I have been wanting to get around to this one for a while now, as I am a fan of Mur Lafferty's podcast. Last summer I downloaded as much of her catalog as was available on iTunes and burned through them and as such, when you have a person's voice in your head for so much time like that, you start to feel like you have a personal connection with that person, even though you have never met. As such, when she made the announcement of signing her first pro book deal I was happy and excited for her achievement.
The tone of the book is pretty much what I have come to expect, and I found it enjoyable to read throughout. The protagonist of the story, Zoe, has moved to New York City to look for a fresh start in her life and ends up falling into a publishing job with a rather unique company. The publishing house specializes in putting out tour guides for monsters.
I should point out lingo that Walter Sobchak would appreciate, "monster" is not the preferred nomenclature. Zoe discovers that there is an entire society living and thriving right under everyone's noses. Known as the "coterie", they have restaurants, taxi services, special tunnels under the city, any number of ways to help each other exist under the watchful, sometimes judgmental eyes of mainstream society. On a side note, I can't help myself from mentioning this. Earlier this afternoon I was looking something up on dictionary.com and what just happened to be the word of the day? Coterie. It's defined as "a group of people who associate closely."
As Zoe is trying to keep her wits about her and make her way through this new culture, she is quickly drawn into a chain of events that puts herself, along with the rest of the city at risk as her past rears its head and takes a bite at her.
I love a book with a good, strong female protagonist. I love it when writers break free from what I like to call the "Buttercup syndrome". For those of you who may not be conversant in The Princess Bride, you can also get a glimpse of what I'm talking about with Wendy Torrence, in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining.
Basically, the point is that the only reason she's in the story is to look pretty, get in trouble and scream a lot. And if I can stave off anyone who might be putting my skull into their crosshairs - please let me clarify that I think that the blame for Wendy being such a worthless character goes mostly to Kubrick, not Shelly Duvall.
In Shambling, Lafferty does a fantastic job creating a character that is strong, independent, intelligent and brings her own game to a number of decidedly dangerous situations. She doesn't back down and throws down some pretty heavy punches of her own. At no point in the book did I find myself wondering when Zoe was going to be saved. Really I just found myself wondering how she was going to get herself out of this situation, which is how I think real protagonists should be written.
I think that the best part about this book is Lafferty's ability to take such fantastical subject matter and present it in a way that is completely believable. You find yourself believing that there really could be a sub-culture of vampires or zombies or incubus (incubi?) out there trying to live out their lives in peace. Her research was top notch and she did a great job making the story fresh and entertaining. It is tightly written and paced, with dialogue that looks great on the page. Zoe has a great wit to her, a good, biting sense of humor that still stays reasonable, not straying off into Juno-esque super-powers of sarcasm and witty references.
This is a fun book, you won't be disappointed. I strongly encourage you to seek it out and lend your support to a great artist. And if any of you out there are writers, I also highly recommend Mur's podcast for fiction writers, I Should Be Writing. There is also a follow up to this book, titled Ghost Train To New Orleans. I plan on getting to that before too long and who knows, maybe this will be the beginning of the Shambling Series starting right in front of our eyes.