My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I like urban fantasy.
Well, that’s not exactly true. I like the idea of urban fantasy. I like the idea of a secret hidden world within our world where magic is real, monsters live among us, and only a select few know about it.
What I don’t like is much of what is published under the heading of “urban fantasy,” most of which is really paranormal romance. Yes, I’m talking about Twilight. Vampires are predators who feed on the living, not sparkly emo stalkers obsessed with high school girls eighty years younger than they are. I read one of the Sookie Stackhouse novels that the TV series “True Blood” is based on and the less said about my opinion of that, the better.
That’s why it’s such a pleasure to find something in urban fantasy that isn’t about whiny, co-dependent relationships with a vampire who is little more than a human with an eating disorder. Mur Lafferty has been a fixture of the podcasting world pretty much since there have been podcasts. She’s been doing her writing show, “I Should Be Writing” for several years now, so it’s great to see her long overdue major press publication.
The cover art alone tells you that this is something different from most urban fantasies. It eschews the leather-clad heroine with a tramp stamp holding a weapon in the moonlight. Instead, we see a professional woman walking down the street with various creatures in the background.
The protagonist of “The Shambling Guide to New York City” is Zoe, a travel writer. After a disaster of an office romance left her employed and forced to move, Zoe lands a job editing a travel book about New City. The catch: The book isn’t aimed a humans, but the various vampires, demons, fey, and zombies that visit the Big Apple. Office politics take on a very different meaning when half her coworkers would just as soon eat her as take writing assignments from her. Managing a writing staff consisting of zombies, vampires, a death goddess and an incubus (there are no sexual harassment laws covering her new job) is challenging enough, but when the new HR director turns out to be golem made from the head of an ex-boyfriend, Zoe starts to think that maybe someone at the publishing company is out to get her.
“The Shambling Guide” is a fun, quirky book. Lafferty balances light humor and dark horror with a skill well above that of most first-time novelist. Zoe avoids many of the stereotypes that plague urban fantasy heroines. She doesn’t waste her time mooning over unrequited love or overcompensating for deep insecurities. Zoe is smart, clever, and assertive while clearly aware that she has step in over her head. If you’re tired of emo vampires, pick this up.