Sunday, June 2, 2013

Shambling Fantasy

Mur Lafferty has been telling great stories for years as a podcaster, with projects like Playing for Keeps her superhero story and The Afterlife series, and as a role player in the pen and paper gaming industry. This, her first novel to get a big publishing contract, falls somewhere between the topical geeky humor of Joss Whedon's Buffy and the dry wit of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Her jokes feel more like asides to a hip audience then meer slapstick and the horror, or well the horrific bits of the story, hit more like that of Shawn of the Dead because of the juxtaposed humor. I for one loved this book with its real mix of serious moments along with its laughs and OMG events too. Its a great start for a unique urban fantasy concerned more with the interpersonal relationships and the missteps there in then the fact that some the heores are the things that go bump in the night.

The horror and the humor in The Shambling Guide to New York work so well because she gives them equal weight, screen time and seriousness as her characters takes their lives or un-lives as the case may be seriously enough to have a laugh about themselves once and a while. Though Zoe is clearly the protagonist and our viewpoint into a world where vampires, zombies, sprites, succubi, incubi and lots more live alongside humanity unseen sometimes the real stars of the story are her complex and wonderful coworkers and the colorful demonic characters she meets along the way.

There are millions of stories in the big apple this is the one that no one sees. Humans have a way of only noticing what is comfortable for them to see and Mur's heroine Zoe steps outside the normal to see her home town, New York, from a whole new perspective. She's a woman who's honest mistakes have landed her in the unemployment lines and a chance visit to a really odd bookshop followed by a coffee around the corner opens the door to a world that only exists in urban fantasy. Taking a page from her favorite writers, Douglas Adams, Mur's first big market novel is one filled with serious storytelling with a comic edge to it much like Shawn of the Dead and the witty fantasy novels of Terry Pratchett her story takes itself serious but is not at all adverse to make the smirking aside to the reading audience. The Shambling Guide to New York takes the UF or Paranormal Romance tropes to a new place not to the grim and noir or to the zany and slapstick this is more what happens when UF gets a home and tries to figure out what a life is. Personal foibles and foul ups, bad choices and even good ones can lead to wry unexpectedly laughable outcomes. The best bits are the nes you can see coming as are some of the creepiest bits. [one where everyday concerns and foul ups play a bigger role then reality threatening villains and really Zoe and her coworkers have enough issues to explore in a city and world as messed up as the one right outside our windows.]

Interspersed with excerpts from the Shamling Guide that reveal funny travel guidey factoids about this New York the story of Zoe Norris, her fight to get and the deal with her job with coworkers who may just see her as food is pretty relateable even given its monsterous elements. Mur Laffery has taken the urban fantasy idea of vampires, lycanthropes, zombies, demons, minor gods and fae living side by side with and hidden from most of humanity to a pretty new place. She created a society that could hide in our midst despite their differences with a little effort because for the most part people are pretty unobservant made even worse by smart phones and the like.

What makes Zoe's story compelling is her interactions with the characters around her. We all kind of get to know our co workers a bit, see their sometimes bizarre lunches, meet them outside work for coffee and wonder if we know them that well once we talk away from the job and sort of know the people at out coffee shop and cafe's but


Mur Lafferty is the kind of writer that will surprise you and make you think as a reader is she really going there. The Shambling Guide to New York introduces us to Zoe Norris who is totally no Mary Sue; her past mistakes, no matter who's fault they really were, land her in a position where she fights tooth and nail to get a editing job that several total strangers do everything to talk her the hell out of trying to get. Her dogged determination lands her in a world she did not know existed; where vampires, fae, zombies, golems, demons and more unclassifyables live alongside people who are pretty much their natural food source. Mur takes these urban fantasy conventions and plays a very different game with the story making it much more about the everyday troubles then the "oh my god world crisis" stuff of the Buffy type stories. The Shambling Guide book takes a lot of its comedic tone and inspiration from the wit of authors like Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett gong more for the bizarre asides and wink winks to the audience of the absurdity of life rather then slapstick making for a more solid story. In the same way that Shawn of the Dead succeded as a horror movie and comedy both because of the gravity with which some story elements were given Mur takes the story seriously which allows the wit and whimsey to be actually funny rather the a canned laugh track.


Something is truly not right in the city that is her home and its not that demons drive taxis, vampires run a publishing house zombies and farie abound in the place; someone is playing games with Zoe's new friends if she can call them that and messing with the job security she's not sure she even has. Mur created a fascinating landscape to play in and as of yet we have seen only New York and there is a whole world of possibilities when it comes to guidebooks. This was a great place to start and has a satisfyingly New York Ghostbusters-esque conclusion. Mur will be podcasting chapters of this book weekly at and with it being free and all you'd be silly not to go give it a listen. She deserves all the success we can muster for her she's been entertaining people for too long for her not to succeed. Shambling Guide to New York is the kind of book UF fans will love because it is so much more then the usual fare and is the light paring to the crime noir brother Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig....


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