The Shambling Guide to New York City

This is an urban fantasy novel in which the main character, Zoe, is hired as an editor by a firm which wants to create travel guides for supernatural creatures. I find it hard to recommend this book.

Now, for fairness, time for a disclaimer: I read this book while recovering from surgery, and wanted the book to be, as the cover promised, amusing. It has excellent blurbs from respected authors saying how fantastic it is. I didn’t hate it, but in future I’m going to disregard positive blurbs from the authors who recommended this one, and I’m not going to add its sequels to my list of “to be read” books.

My problems with the books are as follows:

  • It’s a bit rapey. I’m not saying it’s really, really rapey, but if you find books that are kinda rapey as unpleasant as I do, please be aware there’s an incubus who sexually harasses the main character a lot. Then he controls her mind so that she gets naked and begs him to have sex with her, which he accepts as consent.  She fights him off, kind of, and I suppose that gives her character development, but I find that a cheap and slightly sad way of making female characters look strong.
  • There is no reason for point of view character to be put in the dangerous places she is required to go. When her astute vampire boss decides to take her, over the thousands of supernatural characters he knows, into a situation that’s basically a death-trap, that breaks him as a character. You can have the other characters praise him all you want: if he acts foolishly to push the plot forward, then he’s not as brilliant as they say he is.
  • Conversely, the incubus, who has the ability to warp the brains of women so they want nothing but to have sex with him, and can drain their life energy with his touch, strangely disappears before the final battle with the female villain. Why not take him along? His powers are creepy and sick, but seem kind of relevant.
  • I picked every twist, and I am terrible at picking the endings of books. I’m not saying that when a character transforms and demonstrates she is secretly a supernatural character that I knew precisely who she would be, but I knew she would transform. I knew who the mysterious “she” one of the characters keeps mentioning was from the first mention. Interestingly (to me) my subconcious’s way of making me aware of it was to have me think I’d heard a Suzanne Vega song on the television, based on the same idea.
  • It uses the RPG convention that all of the cool things humans have are really an effect of the work of supernatural beings, and have a hidden meaning humans do not see. It however also uses the convention that when humans do really bad things, that’s not the supernaturals. We don’t get off the hook for Nazism or 9/11: that’s all humans. This means that humans in these settings never do anything magnificent, but do everything that’s truly disgusting. Not only are vampires and so forth having a cooler life than humans (immortal, affluent, more deeply connected to the real causes of events) the humans themselves are a dark and twisted shadow of real humans; always the ape, never the angel.

City Libraries has this book, and its sequel, in the collection.