Daniel Polansky has been on my to-read list forever. Famous for his Straight Razor Cure/Low Town series, I was excited when NetGalley gave me a chance to read the ARC of his new book, A City Dreaming. However, a book might not be the right descriptor for A City Dreaming. Polansky’s new piece feels more like a collection of short stories than anything else; not that there is a problem with that, but first let’s talk about the plot and the mysterious protagonist M.
M is a magician. What a magician is in A City Dreaming is definitely a break from what I would call traditional magic. Magicians essentially are individuals who have the ability to warp reality around them, intentionally and unintentionally, and bend it to their will. The reality bending mostly falls into the unintentional category and functions similar to getting really lucky all the time. In one of the earlier sequences we see M wondering about where he is going to live, only to have people on the street trip over each other in their haste to give M their homes. It is an interesting take on magic, and lends this very surreal and strange tone to the novel as a whole that I rather liked. There is also some classic magic involving fire throwing and magical shields etc., but it mostly sticks to the subtler category.
The plot follows M as he gets tired of Paris and returns to New York City for the first time in a long while. Once there, he is drawn into a conflict between the ruling magicians of New York, or so the back of the book would have you believe. In my opinion, this isn’t really the case as the book actually follows M on a series of short stories/adventures as various things happen to him in NYC. The storytelling is fairly disjointed and will likely be unsatisfying for those looking for a long cohesive story about a war between magicians. That being said, the short stories certainly aren’t bad. In fact, I enjoyed almost all of them. While I wouldn’t consider myself completely satisfied with the story, I definitely know a lot of people who would enjoy it and its unique storytelling method makes it stand out for better or worse from the books I have read this year. The character development varies heavily throughout the book, making it hard to make a judgement. M is developed nicely with a decent amount of depth and with a fairly interesting personality. However, the side cast varies from mysterious and enchanting to instantly forgettable. On the other hand, the prose was very solid all the way through the book and the short stories were often funny and captivating.
I am having a hard time coming up with more to say for this review, because whether or not you will like A City Dreaming comes down to two factors – the magic and the storytelling. The magic is unique and fun and was a really interesting take on magicians, but I can see others disliking its passive style. The short vignette style of storytelling will definitely turn off those looking for a robust and full story, but I think it served the book well in the end. Polansky’s writing was strong, and I will definitely be picking up Straight Razor Cure/Low Town to see what he can do with a full story. In the meantime, if you are looking for some fun jaunts you might consider looking into A City Dreaming.
Rating: A City Dreaming – 6.5/10