“These were her streets, London was her place, and if it had a people, then they were her people. The city was alive, and she’d always known that inside.”
The night that Beth Bradley found herself staring down a fast-approaching set of train headlights, was the night everything changed. One minute she was a graffiti-loving teenager, with a good-for-nothing father, and a best friend she would do anything for, and the next she was racing through the streets of her home town with a boy, who had skin the colour of concrete and a girlfriend who resembled a street lamp, literally.
For the London Beth thinks she knows isn’t quite what it seems, and soon she will learn that the city is a dangerous place if you don’t pay attention.
The City’s Son is the first book in the Skyscraper Throne series and is a really interesting take on the age old battle of old versus new.
The main focus of this book is London: a city that has been standing for centuries, which has changed and morphed drastically in that time to become what it is today. As someone who has lived in around this city for her entire life, it was interesting to read a book that focused on how the city has changed, and the ever constant fight to keep it’s identity intact in our modern times.
These days you can walk down virtually any street in London and you will see the past colliding with the present – St Paul’s Cathedral, for example, which is mentioned frequently in The City’s Son, has been standing for nearly 400 years, but nowadays you’ll find it alongside office blocks, that have been there for less than 10. The city’s architecture is a timeline of it’s own history, dating from the 12th century right up to the 21st, and I have to admire Tom Pollock’s ingenuity in designing an entire fantasy world around that idea.
In many ways, London is as much a character in this book as any other, but the story primarily follows three characters: Beth, Fil and Pen.
Beth is your average teenager, rebelling against everyone that tells her no, struggling to keep her life together as her father sits and wastes away after the death of her mother. She is cocky and headstrong, but, when she enters this new world, it is her vulnerability that makes her particularly interesting. It’s not often we see the lead protagonist in a fantasy truly scared, but we see this many times with Beth; she knows what she should do, she knows what she has to do, and she will willing do anything to save those she loves, but she also frequently questions her ability to do those things. She is not infallible and it was so refreshing to find a character who is like that. She is a great anti-hero.
In many ways Fil is the perfect counter-balance to Beth. Unlike her, he has grown up in this world since he was a young boy, and, as a result, is more capable, more aware, and understands it better, but what I found great about the way Pollock wrote this character, was that we are also consistently made aware of the fact that he is still just a child.
While Beth may not have grown up in Fil’s world, likewise, Fil hasn’t grown up in hers. He has never had parents or teachers to keep him in check, or on the right track, whereas, in spite of her rebellious streak, Beth has. She has been made to face responsibility for her actions, and this makes her, in many ways, more confident, more assured of herself, and more willing to face up to what she must do.
This contrast makes for a perfectly complimenting companionship between the two, who, on the surface seem to be incredibly similar, but, in reality, are vastly different.
Finally, we have Pen, who’s storyline is by the far the most disturbing of them all. Pen is an interesting character from the get-go: daughter of strict parents, whom, despite her occasional rebellion, she wants to please; friend to Beth, whom she cares deeply for, but also who often drags her into rebelling more than she wants; and, finally, she has a secret, a secret she is too terrified to tell anyone about. Her life is largely made up of people manipulating her, whether it be teachers, friends or family, and in many ways what happens to her in The City’s Son sees this turned up to 11.
Without giving anything away, her story arc is brutal in both a figurative and literal way, and I really hope that in the next book in the series we get to see more of her side of things, because whereas Beth had quite a rounded character-arc in this book, I felt like Pen’s was only just beginning, and I will be really interested to see where Pollock takes it as the series progresses.
The plot itself was a unique idea, incredibly dark and disturbing at times, but I did feel that it lacked that extra something. There was a lot of small moments in this which helped the story simmer along, but it never really grew to any real kind of crescendo, and I felt slightly disappointed by this. I kept waiting for something big to happen, and, for the most part, it never did.
Overall, this book was a bit of a mixed bag for me.
I loved the characters, and I think it’s an incredibly intelligent book. Tom Pollock writes with real poetry at times, particularly when describing London, and I have to mention one particular highlight where he described the Thames Barrier as ‘glinting like the knuckles of a giant gauntlet’, which is a truly glorious piece of description.
However, it needed something extra as far as the actual plot was concerned to really get it going. I will most likely read the next book in the series, The Glass Republic, not least because I am intrigued to see where he takes these characters next, but I will be hoping for more as far as the actually story is concerned.
This is part of a series of reviews I am writing leading up to YA Shot, a UK day-long convention celebrating Young Adult and Middle Grade literature, which takes place on October 28th 2015.
To read more reviews from authors attending the convention, click here.