A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky


I’ve never read any of Polansky’s other books, but I have heard of his Lowtown series and have much respect for his efforts. A City Dreaming is not part of the Lowtown series, as far as I can tell. It’s a new Urban Fantasy novel, with an unnamed protagonist that we  simply call M, a man of  very long and indeterminate age. Since M is not described in the book, (most of the characters aren’t), I was free to imagine all of them however I pleased. I imagined M (short for Man With No Name, although I suppose that does count as a name), as a British Black man, who looked like Idris Elba, or Chewitel Ejiofor, depending on my mood.

The book is easily read, but more a little confusing, in that it has the barest bones of a plot. Most of the book consists of M, who happens to have minor magical abilities, getting into adventures with his friends, drinking, doing drugs and looking for sex. 

There’s no plot as far as I can tell, but that doesn’t stop the book from being enjoyable. M has some pretty funny and amazing adventures. His friends are not as interesting as him, but when they show up, it usually means there’s some problem needs solving, and it’s M who has to figure it out. I love the dialogue, which is wonderful. The book is very easy to read, although the only really great character is M, who sort of reminds me of Constantine, able to talk his way into, or out of, various magical dilemmas, using mostly wit and an an ability to lie a lot, but with less death.

Where the book really captured me was the adventures he had. It’s sort of like taking a grand tour of multiple Earths. A kind of “Day In The Life Of M”  series of activities, that he encounters after returning to NY, from some not quite detailed hiatus abroad. The first time we meet him, he’s trying to save his friend, Boy, from the Pirates of the Gowanus Canal, a group of people so enamored of the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean”, that they have willed into existence a  pocket universe, “pirate lifestyle” in the middle of the city. This entire scene is hilarious. Later, he gets caught in a feud between the two Queens of NY, talks some sort of coffee God out of taking over the earth, takes a train trip to the crossroads of reality via Hell, and gets stranded in a steampunk version of Victorian NY. At no point during the book do you get the impression that M’s life is at all in danger, though, which  made this a fun, pleasant,  read for me.

I found M’s ruminations on his life and friends, his jaunts, and activities, pretty funny. My favorite is when he crashes a posh, uptown party and upon finding  that the waitstaff are all zombies, disrupts the spell that makes them compliant. The zombies break free and immediately begin eating the party-goers. The wizard who bespelled them only compounds that problem by summoning something much worse.

So yeah, it’s an enjoyable read if you can get past the serial nature of the rather barebones plot. It’s mostly M’s descriptions that hold everything down, and keeps you reading, but you’re  just moving from adventure to adventure, in each chapter. The downside is that it gives the book an unfinished feel, as if maybe the author forgot to add those details that would tie all these events together, as  most of the adventures remain unrelated to each other, except that M and his friends are  involved in them. Polansky has so many wonderful ideas for settings. There were a few I wanted developed in greater detail, so I could spend more time there, before moving  on to the next outing. Some readers might become frustrated at these little tidbits of a much larger universe.

I kept waiting for all these events, and people, to come together, for some kind of big blowout at the end, but that’s not really what happens, and the end was a little underwhelming because there are so many other world saving events throughout the book.

This was worth reading because it’s Summer, and  I like zany adventures, with snarky heroes. If you approach this book like a series of short shorts, you will find it worth reading, too. 

A City Dreaming will be available on Kindle, Hardcover, and Audio, on October 4th. Thanks to  Netgalley for this pre-release copy in exchange for a review.

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