Review: A City Dreaming by Daniel Polanski

October 11, 2016
Review: A City Dreaming by Daniel PolanskiA City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on October 6th 2016
Pages: 304
Our reviews of this author: The Builders
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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M is a drifter with a sharp tongue, few scruples, and limited magical ability, who would prefer drinking artisanal beer to involving himself in the politics of the city. Alas, in the infinite nexus of the universe which is New York, trouble is a hard thing to avoid, and now a rivalry between the city's two queens threatens to make the Big Apple go the way of Atlantis. To stop it, M will have to call in every favor, waste every charm, and blow every spell he's ever acquired - he might even have to get out of bed before noon.
Enter a world of wall street wolves, slumming scenesters, desperate artists, drug-induced divinities, pocket steam-punk universes, and hipster zombies. Because the city never sleeps, but is always dreaming.

A City Dreaming is such a strange and intriguing book, I admit that my expectations picking this up bear no relation whatsoever to the read itself and yet I found that I really enjoyed this nonetheless.  When I started reading my first thoughts were ‘what am I reading’ and yet just a few pages into the book  I found myself really keen to pick it back up.  It defies description in some respects and I think this will probably turn into a bunch of random thoughts but I’ll do my best to keep it coherent.

The jacket for A City Dreaming talks about two queens poised on the brink of war.  A world with divinities, wolves and phantom subway lines.  Reading the description you will probably imagine this is urban fantasy and to be honest it is although it might take a little time for you to become accustomed to that fact when you first pick it up.  It reads like a collection of short stories and yet that’s not really the case.  Basically the story  covers (roughly) a twelve month period in the life of ‘M’.  The chapters are all self contained but the characters from certain stories crop up again and again and as the chapters move forward so the story develops and we gain an understanding of M and the world in which he lives. Put bluntly, this is urban fantasy with a difference and I have to admit I found it fascinating and very entertaining – don’t be put off by my saying it reads like a collection of short stories.  I’m not a fan of short stories normally but this is different, the stories do all link and build a bigger picture and the chapters, whilst they may seem individual, play a part in building up the life of M and picking up the main thread of the story – which is his attempt, in a very unassuming fashion, to prevent certain disaster happening.  I think what makes it seem so unusual for me is I’m not really used to this approach in urban fantasy and maybe it won’t always work but I think this is really well done.

At the start of the book we make the acquaintance of M.  M is an unusual character.  He doesn’t like responsibility,  No long term relationships for him, no children, no real job to speak of and no home.  He just drifts from place to place and to be honest he seems to have an excess of good fortune not to mention a lot of friends in need!  M is an enigma, I don’t feel completely confident that I fully understand him – he has magical ability although he doesn’t seem to be one of the big shooters in that respect, and yet, he is frequently called upon when somebody he knows has something of a dodgy situation to face and he’s very creative with his solutions to any problems he finds himself in, he has a minimum effort style approach to things – why go for all out fireworks when a little puff of smoke can do the job?  I liked M – he’s well written and amusing and whilst you might start off thinking he’s a bit of a shirker I think as the story progresses you begin to see why he never really settles in one place for too long – he has a certain ‘friend in need is a bloody pest’ type motto that he lives by and yet at the same time, and in spite of all his grumblings, he always ends up helping.  Given his long life and extensive travel he seems to have a clutch of the strangest friends wherever he happens to be and they usually all request omething from him.  He’s like the ‘fixer’ of the supernatural world.  And what a world of supernatural this is.  Everything is possible and if it’s possible its likely to be in this book.

In terms of world building.  Well, this is a contemporary setting, the majority of the story takes place in New York and I think Polansky does a great job in setting the scene and making things that we take for granted turn into major plot points.  We have slick parties, hipsters, a plethora of coffee shops and subways that are in fact gaping maws that lead straight to somewhere you don’t want to go. I really love the title – A City Dreaming – which seems such a great play on the story – is the city asleep and dreaming whilst this alternative world takes place around them, are the city dreaming of this alternative world – and this also seems to bring me to my next point.  Which is, I think people will take different things from this – it’s all about your interpretation really.  At the back of my mind I feel like I’m missing something important but I can’t figure out what it is – maybe there’s nothing to figure out more than what I’ve gained from the story already, maybe there is something more or just maybe the author has written it in a very clever way to make you feel that way!  Like I say, I feel this book is massively open to a reader’s own thoughts, not just of the characters, the fantasy elements and the plot but even down to the title of the book and the nature of each of the individual stories.

The writing is really good in fact it’s quite addictive – I found myself literally racing to find out what the next chapter would bring to the overall story and although I clearly liked some chapters more than others the whole book is just packed with imagination  We also move a little into the field of horror and the world of surreal.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this.  In terms of urban fantasy it’s unusual and innovative.  I’m not sure whether it will work for everyone and in fact I’m a little surprised that it worked so well for me with this short story feel – but, like I said, it’s so much more than I imagined after I first started reading.

Lynn Williams
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