Title: The Last Smile in Sunder City
Author: Luke Arnold
Series: The Fetch Philips Archives #1
Release Date: 6/2/2020
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 50
(see below for breakdown)
I received a free eARC copy from Orbit and Little, Brown Book Group, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
A former soldier turned PI tries to help the fantasy creatures whose lives he ruined in a world that’s lost its magic in a compelling debut fantasy by Black Sails actor Luke Arnold. Welcome to Sunder City. The magic is gone but the monsters remain.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.3. I don’t work for humans. It’s nothing personal–I’m human myself. But after what happened, to the magic, it’s not the humans who need my help. Walk the streets of Sunder City and meet Fetch, his magical clients, and a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher
The blurb for this was right in my wheelhouse. It is no surprise to anyone that has read my blog before that anything that is described as for fans of Ben Aaronovitch that I would jump at the chance to read. I have to agree this book was very much my type of book.
We follow our narrator Fetch Philips your stereotypical hard boiled, alcoholic PI with a large does of guilt on his shoulders. The narrative voice has such a great tone, you get a real noir sepia toned detective feel to it which really sets the scene. Fetch while human himself refuses to work with them instead dedicating to the long suffering magical folks. They are suffering greatly from a loss of magic. The mages cannot cast spells, the ware animals are stuck mid transformation and the elven population have started to age, but the population of Sunder city are trying to persevere. Fetch agrees to investigate the disappearance of elderly vampire which uncovers a lot more than he expected.
We get an amazing mixture the investigation, exploring the city after the loss of magic and Fetch’s flash backs of how life was before the loss and how his actions played into that loss. While info dumpy in the beginning it is done in such a light and inventive manor it doesn’t feel like you are being handed large amounts of information about the world. As the story progresses we still get insense levels of world-building but it is conveyed in many different ways that it keeps the story moving. The more we learn about the world the more we can piece together the mystery. The fact that Fetch is so integral to all of what we learn either through his flash backs or his investigations also makes it so interesting to read about. It’s such an fascinating world to get lost in.
This book also has one of the most fascinating magic systems, that beautifully explains the various abilities of all the magical beings. Again it has a very natural way of teaching us about the magic system through the various arms of the investigation of the missing vampire, clues leading us to background information that gives us those wee juicy chunks of world building, or clues that spark memories for Fetch that give us a little more insight into him and his relationship with the world he lives in.
Fetch is a fantastic character both unreliable and sincere, we get to learn a lot about him and how he sees the world from both his past and his present. I actually found his melancholy rather endearing. I feel it made him a more relatable character. I just really enjoyed Arnold’s writing and how he used Fetch’s thoughts, feelings, pain, guilt and flickers of hope to move us through the story. I do wish we got a little more about the various side characters. We do meet some of his friends from his past and we meet others through his investigation but it would have been nice to explore more, not only the differing races but also to get to know more about other individuals.
The actual investigation plot is a little predictable, I had my hypothesis fairly quickly and it was more confirmed rather than leaving me guessing but it is really the secondary plot. The real plot is what happened to the world, what happened to magic and it is the plot that keeps you guessing! I really enjoyed it. I was right there with Fetch trying to figure it all out, learning about each new aspect with glee. At its heart it is a redemption story one that I found myself cheering on, wanting Fetch to succeed, to find hope and to fix what he thought he had broken. I loved it.
I am really impressed that this is a debut, its well thought out and well written.There is a fantastic ease to Arnold’s narrative voice, there is just a friendly quality that makes it so easy to be absorbed into the story. The pages turn while you smile. It just has the perfect combination of magic, mystery, pensive angst, and humour, to make it an excellent read. It is such a unique setting and story and I will say it again I loved it. I loved Fetch and I can’t wait for more of his adventures.