Review: ‘The Shambling Guide to New York City’ by Mur Lafferty

Hi, today I’m reviewing a book that I picked up on a whim from a jumble sale, and I enjoyed it! I’d never heard of either the author or the novel, but I thought it was a really interesting read.

‘The Shambling Guide to New York’ is a book that’s hard to categorise, but I would call it lifestyle, mixed with fantasy and sprinkled with a tad of romance. The book follows the life of Zoë, a woman who has just left Raleigh in search of a new start, and who wants to escape the scary wife of her boss. She finds her perfect job at the Underground Publishing Company, and she starts to help write and edit a travel guide for the company.

This may sound like a completely normal, if ‘typical’, lifestyle novel. However, when Zoë applies for the job, she is introduced to the ‘coterie’ world that operates in New York, with ‘coterie’ basically being another name for ‘monsters’, such as vampires, goblins and demons. It turns out that the publishing company is run for the coterie world, and the boss of this company, Phil, is actually a vampire, with various other ‘monsters’ working at the company already, meaning that Zoë sticks out like a sore thumb, and also appears to many of her co-workers as a source of food, rather than a fellow worker.

Despite being introduced to this weird and wonderful world, however, she still needs the job too much to turn down the offer, and therefore enters herself into a whole world of crazy goings-on. Her first idea is to write a travel guide for coterie (monsters) who come to New York, to be used much in the same way as human travel guides about New York. However, she soon gets dragged into the conflict between the coterie and human world and this takes up more priority than the travel guide meaning, for the most part, her job as an editor is somewhat side-lined for the coterie/human conflict.

I enjoyed reading this novel, and I thought the mixture of fantasy and lifestyle was very interesting. It was one of those books that was impossible to put down, and so the fact that it kept me reading well into the night shows that it was a good, engrossing book! I really liked the parallels Lafferty drew between the human world the reader knows, and the world of the coterie, such as the way that Muslim coterie were hunted after the 9/11 terror attack, which shows the parallels between the world Lafferty has created, and the real world. I also really liked the details of this world that was created, and clearly a lot of thought had gone into the book, especially aspects such as the excerpts from the travel guide that appeared after every chapter.

For me, I thought the characters used in the novel were also great, and this made up for the fact that the plot itself wasn’t that brilliant. I thought Zoë’s character was brilliant as she was clearly very strong, but she was also human. She made mistakes, she judged people and she recognised her own weaknesses, and this made her seem like a very human character, which seems to fit really, seeing as most of the other people featured in the novel are not human!

Linking with this, I loved the other characters: John, the incubus, who sucks sexual energy and plays a funny role within the novel; Morgen, the water sprite, who also adds a sense of comedy and lightness to the book; Phil, the sarcastic vampire, who is also clearly a rounded character, showing his distrusting attitude, but also his ability to give Zoë a chance; and Arthur, Zoë’s neighbour, who introduces an element of romance. Other sub-characters, such as Gwen, the death goddess, were also really interesting to read about, and I just loved to immerse myself in the coterie side of New York that Lafferty had created through her characters.

I would say that the only thing I wasn’t that keen on in the novel was the plotline and the big, final ending. I found the big ending (involving Lucy etc.) a bit confusing, and I wasn’t totally keen on the way the ending happened. To me, Lafferty seemed to drag out the final scene, with the protagonists fighting against the villains, but then she didn’t go into much detail regarding the intricate details of this final plot ending, such as what a citytalker really is, or what happens to Granny Good Mae. I really didn’t like the way the novel left Morgen either, which was disappointing for me, as I really liked her character!

Overall, however, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I managed to finish it super fast, which is partly down to having no more work because of exams, and partly due to the engrossing nature of the book. I thought the characterisation and creation of a detailed, exciting coterie world was brilliant, and each of the characters, for me, added something great and interesting to the plot and novel, with each and every character appearing rounded.

Thanks for reading, I hope you pick up this unusual, great book like I did, and enjoy reading it as much as I did!

Happy reading!

Currently reading: ‘Cinder’ by Marissa Meyer

Picture credits here

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