New York is even more diverse than you imagine...

New York is even more diverse than you imagine…

“The bookstore was sandwiched between a dry cleaner’s and a shifty-looking accounting office.”

New York is one of the few places I’d like to go visit. I think you probably have to see it to believe it, and I don’t doubt it makes London look tiny and short. I stopped in fictionally this week, and am still so unsure as to how I really felt about it that I’ll be making my mind up as I write this post.

Zoe Norris is a book editor with a background in travel guides who, after a disastrous relationship with her last boss (a man who had conveniently forgotten he was married) has lost her job and moved to New York, where she feels at home among the throngs of people. Seeking out some places not on in the guidebooks, she stumbles into a bizarre bookshop and then cafe where she finds that a new publishing company is going to be producing their own guidebooks. She is determined to apply, but two current employees of the company warn her off, telling her that she just won’t fit in.

Determined, she applies anyway and the boss, Phil, is so impressed with her that he gives her a go anyway. It turns out, however, that she doesn’t really have much in common with her new colleagues. Phil is a vampire; John is an incubus; Morgen is a water sprite … and that’s not even getting started on the zombies, the psychopomp, and the construct in HR who has the head of her ex-boyfriend. They are the coterie; the non-human residents of Earth who hide in plain sight, taking up residence in the cities where no one is going to look too closely at them. This team have decided to start writing guidebooks for visiting coterie, and Zoe now finds herself as the only human on staff.

But as if starting a new job wasn’t stressful enough, Zoe has also just met her new neighbour, the handsome Arthur, and there are numerous reports of zombies losing access to fresh brains and becoming feral and dangerous. Someone is plotting to bring about death and destruction, pitting the humans and the coterie against one another. Zoe finds herself right in the middle…

Like I said, I’m not sure how I feel about the book. Let’s split this up; here’s the good stuff.

The book plays nicely with ideas of how monsters (a pejorative term in this universe) would survive in our world, especially in secret. It details how zombies get their brains, and vampires acquire fresh blood, and really messes around with fantastic racism; for example, it notes that it’s rude to ask someone what exactly they are. While it makes use of well-known creatures such as vampires and zombies (werewolves get a passing mention, but don’t feature), it also brings us some of the more unusual creatures such as incubi, elemental sprites and some of the more goddesses. There’s a prolonged sequence with Apep, an Egyptian god of chaos. It seems to suggest that all the gods humans have invented are real, and I like that concept.

But there’s something missing. Zoe is too flat as a character; she happens to stumble into two coterie-friendly buildings in quick succession at the novel’s start, bumping into the aforementioned Phil and John, two of her soon-to-be-colleagues, when I got the impression that many of these sorts of establishments are avoided or ignored by humans. Her backstory of sleeping with a married boss feels tired, and I don’t like it, and while she’s not a woman obsessed with finding a boyfriend, there does seem to be a bit of a “battle over a man” scenario later on that felt too cliched and unfair to her as a character. The novel sets up some interesting plot points (Zoe’s HR manager having the head of her ex-boyfriend) or concepts (occult favours as currency) and then drops them or doesn’t mention them again, leading to some odd moments of unfulfilled suspense. I feel there’s a lot of wasted opportunity here.

I don’t know, I think I just expected better. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t really set my mind racing with excitement like I hoped. It isn’t bad, and I’d probably read the sequel in time if I find it, but I won’t actively be seeking it out. I’m just a bit disappointed, and I wish I had a stronger emotion about it than that. Oh well, on we go.