A magician returns to an alternate-universe version of New York City to settle squabbles between two warring queens, battle his nemesis, and save the world.
Fantasy noir isn’t exactly a rare medium these days, but Hugo-nominated writer Polansky (Those Below, 2016, etc.) takes it a vast leap forward with this stand-alone set in a spooky Manhattan where all things are possible. “It would help if you did not think of it as magic,” warns the very first line, and Polansky walks a spectacular high wire here, never plunging into fantasy tropes or steampunk dressage nor losing a noir edge that gives the setting a visceral threat. Our protagonist is M., an ageless mage who leaves Paris behind to return to his old stomping grounds in NYC. Those hoping for an epic fantasy arc will be left wanting, as the book lays out its strange story in stand-alone vignettes. But readers who fall headlong for the book’s nimble style and iconoclastic sense of humor will be hooked. Case in point: the third chapter, in which M. must rescue his friend Boy the Infernal (actually a mean-tempered and very dangerous girl) from the pirates who roam the Gowanus Canal. “How exactly did you manage to get captured by a Gilbert and Sullivan cast?” M. asks Boy after rescuing her. “In a word: acid,” she replies. There's a cocktail party staffed by zombies. There's a bar with exits that lead to a different year. There's a giant cosmic turtle beneath Manhattan who must be lulled back to sleep periodically with Xanax and magic. And there's a war brewing between the White Queen of NYC and her nemesis, the Red Queen of Brooklyn Heights. And at its center, a man who simply wants to see justice and truth prevail and then knock back a drink or 10.
Anyone with even the slightest interest in genre fiction should be delighted by this whacked-out fantasy novel.