A Rather Special Bookstore and a Particularly Excellent Book
August 7, 2013 § 8 Comments
In the heart of the city of Brisbane, there’s a small, hole-in-the-wall book store. Tucked away into a corridor of a busy train station, it has a fairly unassuming shop front which lures the dedicated reader in with a window full of eclectic posters and new releases. As you enter the quiet store, the floorboards will creak conspicuously. You’ll look around sheepishly, but the only other customer in the store is immersed in reading the blurb of the book they’re holding. They have not registered your entrance. There seems to be be yellow post-it notes hanging off the shelves just about everywhere you look, and you realise that the store is crowded with shelves and book stands. There’s probably a delivery box on the floor, and the smell of freshly printed books is everywhere. You’ll wander among the shelves and realise that there is a theme emerging amidst the selection of books in stock. There’s fantasy of every class, science fiction of every possibility, the most innovative of steampunk and unimaginable dystopian scenarios. There are lovely editions of the world’s best authors in each of these genres, and there are small, pulpy-looking copies of intriguing urban fantasy novels by authors you’ve never heard of. There are new releases so recent that you only just heard about them yesterday, and there are covers of novels that you’ve probably never seen before in Brisbane. And then there are those little yellow notes which adorn a surprising number of books. These are staff recommendations, and as you read them, you find yourself considering books and authors that you’ve never thought about reading before. You absently pull a book off the shelf as you wander to read another staff recommendation, which also sounds excellent, so you take that one off the shelves too. Slowly, you accumulate a pile of books. It never occurred to you not to buy to them.
Pulp Fiction is the reason not to pirate books. A small, genuine book store with palpable character and impressively knowledgeable staff, I never leave without buying a book I’m excited to read. Check them out here, and stop by when you’re in the city next. Just don’t go with an empty wallet.
It was on a trip to Pulp Fiction that I picked up a copy of Mur Lafferty’s novel, The Shambling Guide to New York City. I won’t lie – I chose it based mostly on the cover art. It called to me from the shelves – a pop-art drawing of a slightly hippie looking girl with a satchel bag and a notebook wandering the city streets while all manner of demons passed her by? Had to have it.
The Shambling Guide is Mur Lafferty’s official debut novel. It’s best described as humourous urban fantasy, with just a dash of well-placed romance. Travel book editor Zoe moves home to NYC after a disastrous affair with her old boss. She loves the city, and begins to find her feet again after the shock of finding out her ex was married the whole time. Desperate for a job, Zoe follows up an ad for a travel editor of an alternative publishing house. After forcing her way into an interview, Zoe’s determination deflates when she finds that the publishing house she’s about to start working for is run by a vampire and staffed by zombies, a Welsh death goddess, a water sprite and a frustratingly attractive incubus. These supernatural beings, who refer to themselves collectively as coterie, introduce Zoe to the other world that exists all around her. Zoe adjusts relatively well, and tries her best to learn what she can about the lives of the coterie. Everything’s looking up for her – that is, until a Frankenstein monster made with the head of an old flame is constructed with the intention of antagonising her.
Would pepper spray stop a zombie? A vampire? Those hedgehog-eating demon guys? And if those existed, what else was out there? Werewolves? She had forgotten to check the moon phase on the calendar. Ghosts? She’d have to keep an eye on any cemetery she passed. Banshees? Now everything about Britney Spears made sense.
Funny, smart and creative, The Shambling Guide to New York City is an excellent take on the “underworld in the city” theme that can so often be a downer. Zoe is someone I’d like to be friends with (and kind of feel like I am, now that I’m finished), and I want to visit the New York of the coterie. Zombies that get smarter with the quality of brains they consume, ravens that live on Wall Street and can exchange your currency for hell notes and demon cab drivers that may or may not take your fare in fingers are all residents of the shambling side of the city – who wouldn’t want to visit?
Anyone who has read my previous reviews will know that I have a tendency to sway toward the analytical when it comes to reading. I tend to pull out the subliminal-subconscious-subverted subtext of every book that crosses my path, and I find it kind of hard to not do this. This book, though, was pure fun. The Shambling Guide to New York City was also the first book in a long time that I’ve considered unputdownable. Every spare second I could find, my nose was wedged between its pages, devouring Zoe’s story like a zombie starved of brains. I’d been having a rough week, and this book was just the pick me up I needed. Five brains out of five for Mur’s The Shambling Guide to New York City. I impatiently await its sequel, The Ghost Train to New Orleans!