DISCLAIMER: Tom Pollock once bought me a pint. As a result I cannot guarantee complete neutrality.
The City’s Son is Tom Pollock’s debut novel and the first in The Skyscraper Throne YA series. As regular readers of this blog will know, I don’t read YA as a rule, but I made an exception for this book, a) because he once bought me a pint (see above), and, b) because it’s been very well previewed. I’m very glad I did, because it’s an immensely enjoyable and fluently written urban fantasy set in a hidden London and filled with characters and creatures which bear testament to Pollock’s imagination and immersion in the genre.
Beth is a troubled graffiti artist kicked out of school, her mother dead, her father lost in grief. All she has is her Pakistani friend Pen, who has problems of her own to deal with. One night, out in the city, Beth is catapulted into the London of grey-skinned, railing spear-wielding, Fil, the eponymous Son of the City, his mother a goddess missing for years. Fil’s London is full of wonderful creatures: dancing, filament-filled glass women who live in the city’s lampposts, wire-dwelling spiders whose home is the Crystal Palace radio mast (a sight for sore eyes, in a manner of speaking, as I grew up in Crystal Palace), stone-clad undying priests, not to mention the darker inhabitants, the Wire Mistress and Scaff Wolves, servants of Reach the all-destroying Crane King, against whom Fil and Beth must battle to save their home.
The city is a character in itself, and the story takes us from North to South, East to West, from gentrified neighbourhoods, to graffiti-covered underpasses, and up the shining faces of the skyscrapers of docklands, huddled as they are against the warehouses of the East End. Pollock captures the facets of London’s identity very effectively, taking us from the heights to the depths, usually quite literally.
There are no fairy tale endings in Pollock’s London: this is a dark, death-filled, and hard-hitting novel beneath the surface of which lie themes of urban decay, regeneration and development, prejudice, abuse, and, I think, a hint of LGBTQ. Sprinkled with a good dose of humour and few good-natured swipes at the urban fantasy canon, this was a great read. If all YA was like this, I’d probably read more.