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The Last Smile in Sunder City

por Luke Arnold

Outros autores: Ver a secção outros autores.

Séries: The Fetch Phillips Archives (1)

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I'm Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me: 1. Sobriety costs extra. 2. My services are confidential - the cops can never make me talk. 3. I don't work for humans. It's nothing personal - I'm human myself. But after what happened, Humans don't need my help. Not like every other creature who had the magic ripped out of them when the Coda came... I just want one real case. One chance to do something good. Because it's my fault the magic is never coming back.… (mais)
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HOLD UP, Long John Silver, one of the best pirates to ever grace my screen (and if you have not seen the absolute blast of a bi-fest that is Black Sails, get on that right now, do not pass GO, etc) wrote a book?! I MUST HAVE IT.
  rjcrunden | Feb 2, 2021 |
This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader.
I think this could be my longest post ever, and I'd still leave things left unsaid, you wouldn't believe the length of my notes for a book of this size. I'll try to hit the most important points. To fill in whatever lacunae appears below, you should probably also read what was said over at Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub, The Tattooed Book Geek, Grimdark Magazine, and FanFi Addict—they're what convinced me to buy the book.

“So, you’re a Man for Hire?”

“That’s right.”

“Why don’t you just call yourself a detective?”

“I was worried that might make me sound intelligent.”

The Principal wrinkled his nose. He didn’t know if I was trying to be funny; even less if I’d succeeded.

“What’s your relationship with the police department?”

“We have connections but they’re as thin as I can make them. When they come knocking I have to answer but my clients’ protection and privacy come first. There are lines I can’t cross but I push them back as far as I can.”

Fetch Phillips is hired to find a missing vampire, Edmund Albert Rye, an instructor at an exclusive private school for the children of magical creatures (lycanthropes, vampires, elves, dwarfs, etc.). It's been a few days since he was seen, which is uncharacteristic enough that the principal's getting nervous—he's tough, but he's been unwell. He, the students, and staff just need to know what happened to him.

I made my way east along Fourteenth Street without much hope for what I might be able to find. Professor Edmund Albert Rye; a man whose life expectancy was already several centuries overdue. I doubted I could bring back anything more than a sad story.

I wasn’t wrong. But things were sticking to the story that knew how to bite.

Fetch gets to work, enjoying the feeling of a good amount of cash in his pocket. The first step is the city library, Rye's been living in the attic for that last several years, so he could enjoy some privacy and the sunlight. The librarian is just as worried as the principal had been.

It's really not long before Fetch's investigation brings him to an old private club for Vampires—and he find the remains of a couple of vampires. The lab concludes that it Rye wasn't one of the fresh corpses. There's another dead magical creature there, one that Fetch has never seen, and it takes a couple of days for the results identifying that to come in, too.

One thing that Fetch learns fairly soon is that Rye isn't the only one missing, a girl vanished around the same time as he did. Now, Fetch has to track down a missing vampire and a teen-aged Siren. His work is definitely cut out for him.

Because he knows from the get-go that the story he'll bring back to his employer won't have a happy ending, he has a hard time pursuing it head-on. He keeps finding little things to distract himself, to slow the investigation. Even when the missing girl gets factored in, and he knows he needs to be fully committed just to have a chance to find her, to. He really can't pull it off. The sad story just became so much sadder, and he doesn't want to know the depth of that sadness.

While the majority of the book traces this story, we also get several flashback chapters tracing Fetch's tragic childhood, decent (but not great) adolescence and then troubled adulthood leading up to the point where he helped the Human Army destroy all the magic in the world. It's an event called the Coda, and it occurred six years before Fetch was hired by the school. All magical creatures lost the abilities that distinguished their races, and the world was never the same. As an act of penance that no one but Fetch cares about, he's since refused to work for humans, only for formerly-magic creatures. Which is what brought him to the search for Rye.

Fetch is a broken man—he wasn't in great shape before the Coda, but he's worse after it. An ex-soldier, convicted criminal, ex-prisoner, and now a drunk, with moments of sobriety (fewer than he should have while on a job, but all that money can buy many drinks).

There was a hangover on the horizon, along with something else. Something sort of stupid.

A devil was sitting on my shoulder whispering the kinds of things that stopped working on me years ago. I was only in my thirties but I was old. You don’t measure age in years, you measure it in lessons learned and repeated mistakes and how hard it is to force a little hope into your heart. Old just means jaded and cynical and tired. And boy, was I tired.

It's the penance that drives him. He'd been an author of so much of what was wrong with the world, and he's doing what he can to alleviate it just a little bit. It's the only thing keeping him going. It's not enough, but it's all he has.

Fetch is such a rich character. It's hard to like him, it's hard to find anything redeemable in him*, any reason to be interested in what happens to him. But you can't help pull for this broken, beaten, disillusioned, and cynical man.

* Which is, admittedly, the point of redemption.

This is such an incredibly conceived world. The Coda is so fresh that the citizens have started to move on, but aren't used to dealing with the post-magical world. And so many of them are still hoping that it'll all come back just as suddenly as it left.

The mixture of the fantasy elements and Human tech and science in this world, picking up the slack for the things that magic can't do anymore is so rich, so well designed, so well-written that the reader has to stop every so often and try to take it in.

Even if I didn't really like the book all that much, I'd still be recommending the book for the worldbuilding. It's a master class in how to do it, how to describe it, and how to reveal it to the reader.

Just so, so, so many extended passages in italics. I won't try to make a case against them, Benjamin Dryer does a better job than I possibly could. I just find them aggravating. It'd be so easy to indicate that something's a flashback without them and spare readers the annoyance.


Maybe nobody gets better. Maybe bad people just get worse. It’s not the bad things that make people bad, though. From what I’ve seen, we all work together in the face of adversity. Join up like brothers and work to overcome whatever big old evil wants to hold us down. The thing that kills us is the hope. Give a good man something to protect and you’ll turn him into a killer.

Fetch is a classic hard-boiled detective in a classically noir tale—the fact that it takes place in a Fantasy world (yet full of fairly modern technology) is just icing on a pretty tasty cake. The narrative voice is great, the writing leaps to life, and I can't say enough about the way the world—and the novel—were designed and executed.

This probably deserves more than the 4 Stars I'm giving it, but I just didn't connect with the story, with Fetch, with everything else going on as much as I wanted to. This regrettably ends up in the category of books that I admire more than I enjoy. But my admiration of this is so high that it almost doesn't matter. This is a great Fantasy novel, and one unlike any you've read.

The sequel is out in a couple of weeks—I'm coming back to this world because now that Arnold doesn't have to spend so much time explaining how the world works (or, more properly, how it no longer works) that he'll be able to focus on telling a story or two, and I want to see what heights he's capable of when the rules have already been established.

Do I recommend this book? Oh yeah. You'll probably like it more than I did (I'm a little worried about hitting "publish" on this, as I know I'm one of the less enthusiastic readers of this). And even if you don't, you'll be just as impressed as I am with Arnold's imagination and skill. ( )
  hcnewton | Sep 7, 2020 |
I hate when a book doesn’t live up to its potential. This had so much about it that was cool and/or different—the multi-species world, the disappearance of magic, the MC’s involvement in said disappearance, the commentary on racism, the Pratchett comparison in a blurb—but nothing was ever quite cool enough to hook me and I felt like the points Arnold was making never hit the marks they could have. Close for sure, but not a bullseye.

Props to Arnold for the world-building, though! He’s taken a typical fantasy world with multiple races and cultures, built depth into it so traditions and places have explanations, worked things so the world felt reasonably modern with peacekeeping forces and hospitals and such, and then twisted everything by suddenly, violently removing magic from the equation. It was interesting to see how everyone picks up the pieces and rebuilds society (or not) when they’re used to magic, flight, immortality, shapeshifting, etc., and that is a really neat thing to pin the urban fantasy/noir aesthetics on. That said, I definitely hit a point where the introduction of a new race or element felt like Arnold was just packing them in, and I’m not engaged enough with high fantasy to really appreciate much of the trope-upending he was doing. I’m more of a low fantasy gal.

Fetch, his detective, makes complete sense within the setting, especially as his past comes out over the course of the book. He’s also a good narrator in terms of quips and leading the readers through the story, and he’s complex enough to be fun to follow and puzzle out, especially his brand of cynical optimism. Some of the twists in his backstory I kind of saw coming and some I didn’t. Unfortunately, a lot of the time he felt to me like too much of a noir detective, with nothing to distinguish himself beyond the world he lived in, and every time I meet a detective like that, I bounce off them.

The story itself felt fairly standard—a missing persons case, a detective atoning for past sins, seedy underworld, red herrings—but it’s really a vehicle for exploring the before and after of the fantasy world. While I might not have been super into the before (again, not a high fantasy person), I did like seeing the contrast and piecing together what went wrong. I also liked that Arnold uses that contrast, and the plot, to comment on racism and bigotry and the effects of things like isolationism and supremacists on social cohesion. However, that commentary is where my bullseye comment earlier comes back, and the Pratchett comparison, because Arnold doesn’t quite reach the same level of pointedness that Pratchett would’ve with the same material. I wished he’d been pushed a little more by his editor because that part could have sung.

In the end, this was fine. There’s a lot of neat stuff here, from the world to the plot to the themes, and I don’t regret reading it, but between my hopes not being met and a few elements that didn’t really appeal to me, I never really connected to it. It’s a fun enough book and if it sounds like your thing, go for it! But I won’t be continuing with the series or probably thinking much about it.

To bear in mind: The protagonist is a true noir detective. This means he gets drunk and/or high frequently, commits acts of violence, and comments on female attractiveness. This book also takes racism as a theme but wobbles in the execution thereof.

4/10 ( )
  NinjaMuse | Aug 7, 2020 |
Just a few years ago, there was magic in the world. Magical creatures could tap into the river of it. Humans, though, were unable to touch it, so feared it and cut it off from the magical creatures. Now the creatures are suffering, having lost their magic, and are dying or trying to survive. In Sunder City, former soldier turned PI Fetch Phillips is Human, the human responsible for the magic loss. Living with the guilt of what he did, especially since he had loved a being of magic, he only takes cases from non-humans, and his current one has him searching for a missing Vampire teacher, who may be hot on the trail of bringing magic back.

Honestly, the actual book description is a lot more interesting than mine, so, if you want to see it for yourself, hop down to the bottom and click on the Get your copy link. I could have used it here, but, as much as it intrigued me and was one of the reasons why I wanted to read this book, it also meant I wasn’t really sure of what kind of story I was getting myself into. Of course, it didn’t really matter because this book is really just that good. But I still like to know what the book I’m reading is about.

The Characters: Truly Flawed
The main character, the narrator, is Fetch Phillips. He’s a Human living in a city that was once full of magical creatures. He lived and worked alongside him, but as more of a second-class citizen since he’s Human. He earned the trust of high officials, but no one could look past his Human skin. He’s a fascinating creature with a fascinating backstory, and I loved that parts of the book flashed back on his life so the reader can see where he’s coming from. It paints him as a very complex character who had to make certain choices, whether they were entirely his own or not. I loved that he was so extremely flawed, often cocky and willing to put up a fight, but still had some morals. Honestly, I sometimes found it difficult to like him. I loved how flawed he was as it really made him feel human, but sometimes it felt like it went a little too far, right into the realm of unlikable. What bothered me the most was how self-centered he felt, putting his own desires ahead of his case. But he really was a rather interesting protagonist, caught between being noble and despicable.

There were a few interesting characters, but I felt only Fetch was noteworthy. Instead, what I found most interesting was the divide between magical creatures and Humans and how they were portrayed. There’s an obvious dislike between them, so reading about their role reversal was fascinating. The magical creatures went from being on top of the world, from being the leaders, to beings just trying to stay alive and scrape by in a world now run by smug Humans. The Humans fear the magical creatures, so now treat them like second-class citizens. I thought it was interesting to read about how the magical creatures tried to retain what had made them special and different while trying to adapt to the new world all while holding out hope for the return of magic.

The Setting: A Microcosm of a City
Largely set in Sunder City, the reader is offered brief glimpses of the greater world through Fetch’s backstory. As much as I would have liked to see more of the world, Sunder City itself is completely fascinating. It was something of a microcosm. I loved the feeling that Sunder had once been a beautiful city, full of magic and interesting things, but now is absolutely run down and beat up. Still, it’s functional, though far from pretty. It’s not the kind of place I would want to visit, but I did love how gritty it felt.

My favorite part of this book is probably the setting. As much as I love fantasy cities that are amazingly beautiful and breathtaking, I found Sunder City to be something of a breath of fresh air. It was different and, since the story is focused in the city, it really came alive. As rough as it was, it felt scarily real, reminding me very much of a large metropolitan city that could be found just about anywhere in the world. Though perhaps a bit more rundown and ominous.

The Plot: A Fantastic Noir Mystery
This is a fantasy and a mystery with noir elements. Some of it was done better than other pieces, but I have high hopes for future books now that the world has been sufficiently built. That’s right, this book focuses more on the world building and development of Fetch. It felt more like a vehicle to introduce a character and a particular world. It was high on fantasy and low on mystery.

The mystery itself involved a missing Vampire teacher. I have to admit it wasn’t very exciting, except for the character Fetch referred to as Flyboy who worked for the Vampires and would, um, pop in to see Fetch unexpectedly. There were times when I just completely lost track of the development of the case because Fetch just seemed to abandon it now and then in favor of pursuing his own interests. It was a little bit of a shock towards the end when the mystery really heated up and got flowing. The entire middle portion, though, was so light on mystery that I kind of forgot what it was.

My favorite element was the noir. I have a fondness for that noir feel and was delighted to find it in this book. It helped make the city, Fetch, and the story feel gritty and rough. It took out all the pretty I usually look forward to in a fantasy book. But it wasn’t consistently done. There were many places where I wasn’t getting that noir feel and was quite disappointed with it. I think this would have been amazing if it had been consistent.

Overall, this book was slim on the plot, but it did flow well. It focused on developing the world and the characters, so it did flow. I just wish there had been more to the mystery, or had maybe introduced a more complex mystery. Still, the solution of it creates more possibilities for future books and I can see how the world can evolve. My favorite part, though, was just how well it flowed. I read aloud to my daughter every day and this was just a dream to read aloud. It was beautiful and flowing, which was a delightful contrast to the content!

Overall: Focus on World and Character Development
With a focus on character development and world building, this is not the kind of book that would satisfy someone who loves a good story. The plot wasn’t exactly exciting, but I have high hopes that the storytelling will get better with each book now that the place and characters have been established. It’s an interesting start to a series with some nice elements, and I really hope the noir carries through to the rest of the books. Overall, a very nice book that did fall short, but really excelled in other areas.

Thank you to Netgalley and Orbit for an advance e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own. ( )
  The_Lily_Cafe | Jun 28, 2020 |
I received this novel from Orbit Books, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

Urban Fantasy scenarios often share several common elements: a city where supernatural creatures exist side-by-side with humans, either in plain sight or hidden; the presence of magic; an atmosphere typical of noir movies; and a P.I. engaged in a complex investigation. The Last Smile in Sunder City does possess these elements, granted, but sets them in an unusual background that gives the story and its characters a new, intriguing perspective.

The world in which the story is set was imbued with magic once, but a catastrophic event named The Coda closed off its source with tragic consequences, and now the city of Sunder, once a flourishing center of industry, is just a ghost of its former self, as are its supernatural inhabitants, stripped like their world of any magical attribute that made them what they were. Fetch Phillips is a human Man For Hire, eking out a meagre living by accepting odd jobs, just enough to pay the rent and fuel his drinking habit - he does not work for his fellow humans though, out of a deep-seated sense of anger and guilt whose roots are explored in the course of the story.

Tasked with looking into the disappearance of a teacher from the city’s multi-species academy, Fetch finds himself caught in the kind of complex tangle of misdirections and threats that is to be expected in a story’s investigative thread, but this inciting incident is only the pretext to explore the world and its inhabitants as they try to pick up the pieces of the past and to build a new life out of the ashes of the old one. Fantasy novels more often than not rely on magic, but here instead we explore a culture that has to deal with the sudden death of it, and what this means in the everyday existence of Sunder’s citizens: the sad, grey, hopeless mood of the story often reminded me of Tolkien’s Elves’ long defeat, a battle with no hope of victory that is however still fought because the idea of surrendering to the inevitable is even more loathsome.

The world building in The Last Smile in Sunder City is its best feature, indeed. The image of Sunder City that I built in my mind reminds me of a town in the throes of the Big Depression, where people have to find new ways to survive not so much out of financial troubles (although they are a factor in many instances), but out of the disappearance of the magic that helped run many of the activities, like the streets deprived of wizardry-powered electricity and barely lighted by torches or fires. Then there are the dreadful physical transformations brought on by the Coda: werewolves frozen in the transition from wolf to man, formerly immortal Elves who aged overnight or even crumbled to dust, vampires who lost their teeth and the ability to thrive on blood - the description of what happens to the majority of those supernatural beings at the very moment in which the Coda happens is something both nightmarish and imbued with profound emotional impact.

The social changes in the post-Coda world have taken another, uglier facet as well: the connection to the world’s magic was severed by humans in an underhanded attempt at harnessing that power - humans were the only ones unable to tap it, and it was their intention to put themselves on the same level as the magically-able creatures. Now that supernatural beings have been stripped of their edge, humans feel entitled to take over: their technology, the mechanical means by which their civilization moves, are the only ones that work now, which puts them in the position of superiority they craved for a long time. Not a pretty spectacle at all…

In all of this, Fetch Phillips keeps his distance from everything and everyone, a loner by personal history and by choice, nursing his deep guilt with the same care he nurses the endless bottles of liquor and the drugs that barely help him go through the days: at face value this personality traits, and attitude, would have made me dislike him immediately, but for some reason I felt pity for him, which increased as his story was revealed through the flashbacks showing how he came to be the individual he is now. Fetch Phillips seems destined from a very young age to be alone, even in the company of others, of being the one looking in from the outside, never being part of something, never feeling accepted, and this shapes both his psychological profile - past and present - and the string of bad choices that ultimately bring him to the momentous decision whose outcome will weigh him with endless guilt and regret. He is a man possessed by a strong death wish, uncaring of the damage he sustains as a result of his actions, but at the same time he does not seem to really want that end, because it would also mean the end of his self-inflicted penance - and also the end of what little good he might do to atone for his past mistakes.

I’m aware that all of the above might sound depressing and excessively gloomy, but in reality it’s not as grim as it might seem and it’s also quite compelling, not to mention that the small, very small glimmer of light that can be perceived toward the end promises that things might not look so hopeless in the next book, or books, of this series.

As a debut novel The Last Smile in Sunder City is not a perfect one: there are some pacing issues, particularly in Fetch’s flashbacks that could have been tightened a little to avoid the loss of focus on the issues of the present, and there are times when the search for the missing vampire teacher seems to become irrelevant, instead of being the connecting element of the story. Yet, the narrative remains engaging throughout, and that’s definitely a plus: I will look forward to seeing how Sunder City - and Fetch - will fare in the next installments. ( )
  SpaceandSorcery | Feb 21, 2020 |
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I'm Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me: 1. Sobriety costs extra. 2. My services are confidential - the cops can never make me talk. 3. I don't work for humans. It's nothing personal - I'm human myself. But after what happened, Humans don't need my help. Not like every other creature who had the magic ripped out of them when the Coda came... I just want one real case. One chance to do something good. Because it's my fault the magic is never coming back.

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