Audiobook Review: The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

25 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

Read by Mur Lafferty

Hachette Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 24 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Shambling Guide to New York City has a fun, silly set up with some potential for monster mayhem of all sorts, yet never really lives up to this potential. Lafferty has some unique and fascinating concepts she throws around, and I think with some more focus and depth, she could pull off something really special, but for me, The Shambling Guide to New York City wasn’t special at all.

Grade: C

One of the most interesting, often repeated ideas in urban fantasy is the idea that past horror and fantasy greats weren’t actually fiction writers but recorders of a secret history unbeknownst to the public. That authors like Lovecraft and the Brother’s Grimm were chroniclers of events that the so called true histories neglect. I often wonder if years in the future, some apocalyptic surviving remnant of humanity will discover our fiction and believe that we actually lived in a time where Vampires were into sparkly S&M and wizards roamed Chicago yelling incantations and blowing up electronics. I wonder which of out authors will be looked upon as the secret histories of out time. Yet, most importantly, there is a small part of my brain that wonders which of my favorite authors are actually chronicling the mysterious magical undergrounds that some sort of mental block on us normal modern citizen prevent us from seeing. Have our earthquakes and other natural disasters been covers for horrible magical battles among the Fae and humanity, told the likes of Jim Butcher and Seanan McGuire? Are there Vampires and Werewolves running around small southern towns that only Charlain Harris can see? Is there a mysterious town called Derry where Clowns and spiders haunt the lives of little children? Is the strange and twisted mind of Chuck Wendig truly just a reflection on the world we live it? God I hope not. Now, I know the likelihood that any of these authors are doing anything more that telling us stories that were planted into their genetic memories by some ancient Saurian aliens species who seeded human life among the stars, but part of me can’t help but wonder what if. What if their stories are real? What if our ancient Lizard benefactors didn’t actually mess with Stephen King’s brain? Yeah, I know, the idea is ridiculous.

After leaving her last job due to a disastrous personal relationship with her boss, Travel writer Zoe moves to New York City. In search for a new writing job, Zoe meets a strange group of individuals who seem reluctant to hire her despite her obvious qualifications based solely on their belief that she wouldn’t fit in. Yet, when she finally pressures the owner, she discover’s the staff is entirely made up of monsters of legend and they are writing a travel guide for monsters. The Shambling Guide to New York City has a fun, silly set up with some potential for monster mayhem of all sorts, yet never really lives up to this potential. I just never really connected with the characters and the world author Mur Lafferty set up. There were some really fun and funny moments, yet it was all filtered through a very unlikable character in Zoe. Zoe came off to me as entitled and pretentious. She seemed to get up in arms when people seemed to talk down to her, but often did the same thing to those around her. It was hard to feel any sort of righteous anger for this character. While some of the other characters, particularly the Zombie coworkers and some of the minor denizens along the way where fun, the majority of the major characters fell into a range between bland, and down right annoying. John the incubus was a pushy sexual predator enabled by his coworkers because it was just part of his nature and when he would get caught with his hand in Zoe’s cookie jar, he got a few tisks tisks then was actually still forced onto her by her coworkers regularly. Zoe’s main love interest happened to also work for Public Works which protected humanity from monsters, yet was incredibly inept and ignorant, and tended to act impulsively, creating more havoc with occasional breaks to condescend to Zoe.  And, of course, Zoe was the oh so special outsider who shows up just in time to save the minority monsters from their own selves and some outside bad guys. All of these criticisms seem harsh and I don’t feel are in any way what the author intended, but it was how it sat with me. I don’t think this was a bad book, it just lacked depths in the things I tend to enjoy in urban fantasy. Zoe’s training was sort of just glossed over, and yet she managed to become the most competent warrior of the group. It just all ended up feeling like a skeevy form of twee, I know there are people out there who will love this book and I would have no problem recommending it. I thought the ending itself was relatively interesting, even if at times I felt like the narrative got away from me. On the positive side, i really liked the actual entries from the Shambling Guide, and probably would enjoy reading that more than this book. Lafferty has some unique and fascinating concepts she throws around, and I think with some more focus and depth, she could pull off something really special, but for me, The Shambling Guide to New York City wasn’t special at all.

Mur Lafferty also narrates this novel. I often find it harder to judge the narration on books I didn’t really like. I though Lafferty did a serviceable job. She had moments of flair that really brought out some of the better aspects of the novel. I thought as the voice for Zoe, she was perfect, but many of the other characters lost distinctiveness along the way. Her pacing was just a bit awkward. It wasn’t horrible, but just unsettling enough to make me wonder how much more I would appreciate it is it was narrated by Khristine Hvam or Hilary Huber. Now, I did listen to the entire production so she did enough to keep me interested. She has a quirky voice that could be endearing but my lack of connection with the story made the rawness of her reading only stand out more. I actually think I could grow to enjoy her narration and I know she has done a lot of podcasting work in the past, so I definitely plan on keeping an ear out for her in the future.

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