- The Last Smile in Sunder City (The Fetch Phillips Archives #1).
- Luke Arnold.
- 352 pages.
- Urban Fantasy.
- My Rating: Hellyeah Book Review.
I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are three things you should know before you hire me:
1. Sobriety costs extra.
2. My services are confidential.
3. I don’t work for humans.
It’s nothing personal – I’m human myself. But after what happened, it’s not the humans who need my help.
I just want one real case. One chance to do something good. Because it’s my fault the magic is never coming back.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
There was once magic in the world and magical creatures, dragons, gryphons, elves, werewolves, vampires, gnomes, dwarves, giants, ogres, wizards, gremlins, goblins, banshees, sirens etc. If it is a fantasy creature that you have heard of then the chances are very high that Arnold has included it in The Last Smile in Sunder City and then you had humans, flesh and blood, non-magical and ordinary human beings.
After a devastating event that has come to be known as ‘the Coda‘ where humans who had hoped to harness the power of magic ended up breaking the world. The magic didn’t just cease to exist and leave the world, it also left the magical creatures too making them non-magical and decimating the population. Ageless elves aged, dragons could no longer fly and fell from the skies, unicorns went deranged and, consumed by madness and now run crazed across the land, werewolves got stuck part-way through their transformation leaving them as disfigured monsters, dwarven forges went cold, goblin machinery failed and stopped working and the blood, the sustenance that had sustained the vampires no longer had any effect, it no longer replenished them and they are now, withering. All of the creatures that didn’t outright die when their connection to the magic was severed became ordinary and are slowly fading from the world.
In Sunder City, six years after the Coda Fetch Phillips, a former soldier is now a ‘Man for Hire’ which is a Private Investigator. Fetch receives a phone call from the Principal of the Ridgerock Academy, a cross-species school in Sunder City when a faculty member, Professor Edmund Albert Rye, a three-hundred-year-old vampire goes missing and hasn’t turned up to teach in over a week. Rye is respected and liked, he has even tried to put the old ways behind him and has embraced his new existence in the post-Coda world as best he can and it is entirely out of character for him to no show his lessons. However, when one of Rye’s students, a young siren also goes missing and other vampires are found dead too what was a single disappearance turns into something more with wide-reaching implications.
Sunder City was built on top of a huge underground fire pit. Originally it was a factory mining, smelting iron, making bricks and employed blacksmiths and metal workers and the only citizens were the workers. But, as more and more of the workers decided to stay after their employment ended and over time, it transformed, houses and businesses were built, culture was introduced alongside the production from the factory and it turned into a metropolis. When the Coda hit the fires that Sunder City had been built on were immediately quenched and the city suffered. It is barely hanging on, turning into a slum, many of the residents are destitute, the streets aren’t safe and life there is both dangerous and bleak. Due to the Coda, there is a festering animosity and resentment towards humans. There is still some good left in the city, not much but some, a religious group of winged monks who help the most in need. Devoting their lives to caring for the destitute and the poor. There is bad too, Nail gangs. Roving gangs of humans whose sole intent is to kill the dwindling magical races, erasing them from the world and consuming them to history. That is where the name ‘Nail gang’ comes from as they want to put the final nail in the coffin of the various species, wiping them from existence.
The Last Smile in Sunder City is narrated in the first-person by Fetch Phillips over duel timelines, the past which features a series of flashbacks of important events over the course of Fetch’s life and the present. Fetch is trying to be a better man, trying to redeem himself, atone for his past mistakes and he is taking the first steps on the road to redemption. He is a self-loathing alcoholic who drinks to forget, to numb the pain and who tries and fails to find solace in the bottom of a bottle. His past haunts him, he is full of regrets that weigh heavily upon him, he has made more than a few mistakes during his life, suffered loss and he is drowning in a sea of self-pity, shame and guilt. He hates both himself and humanity and he plies his trade as a Man for Hire solely for the now non-magical races. It is his penance as being a human he is better able to cope with the new world than they are as they attempt to adjust to their new magic-less half-lives.
There is a melancholic charm to Fetch, grit and a dogged determination to him. He has demons but he hasn’t yet fully given into them. He is a terrific main character and narrator, cynical, jaded but wholly likeable. You want to see Fetch solve the case, pull himself up from the brink and redeem himself, not put the past behind him, it is a part of him and always will be but finally come to accept it, that he can’t change the past or erase his mistakes but he can move forward and try to make a difference in the present.
The story is definitely not action-packed, it’s not needed. The few action sequences that are featured add to the overall story which is very character-driven with an additional focus on the world-building. Throughout the course of the story, you learn a lot about Fetch, the magical creatures, Sunder City and the world, in other words, every aspect of the book. It is only a small niggle but, what you learn can feel like information dumping. However, the information is always interesting, adds depth and detail and takes the outline and pencil sketch and transforms it into a full-colour and meticulous picture.
The writing itself is descriptive with some rather unique phrasing and use of words by Arnold giving him his own distinctive and quirky voice.
“His laughter rattled like a sandpaper saxophone”.
To go along with that uniqueness there are also some passages that are laced with meaning and that show a more thoughtful side to the writing.
“You don’t measure age in years, you measure it in lessons learned and repeated mistakes and how hard it is to force a little hope into your heart”.
I’m not the biggest fan of urban fantasy, in fact, it is a genre that I rarely enjoy and that I tend to stay away from. However, I found The Last Smile in Sunder City to be an accomplished and very satisfying debut that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is gritty and grimy fantasy noir and in Fetch Phillips, you have someone to root for who is the beating and damaged tortured heart of the book.
Purchase The Last Smile in Sunder City (The Fetch Phillips Archives #1) by Luke Arnold.
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