The Last Smile in Sunder City – Luke Arnold

“‘Do some good,’ she’d said. Well, I’d tried, hadn’t I?”

Welcome to Sunder City, once a shining beacon of industry and home to dwarves, vampires, centaurs and all sorts of other fae creatures. But when the ‘Coda’ happened – when magic disappeared from the world – these species had to find new ways to survive without their defining features. Wyverns could no longer fly, sorcerers no longer had magic. And it’s all the fault of the pesky humans…

Fetch Phillips is a ‘Man for Hire’, a hard-bitten detective in the mould of all the classic hard-nosed dicks. His only quirk, perhaps, is that he refuses to work for humans – which is odd, because he is one.

We learn Fetch’s backstory through some long flashback scenes, building up towards an explanation of his lot. And in the present, he’s landed himself a case of a missing vampire – and a whole lot of trouble.

I must confess I’ve never heard of Luke Arnold, an actor apparently best known for Black Sails. I requested this book from Netgalley based purely on the description. It’s all a little bit Dresden Files, which is a terrible bar to ask a debut author to live up to, and while it doesn’t quite hit those highs it’s still a lot of fun.

The story almost conjures that world-weary voiceover of the private eye down on his luck. There isn’t a great deal of action, rather it’s a twisty, noir-ish tale with a lot of pretty impressive world building. I loved some of the explanations for where magical creatures came from – trolls as parts of the landscape that became saturated with magic to the point of sentience, for instance.

It was possible that setting the story post-loss of all magic would make it all seem grey – yes, the story is bleak, but actually the new coping for the species is new and far more interesting than oh look, another world full of beauteous elves. Fetch isn’t the cheeriest of souls, but his self-pity is also self-aware, and I found myself mostly liking him as a character, despite some of the teenage-y-angst of the long backstory sections. I still wanted to find out what had happened.

My one main complaint would be that this debut author is maybe trying a little too hard with the clever sentences, the ironic one-liners. It settles down quickly enough, and I have high hopes for a follow-up with Fetch and Sunder City.

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 34 chapters
First published: February 2020
Series: The Fetch Phillips Archive book 1
Read from 4th-9th February 2020

My rating: 8/10

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