February 7, 2014

Uptown Girl Living in an Undead World: a review of Mur Lafferty's "Shambling Guide to New York City"

The Shambling Guide to New York City
by Mur Lafferty
Orbit Books (2013)
350 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316221177

Thanks to the audiobook that was available last year through iTunes, I was able to check out this pseudo-debut novel from Mur Lafferty. Pseudo in the sense that she already has more than a couple self-published titles to her credit, but this is her first book to come out through a major publisher. While I am a podcast junkie, I don't listen to many audiobooks, so taking in an entire novel this way was a definite change of pace.

Anyway, Shambling Guide might be passed off as some cross between Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Devil Wears Prada. Please ignore such this-meets-that descriptions, because this book deserves better when you consider the highly entertaining story Lafferty provides.

The main character is Zoe, a down-on-her-luck editor trying to make a fresh start in New York, but having a heckuva time finding work in her chosen profession. That is until she finds out about a job as editor for travel books with a local press, which sounds perfect to her, only to discover she's less than ideal for the publisher given one niggling detail: she's human and humans aren't supposed to know that monsters are real.

Turns out monsters are everywhere and they love to travel. Through sheer pluck and determination, Zoe gets the job and gradually ingratiates herself with her coworkers and other monsters--actually they prefer the term "coterie"--in the city. The guy signing her paychecks (and Hellnotes, since coterie have their own currency) is a vampire. The guy in HR is a Frankensteinian creation. There's a succubus in the office constantly flirting with her. And then there's the zombie she meets that just so happens to be an ex-boyfriend.

I cannot tell you how many urban fantasy novels are set in New York. It's gotta be a lot by now. Shambling Guide uses the city to great effect, though it felt like it was much more a love letter to the genre and monsters in general. It offers a lighter approach, while still offering plenty of action and intrigue, especially in the latter half of the novel. Zoe came off as very likable and very capable in acclimating to a city filled with monsters that range from mischievous to malevolent, which is great because I was worried she might wind up a grating, whiny character. And the myriad of supporting characters were very fun to see, with quite a few getting some time in the spotlight.

It's a novel that works well as a stand-alone, but definitely cries out for a sequel, if only to see what kind of coterie are introduced when Mur Lafferty shifts the focus from New York to New Orleans.

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