The City's Son by Tom Pollock (3 stars)
Synopsis from Goodreads: Expelled from school, betrayed by her best friend and virtually ignored by her dad, who’s never recovered from the death of her mum, Beth Bradley retreats to the sanctuary of the streets, looking for a new home. What she finds is Filius Viae, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London, who opens her eyes to the place she’s never truly seen.
But the hidden London is on the brink of destruction. Reach, the King of the Cranes, is a malign god of demolition, and he wants Filius dead. In the absence of the Lady of the Streets, Filius’ goddess mother, Beth rouses Filius to raise an alleyway army, to reclaim London’s skyscraper throne for the mother he’s never known. Beth has almost forgotten her old life – until her best friend and her father come searching for her, and she must choose between the streets and the life she left behind.
This novel felt a lot like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (which is one of my favorite urban fantasies), except that the events take place aboveground. It's gritty, dark, inventive -- but also disorienting. The copy I read was an ARC, but it needs a lot of cleaning up (more so than any other novel I've ever read an early version of, to be honest) and that was slightly distracting. Still, the disorientation came more from the fact that there's not enough background on this urban London to make me feel like I had a good handle on what was going on. With novels like this one -- where we are introduced to a different London that many of us don't see or just refuse to see -- it's necessary to have that reader orientation if you want them to come along on this ride with you. And while Pollock eventually provides all the information we need to understand the events that are happening, there's not enough backstory provided to offer the "why" and "how" that drives a story like this. For me, that ended up being my biggest complaint. At no point did I really have a clear understanding of the characters' motivations, their reasons for doing the things they were doing. I also thought that there was too much acceptance -- and much too quickly -- from the main character to be believable. I mean, this girl never batted an eye, it seemed, and although urban fantasy really depends on characters being able to just go with this new world they've stumbled upon, there's got to be some pushback. After all, by inviting that person into this new world, this person essentially has to give up their place in their old world. It's a journey story -- and we all know you never come back as the same person you were when you left.
I received an Advance Review Copy (e-book version) from Netgalley.