on June 12, 2013 :
I just ripped through this novel like a fever dream, one of the best urban fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time.
Black City follows Lark, a down-on-his-luck magician PI, reluctantly drawn into occult warfare by a beautiful dame. Something old and powerful gets into (or gets hold of) the wrong hands and suddenly Lark and his chola zombie sidekick Bettina are in the middle of an urban magical shitstorm.
At first you might think that Black City was essentially the “The Maltese Falcon” gone weird but this novel is much more than that. It appears that Mr Read is an occult historian with an irrepressible desire to educate as Black City is so filled with intricate and tantalising facts that you practically need a browser open while reading just so you can check out the further details. However, the hypnotising pace of the novel will often make you forget about the browser, computer, dinner on the stove and the outside world so it’s better to just highlight the curious bits and come back to them later.
The thing that I like the most about Black City is that it treats both the reader and the characters with respect. Each character is given a life and a certain amount of dignity. Their flaws are shown with a type of wry kindness and nobody is reduced to one-dimension in order to push a point or pull the plot along. Also, no crazy cult details are dumbed down for consumption, rather time is taken to educate the reader so they understand the significance of the fascinating names or rituals. Some times the novel reminded me of Umberto Eco at his most arcane.
I particularly like the ladies. While the main character, Lark, is male so much of the story winds around great female characters with atypical back stories and personalities. None of them are trivialised by their gender, made whiny and annoying by their insistence on independence then alternately requiring the services of a white knight (one of my least favourite fantasy character tropes). Rather they are the muscle, or arms dealers, or crazy graffiti artists. They do things for their own reasons and Lark respects them for it.
The writing style is purposefully pulpy consisting of short sharp sentences and a type of Humphrey Bogart cadence that works most of the time. Very occasionally the choppy sentences turn rogue and yoda-like so you’re left reading a paragraph 5 times trying to work out which bits pertain to what or whom but mostly the style works.
Anyway, I’m going to make myself a cup of tea and read it again because I’m pretty sure there are about one thousand details that I missed. I really, really hope this novel has a sequel.
(reviewed 2 days after purchase)