Reviews

The Last Smile in Sunder City, by Luke Arnold

chel_hop's review against another edition

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adventurous dark emotional mysterious tense slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.75

talentedmisfit's review

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adventurous dark mysterious medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

2.75

littlelynn's review

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adventurous mysterious medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? It's complicated
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

joyelbe's review

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adventurous dark mysterious medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? It's complicated
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

estefaniavelez's review against another edition

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4.0

The Last Smile in Sunder City is not a book I would normally read- I'm not very familiar with the fantasy genre except for some of the classics, so I approached this book with few presumptions and was happy to appreciate a novel so outside of my usual genre wheelhouse. A few have already gone at length about the use of setting- I think this is what surprised me most about the book. There's some necessary exposition at the beginning of the novel that very clearly, very pointedly lays down some of the basic rules of the universe- the way magic once existed, its present absence, the devastating aftermath of all that happened before the novel's start. One of the novel's immediate strengths is it's setting. It's immersive. The world of Sunder City feels lived in, run down, and familiar- I think it's very easy to rely on genre to do your work for you and let your reader just fill in the blanks: "Magical world with magical creatures, I don't have to explain, you fill in the rest." That isn't the case here. As a reader, you get the sense that a lot of thought and effort has been put into crafting a universe for these characters to live and traverse through. The use of setting and repeated return to surroundings are a display of thoughtfulness, I think, which is one of the novel's real saving graces- I've never been one to care if a plot is 'slow'. I enjoy the wait, both in film and literature, if it's well crafted enough. It's probably fair to say that the central mystery in Sunder City isn't trying to reinvent the wheel. It doesn't have to. What kept me turning pages was my investment in the world that was being illustrated as the narrative carried on, my interest in what was lying in store for a jaded and broken world that- in some really great flashbacks especially- once seemed so much greater than when the reader finds it.

The second and perhaps greater strength of the novel is its cast of characters. Fetch as a protagonist might not be everyone's idea of an entertaining hero- yes, there are qualities of the character that have been done within the noir/fantasy noir/sci-fi noir many times before. Still, the depth of the characters unhappiness, illustrated through unrelenting self-hatred in the narration, keep the protagonist from seeming too much like a caricature. The unhappiness seems genuine, instead of an easy appeal to the common tropes of the noir detective, and the character is authentically flawed. This is perhaps what I liked most about him, because it grants Fetch a lot of realism- in some pretty significant ways, he's an absolutely awful person. His relationship with one of the most significant female characters in the novel is, in my reading, troubled and suspect but the narration is so bound by his perspective that this is never out-rightly acknowledged and ... honestly? it probably shouldn't be. At least not yet. I think this is a good choice on the level of writing. Fetch just isn't self-aware enough, I think, and far too truncated in his own suffering for now, which makes me all the more invested in where his characterization might lead later. (You get the sense, too, that the novel's central mystery would've been solved far sooner if he didn't have such a knack for getting in his own way). It's easy to hand us the answers and make it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that Fetch's relationship with women (and one character in particular) is nothing to be admired- it's another thing to sit with the evidence of his issues and keep confirming them, keep revealing the degree to which Fetch can be an uncomfortable character to follow, and not absolve him of those problems by the novel's end. I'm curious to see if he'll ever be confronted on this in later installments. There's another moment, too, with a secondary character which reveals once more a potential prejudice- is this moment of division between the characters just shock and miscommunication or is the conflict also, if only partly, fueled by a bias Fetch wouldn't extend to a woman placing him in those same circumstances? The answer isn't clear. When it comes to fucked up people (and well written characters), the answer seldom is.

Finally, I can't end this review without acknowledging Luke Arnold's use of secondary characters. This is where the novel most shines. Fetch is a significantly isolated and isolating character. Because he chooses to be alone throughout much of the novel, we aren't always met with secondary characters whom we return to later in the text- but the few figures who are the repeated subject of focus absolutely caught my interest. There's even a pretty comical, entertaining relationship between Fetch and another younger character that I think gives the novel some needed levity. The characters in Fetch's past, particularly, really stood out to me. I finished the novel and wanted to know more about them specifically. They caught my interest and I actively wanted to see more of them in the text, which is probably the best feeling you can have with characters you see through flashback- the use of flashback is actually one of my most common pet peeves in media. The fact that I genuinely enjoyed them in Sunder City was a real surprise to me and, more importantly, a relief- I think flashback narratives can too easily throw the pacing and clarity of a novel off balance. This book does it well.

Overall, an entertaining read, a project that reveals a great amount of effort on the level of writing, and a solid introduction into a larger series and a fascinating world. I'm eager to see Fetch interact with other characters and find myself really wanting more women in the narrative, more inclusion- some good groundwork is really laid down here. There are foundations here to suggest those investments and I'm optimistic we'll see more of this. If the second installation of this series is going to surround the protagonist with more characters, I'm eager to see what lies in store. More than even my appreciation for the thoughtful use of setting, the author has a talent for crafting secondary character who, in my reading, stood out and kept my interest when it was clear they would be relevant to the plot. I want to see more of them. I want to see how much better rendered these secondary characters can be now that the introductions have been set and future installations might possibly have more room to flesh them out, give them space to breathe, act, and interact with the main character. Fingers crossed!

jadekay02's review

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adventurous dark emotional funny mysterious fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

crushgoil's review

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slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

2.0

molokov's review against another edition

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4.0

This is a great noir detective story set in a fantasy world, one where the magic has faded and all the magical races have had their power weakened. The first person narrative style is certainly reminiscient of a Bogart film, and the worldbuilding and background of Sunder City is dosed out in clever ways, both through the story and through flashbacks to Fetch's earlier life. It isn't a mystery the reader can solve as you go (because the critical piece of info isn't something you can logically guess using real world knowledge, or even knowledge of fantasy tropes), but it's still a great rollicking ride from start to finish. Next one has been added to my wishlist.

lizelph's review

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adventurous mysterious medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? It's complicated
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.5

stranger_sights's review against another edition

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5.0

Ok, so I’ve never seen Black Sails (although I have thought to myself that I really should), so I went into this knowing nothing of Luke Arnold other than that he is apparently an actor on that show. After finishing this book, I now know one more thing – he is a hell of a writer.

The Last Smile in Sunder City is equal parts urban fantasy and detective noir – two genres I’m generally a big fan of. It delivers admirably on what I want from both genres – there are magical (well formerly magical, technically) creatures, a big city, plenty of normal ol’ humans, and a hardboiled, slightly pickled detective.

This particular detective, or ‘man for hire’ as he is known, is Fetch Phillips (what a charmingly noir name, amirite?). The story begins with him being hired to locate a missing vampire by the name of Edmund Albert Rye. He is three hundred years old, and since the magic died, he has been fading fast.

However, as is usually the case, there is much more to the story of Edmund Rye than is initially apparent. We follow Fletch as he gathers information, deals with his own demons, other peoples’ demons, and what might be an actual demon, and puts the pieces of this complicated puzzle together.

The characters are as complex and nuanced as the mystery that Fletch has been tasked with solving. There are few flat characters here. Everyone has some bit of back story, and everyone has a reason for the choices they make. This is, at its core, less a mystery than it is a tale of choice, consequence, and redemption.