I have a secret love for Trilogies. Ok its not really secret, but give me a good trilogy (preferably once they are all available due to my chronic impatience) and you will find one happy reader. So my latest “Drop In” feature is a spotlight on various trilogies that I have enjoyed and I thought I would start with one I completed very recently, the Skyscraper Throne Trilogy from Tom Pollock.
So how did this one pan out for me then….
Well I started here…..
And I said this…..
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.
So, in my recent book buying spree, one of the things I was specifically looking for was the next book in my quest for terrific Urban Fantasy – this one kept popping up and glaring at me so I took that as a sign that this was the one.
What a great choice that was. Phew. For this reader, there are two things that will ensure I love an Urban Fantasy tale – a world I want to see with my own two eyes and characters that I can fall in love with. The City’s Son had both of those things with bells on..
Beth is a graffiti artist, ignored by her grieving father and expelled from school after her best friend Pen caves to pressure, she is drifting..until an incident on the streets of London brings her into contact with Fil. Son of a Goddess, Prince of London, he is about to be embroiled in a battle with the evil Reach, King of the Cranes, for his life and his City. And so Beth finds a new purpose…and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.
The world Mr Pollock has created here is weird, wonderful and entirely beautiful. Oh I wanted to dance with Elektra and her sisters, interact with the Pavement Priests, offer the spiders my voice and fight the good fight…the entire time I was immersed in Fil’s London I was drowning in the rich, often horrific, yet always entirely exotic surroundings. A city that lives and breathes, filled with bizarre and breathtaking characters who will steal your heart and touch your soul.
This author does not write from a place of safety and that makes this even more compelling – If you want a cheery tale where everyone lives happily ever after then this may not be for you – emotionally speaking it can be a bit of a rollercoaster ride. There is love and loss, sadness and joy, fear and bravery all within the pages – and the ending left me slightly tearful and overwrought in the best reading way possible.
Alluring and elegant writing, intelligent and dexterous world building and passionate characterisation make this a must read for any Urban Fantasy fan. Indeed for any fan of great storytelling.
I leave you with some quotes…
“Our memories are like a city: we tear some structures down, and we use rubble of the old to raise up new ones. Some memories are bright glass, blindingly beautiful when they catch the sun, but then there are the darker days, when they reflect only the crumbling walls of their derelict neighbours. Some memories are buried under years of patient construction; their echoing halls may never again be seen or walked down, but still they are the foundations for everything that stands above them.”
“Glas told me once that that’s what people are, mostly: memories, the memories in their own heads, and the memories of them in other people’s. And if memories are like a city, and we are our memories, then we are like cities too. I’ve always taken comfort in that.”
After that I was hooked….so next up for me was….
About which I said….
Pen’s life is all about secrets: the secret of the city’s spirits, deities and monsters her best friend Beth discovered, living just beyond the notice of modern Londoners; the secret of how she got the intricate scars that disfigure her so cruelly – and the most closely guarded secret of all: Parva, her mirror-sister, forged from her reflections in a school bathroom mirror.
So a little while back I read the first of the SkyScraper Throne novels “The City’s Son” – review can be found here http://lizlovesbooks.com/lizlovesbooks/liz-currently-loves-the-citys-son-by-tom-pollock/ and I entered the world discovered by Beth and Pen, getting utterly lost there for a wonderful few hours. So imagine my utter joy at being able to make a return visit.
Oh second books. They ALWAYS worry me especially if I have adored the first part with the whole of my reading soul, so yes ok a bit pensive going in – How on earth could it match the sheer addictive dancing joy of Book One? Well, I guess by doing exactly what Mr Pollock does here – take the strands of the tale told, give it a new perspective, a little twist, let the characters do their thing and open up the beauty of the world so far only partially discovered.
In this instalment we find Pen, dealing with the aftermath of previous events, trying to return to a normal existence but having to keep secrets…and when her mirror twin Parva goes missing, Pen must return to the magical underbelly of London and find a way to track her down. The cost however may be high…
When I use the dancing analogy in my description of these books that is the exact feeling the reading of them gives me – a fascinating, magical, magnificent jig of a story, taking you into a world beyond imagination that you can truly live in and let it become real around you. Following along on Pen’s journey, meeting up with both new and fondly remembered characters, it is a perfect adrenalin rush of experiences tempered by some downright emotional moments that cut to the heart.
For me this is right at the top of the tree when it comes to Urban Fantasy – a series I wish would run and run, one that definitely has a lot more to offer and all I can say now is – WHERE IS BOOK 3 – it had better come soon. We don’t want a total Liz meltdown…
This…..the end. Sob.
Four months ago, Mater Viae, the Goddess of London, returned from London-Under- Glass to reclaim her throne. And ever since then, London has been dying.
Streets are wracked by convulsions as muscles of wire and pipe go into spasm, bunching the city into a crippled new geography; pavements flare to thousand-degree fevers, incinerating anyone and anything touching them. Towers crash to the ground, their foundations decayed.
As the streets sicken, so does Beth, drawn ever deeper into the heart of the city, while Pen fights desperately for a way to save her. But when they discover that Mater Viae’s plans for dominion stretch far beyond London’s borders, they must make a choice: Beth has it within her to unleash the city’s oldest and greatest powers – powers that could challenge the vengeful goddess, or destroy the city itself.
So here we are at the finale then and thank HEAVENS it doesnt suffer from what I like to call “lost the plot scenario” which sometimes happens (with one VERY well known trilogy for sure) where the writer seems to lose energy and have no real idea what they intended in the first place. Not in this case, I found it to be a highly satisfying end, although I am still a little sad that it is all over.
Tom Pollock weaves his magic once again, pulling together the various strands and offshoots that have appeared over the course of the story and setting up a thrilling and really quite haunting final confrontation in the style we have come to expect, by using stunning descriptive prose then letting his characters speak. As the streets shatter and the world tilts on its axis, Pen and Beth are right at the heart of it all, fighting for survival and to make London safe again.
An age old tale in a way – a true battle between good and evil – this is a fresh new take on the Urban Fantasy genre and one that will stay with me for a long time. Beth and Pen, like old friends who have moved away, will be missed as will the rich, imaginative environments they have inhabited. Whilst the story IS complete there is so much depth and emotion to this world that it feels like there are many more stories to be told – one might hope that the author will revisit it one day, perhaps with a new inhabitant or a new hidden layer.
To use the same analogy again, I danced through this book as I did through the others – it was a glorious, fascinating, magical rollercoaster ride of reading joy from the very first words of “The Citys Son” to the very last words of “Our Lady of the Streets”. A most amazing accomplishment where the standard never dips, the reader is never cheated and the whole thing is a magnificent, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. To ANY avid reader. And lucky LUCKY you, you can get all three and never have to wait…
I wanted to include something from the author in this feature, and he wrote a guest post for BRSBKBLOG which he has been kind enough to let me steal – original piece here. Tom Pollock on Trilogies.
The Rule of Three – Tom Pollock.
Three, that’s the magic number, especially when it comes to… well, magic. Trilogies are endemic in western literature (the Deptford trilogy, the Karla Trilogy etc) but they are extra-endemic (extrademic? ultrademic? MMMMONSTERDEMIC.*) in fantasy.
The Lord of the Rings? Trilogy His Dark Materials? Trilogy. Earthsea? Quartet, technically, but the fourth book was written eighteen years later than – and was in part a comment and revision on – the first three, which were a trilogy. Lord of the extremely long form Brandon Sanderson has even said he envisions making his Mistborn sequence a trilogy of trilogies, to which I can only say, I admire the man’s stamina.
So what’s so great about three volume series? Is it just tradition? Or is there more to it than that? I thought I’d ask some people who’d written some. So I took to Twitter.
Joe Abercrombie talked about echoing the classics and said it felt ‘intuitively right.’ Sarah Pinborough and Jon Courtenay Grimwood both welcomed the opportunity to write longer story arcs and deeper character development than a single book allowed, while Patrick Ness even cited Aristotelian unity, which I admit I had to look up. Kate Elliott described her use of the three act structure as follows: 1. Set problem, 2. Complicate, 3. Resolve.’, while Sarah Rees Brennan has her own (tongue, if you’ll forgive the pun, in cheek) rule: ‘Book one: set up, Book two: make-out, Book three: defeat evil.’
Okay, so what’s clear here is that this isn’t, as the bishop said to the Forth Bridge engineer, only about length. It’s the fact of having three acts that’s doing the work. But what work? Obviously enough, that’s going to vary from book to book, but maybe we can generalise a bit.
Conventionally, the beginning of a narrative throws down a challenge: a murder to solve, a dangerous piece of jewellery to dispose of, whatever. The end of that narrative – again conventionally – answers that challenge, either successfully (Professor Plum, Library, Candlestick. *smugly dons deerstalker*), or unsuccessfully, (and the dark lord’s shadow covered all the lands in a second darkness, probably should’ve called in those Eagles earlier, huh Gandalf?)
But this kind of simple call and response, isn’t really that interesting. Why? Because if we grasp the challenge implicit in the opening act, then we know the sort of thing that’s coming in the final one. We may not know who the killer is, but we know there’s going to be one. So we need a middle act, to introduce an element of the unexpected, to destabilise the narrative a bit and throw us off our guard, as Elliott puts it – we need to complicate the problem, to escalate it, so that it makes us wince at the price exacted to solve it, perhaps even make us conflicted that we want it solved or not. If, for example, all the evidence begins to point to the killer being the detective’s mum, that raises the stakes.
Complicating the problem also necessitates complicating the solution, and since the solution usually comes from the actions of characters, the people in the story become complex too. Brennan’s second act ‘make out’ rule is a pretty good example of this, a romance not only complicates the problem by raising the stakes – because now it’s not just the world that’s in danger, it’s your boyfriend – but it also complicates the solution: is the hero strengthened by that relationship? Or fatally weakened by it? Either way it’s interesting.
Obviously, three acts isn’t the only structure you can do this in – five acts is also popular, and as Elizabeth Bear pointed out a lot of longer series use epic or episodic structures – but it is probably the simplest.
Equally obviously, not all three-act stories are sold and packaged as trilogies, but beyond a certain length, it just starts to make sense for both material reasons (there’s only so many pages a book can have before the binding disintegrates) and financial ones (if you’re going to write three times as much book, it’s nice to actually get paid three times.)
But why stop at plot? Act two of a trilogy gives you the opportunity to complicate so much more.
Like theme, for example. The trilogy I’ve just finished: The Skyscraper Throne is about cities and monsters and crane-fingered demolition gods, but it’s also about two teenage girls whose world is changing beyond all recognition. So the first book is about discovery, about finding a world that’s always been around you, that you’ve seen every day of your life, but is also impossibly strange and threatening. The second book was about testing your limits against that world, and deciding how far it’s going to shape you, and how much you can shape it… And the third book? Well, spoilers obviously, but the third book is about the fact that when you’ve done all of that, you can never go home again. Because encountering the fantastic -like growing up – isn’t something you can do as a tourist. There no magic wardrobe door you can run back through and slam to leave it all behind you. You do this, you give up home, you give up safety forever**
As it happens, each of these narrative arcs fits well with particular sub-genres. So the genre gets more complex with each book too – the first book is a (very) urban fantasy, the second book is a (very) urban fantasy and a dystopia, the third book is a (very) urban, dystopic, apocalyptic nightmare…
…with dragons made out of burning methane.
And that’s what the trilogy format gave to me: the opportunity to write three books about three different themes, in three different genres that taken together chart the shape of a young life in a very strange time. And monsters. Never forget the monsters.
*(Yep, that was an Unreal tournament reference)
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Happy HAPPY reading folks!