is unable to trust them to behave like human beings and doesn't really see medical staff in aggregate as people, and that this fear has to be put aside in times of great danger and of illness, and that maybe there are some kinds of illness, physical or otherwise, that simply being Safe does not do much for. It's true that Matthew will protect Ariel and give her anything, and that that is not necessarily the best thing for either of them, and that it's a love that is one of the lights of both of their lives.

In short, it's three-dimensional.

I also like the voice, which is first-person, and distinctive. Matthew is called Teller because his function in his community is as storyteller, but words aren't his usual medium of choice, so he has a perfect idea of the way a story is meant to go and the shape of it and how to get people to tell him stories and how to tell truth from falsehood and what details are important, but he is maybe not so clear on grammar, and the idiosyncratic formalities of his home weave in and out. It's a very well-done extrapolation of a voice that is perceptibly contemporary but from a completely different cultural background from anyone who, well, doesn't live in a sewer. (One thing that comes up tangentially is that his father was from India. Matthew has no consciousness whatsoever of the ways this may affect how people Above treat him, and it doesn't come up overtly, but I found it interesting to try to figure out whether that is a factor in any of the times he thinks Above people are reacting oddly to him; I suspect it is.)

This is a first novel, and as we all know a novel is a verbal narrative which has something wrong with it. There is one very specific plot thing in this book that-- it's not that it didn't work for me, but it felt, very slightly, rushed. I don't want to go into it in detail because no one else has access to the book yet. However, it's nothing that severely bothers me or even changes how things work out; it's more like 'I would have had five more pages of discussion first'. Apart from that, this is a really awesome book. It's different, it's very much itself, and I could see some people not liking the voice because voice is a subtle and taste-laden thing, but I personally love it. And this is urban fantasy in a way that has nothing to do with most of what is called urban fantasy nowadays: it's urban fantasy because it is fantasy that takes place in a city.

For some reason the publishers appear to think it is YA. I am not entirely certain as to why. No, seriously, I don't get it. Not everything with a teenage protagonist is automatically YA. At any rate, when it comes out, that is the section you should look in. And you should look.

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March 2017

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