This week I’m delighted that my Friday read is The City’s Son by Tom Pollock.
I’ve read the novel before, but at Fantasycon last weekend I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of the beautiful hardback edition from Jo Fletcher Books, to have it signed, and to hear a (positively electric) reading from the second book in The Skyscraper Throne series.
I hadn’t intended to read this book again. My reading time is very limited . . . but after hearing Pollock read, and having a train journey and little time in hand, it was a pleasure to dip in – and then to find myself reading, totally absorbed in the story.
There are so many things to recommend this novel. It sprawls across London in a way that encompasses the city without ever becoming a travelogue or a guided tour, and without ever being out of control. It balances revealing an urban mythology with the developing story, discoveries with the mundane facts and realities of life, and lyrical descriptions with action scenes that are literally breathtaking. The characters each have a distinctive voice and – better – a distinctive attitude, sometimes bitchy, tough, insecure but always vivid, that I enjoyed very much. In short, in fact, The City’s Son is an extremely impressive debut and I think Tom Pollock is one of the most remarkable and fresh newcomers in the genre we’ve seen for some time.
But it’s the description of London that impressed me the most, and which has stayed with me having put the book down. It’s a trite thing to say, that an author has ‘brought the city to life’, because we never actually mean it. Cities don’t live and breathe – we’re talking about evoking the bustle and movement of a city, or a character, not life. But bringing London to life is exactly what Tom Pollock has achieved, in a way that not even New Crobuzon(to pick another wonderful city) quite manages to live and breathe. The London of The City’s Son is organic. It lives, has moods, has its own whimsy and sense of humour. It is a responsive habitat, and there is even a sense that it moves while we’re not looking (which, as anyone who has ever been lost in London can confirm, the city really does). Here you can find Sodiumites – dryads who live in the street lights (and watch out for a beautiful, and then painful, scene in which they dance in the rain) – sentient trains and cranes (which you will never look at in the same way again), and graffiti artists who see the world differently and (literally) bring colour to the world around them.
The concept also stands out for me: the Urban Mythology that underpins his London. It’s clear that Pollock is steeped in the S(peculative) F(iction) genre(s) – but it’s a genre that often views dryads, trolls and other mythological creatures as something from the past; as creatures which have died out or which are now confined to the few remaining trees and are an increasingly endangered species. Pollock’s vision is more hopeful – and tougher – than that. Like humans, his mythological creatures are resilient and dangerous and they’ve adapted to their changing landscape. I’ve mentioned his lamp-post dwelling Sodiumites as an example, but it’s not difficult to imagine that their forebears were Carbonites, living on smoke in the London pea-soupers, or that their cousins are Silicamites whose sinister influence has prompted the rise of the glass-fronted skyscraper across London. Once you have these vivid, squabbling creatures in mind, it’s difficult to see the city in any other way but as a living urban jungle. Better, the concept that these creatures have evolved from a rural to an urban setting feels natural and somehow, like so many original and striking ideas, very obvious . . . once it has been pointed it out to you. Being able to make the observation in the first place, though, is a gift. It’s one that few storytellers have, and Pollock is very clearly one of them.
Visit London this weekend; read The City’s Son.