This book was a very pleasant surprise. I picked it up because I liked the pitch what do you do when the magic runs out? and because I was curious to see what Luke Arnold. who played John Silver in ‘Black Sails’ would make of it. What he made of it was a remarkable start to a new series that I’m now keen to follow.
‘The Last Smile In Sunder City’ is not your usual fantasy book. It’s written in a well-executed Noir style but it’s set in an alternative world where everyone but humans and animals had magic -until they didn’t. The magic is gone, the world is fractured and most of its residents are living in a state of mournful loss and angry resentment. The resentment part is because the magic didn’t just go away, the humans killed it and wounded the entire world.
The book is told from the point of view of Fetch Phillips who is now this world’s equivalent of a down-at-heel gumshoe who sees himself as a penitent looking for some opportunity to do good. Fetch is soaked in grief and guilt and self-loathing. His character sets the tone for the book and drives the story, which is part ‘solve the mystery of the missing vampire’ and part ‘reveal my backstory and the sources of my guilt while bringing to life the world that has now been lost‘.
It’s a sad and thoughtful book that twist tropes hard, not to be clever and glib, but to ask ‘what would it be like to have to live in this place, knowing what you’d done?’ It’s also a book with a decent mystery, wonderful world-building and quite a lot of action. The world and the way the action plays out constantly surprised me. Luke Arnold managed the pace of the novel well, feeding me more of Fetch’s past as I need it to understand who he is to other people and why he does what he does and keeping me engaged in solving the mystery, which, like all mysteries in a Noir novel, is not exactly the one Fetch thought he’d been hired to solve.
What makes ‘The Last Smile In Sunder City’ remarkable is the way Luke Arnold cracks open the hard-boiled Noir shell and steps beyond the usual assumptions of a Fantasy, to show me a broken but not yet defeated man still struggling for redemption, who, in his way, is emblematic of the pain of this world’s recent past and who may offer some hope for its future.
his is a book that kept me turning the pages because I needed to know what happened next while still making me think about the world I live in. I found the emotions quite intense It flooded me with an awareness of what grief. guilt, shame and the daily remembrance of loss feel like and warned me how corrupting hope can be.
The next book in the series, ‘Dead Man In A Ditch’ is already in my TBR pile.
I listened to the audiobook versions of ‘The Last Smile In Sunder City’ which was narrated by Luke Arnold who gave a splendid performance. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.