The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold
Publication date: 06 February 2020
Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
I’m not familiar with Luke Arnold’s acting career, however I was still intrigued by his debut novel, The Last Smile in Sunder City. I had heard good things about it and was incredibly curious to try it for myself. I admit I was a little wary going in because the book seemed to have some similarities to The Dresden Files, a series that I very much dislike, however Sunder City proved to be exactly what I wanted from The Dresden Files.
I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:
- Sobriety costs extra.
- My services are confidential – the cops can never make me talk.
- I don’t work for humans.
It’s nothing personal – I’m human myself. But after what happened, Humans don’t need my help. Not like every other creature who had the magic ripped out of them when the Coda came…
I just want one real case. One chance to do something good.
Because it’s my fault the magic is never coming back.
I enjoyed the heck out of The Last Smile in Sunder City — Arnold manages to strike the perfect balance between grit and snark, as well as magic and reality. As a huge fan of film noir, I can confidently say that he manages to capture the spirit of noir and crafted the book with such care and passion — never once did it fall into caricature or cartoonishness, which I sometimes find with books that attempt a noir setting.
I absolutely loved the world and world building in this book — the concept of a land that has lost its magic years before and the impact that loss has on the magical and non-magical citizens was incredibly compelling. Arnold did a fantastic job of painting a bleak picture of Sunder City’s present day, while giving the reader the story of its past. The various types of magical creatures and how everything from their lifestyles to physiology changed after the Coda was so awful, yet totally fascinating and inventive. I really enjoyed that he included so much about how the magically-enhanced technology crumbled as well, launching the world into a bizarre modern dark ages. I was completely absorbed by the events of the Coda and would love to read more in this setting and about this world.
I absolutely, unexpectedly, adored the character of Fetch Phillips. He’s a refreshing and updated (and not a misogynist! What a concept), yet completely identifiable noir detective. He’s a hard drinking, unkept mess of a man trying to atone for the sins of his past, but you never doubt for a moment that he cares deeply for the people he is investigating or for the lives of the formerly magical folk whose lives have been torn apart. I really enjoyed his back story and the way that details of his past are teased out over the course of the book.
I did find the pacing a little choppy at times, especially with the long flashback sequences tucked in between events. It didn’t slow down things down, but I found that it did pull me out of the story a little. However, I did really appreciate those sequences because they added so much richness to Fetch’s backstory.
Overall, The Last Smile in Sunder City was an absolute treat to read. The perfect crossover between fantasy and noir, it’s a fast-paced read that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.
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