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A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky

A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky
Book Name: A City Dreaming
Author: Daniel Polansky
Publisher(s): Regan Arts (US) Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Urban Fantasy
Release Date: October 4, 2016 (US) October 6, 2016 (UK)

A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky is the story of M, a very old and very powerful magician, who has returned to New York City after some time away. Although he’d much rather spend his time getting drunk, getting high, and getting laid, he can’t avoid taking a subway train through hell, sidestepping into a D&D quest, or getting involved in the machinations of the two rival queens who rule over Manhattan and Brooklyn. In many ways, A City Dreaming is an atypical novel, an atypical urban fantasy, and an atypical Polansky story. I would not be surprised to see this become a love-it-or-hate-it book. But I loved it. This is a wonderful book about the power of friendship surviving despite past hurts and complicated histories and the love of New York City thriving despite hipsters, handlebar mustaches, and overpriced coffee.

Early in the story, M talks about staying “in the pocket.” By this he means going with the flow. Don’t question the good luck; don’t try to explain the good luck. Just go with it and keep your head down. Don’t use magic to mess with reality, and reality won’t mess with you. I think readers will benefit from staying in the pocket when it comes to A City Dreaming. This isn’t a traditionally structured book: instead of a three-act structure, it’s told through a series of vignettes, each highlighting moments during M’s year in New York City. Don’t look for the inciting incident, the midpoint, the climax. Just sit back and be entertained. Take the story as it is. Don’t fight the book, and you will be rewarded.

I also mentioned above that this wasn’t your typical Polansky story. It doesn’t have the same level of grit or the noir or the darkness of Low Town or The Builders. This book is lighter, cooler. But it still displays Polansky’s ability to create colorful, memorable characters. And A City Dreaming also lets him show off his eye for setting, in this case modern New York City.

And this is a story about a city. It is an urban fantasy, but not your typical one—you know, the one with a woman on the cover wearing leather pants and holding a pistol, with the back cover talking about a love triangle involving vampires and werewolves. No. This is a truer urban fantasy, an ode to New York City. M’s New York City is a collection of Wall Street wizards, coffee shop demigods, canal pirates, fighters, flirts, monsters, matchmakers, drug dealers, zombies, and more. And it is a special treat to see New York City through M’s eyes—to note the qualities that make a dive bar a refuge, to experience the passing of the seasons, and to watch him cross back and forth over the borders separating high-finance Manhattan and wilder, still-gentrifying Brooklyn. Polansky lives in Brooklyn, and his love for the borough, and the city as a whole, shines through. It’s an honest love—one that sees the ugliness, the harsh truths, and all the reasons people wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.

At the heart of this book sits M. I worry that some will see him only as a passive character, one who lets things happen to him rather than actively making thing happen. I worry that people won’t like his attitude or his point of view. But for me he worked. He’s smart and funny and snarky. He is a peerless B.S. artist who has the confidence to sell any con, no magic necessary.

In addition to M is a small crew that passes in and out of his orbit as the novel progresses, old friends and new, as well as friends of friends. Polansky has created a small cadre of colorful, distinct characters, each with a unique history and relationship with M. There are scars, but there is also a love there, or at least a willingness to stand back to back and take on the world when the moment is right.

It’s those moments, and the city’s secrets that, for me, made this book a pleasure to read. Throughout this review, I kept using the word “atypical” to describe A City Dreaming. Don’t think of that as a reason to skip this book. Instead, think of it as a reason to pick it up and read something new, something fun, something different, something that will have you riding the subway well past your stop. If that’s what you’re looking for, join M in the pocket and see the world in a new, magical light.


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