Saturday, February 24, 2018

Favourite Urban Fantasy Books

In the run-up to the BooktubeSFF Awards there are a bunch of interesting weekly topics, the BooktubeSFF Babbles, to get the SFF community at large discussing all things science fiction and fantasy. This week's topic is favourite urban fantasy books/series.

While there are quite a few mainstream urban fantasy series I could recommend, I'm going to wave my proudly South African flag around and highlight two urban fantasy books by South African authors.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

I'm sure Lauren Beukes needs no introduction. Zoo City won the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award and put South African speculative fiction in the international spotlight. Lauren Beukes has an astonishing talent with words which she uses to conjure up astonishingly vibrant and fascinating worlds. Her work depicts real world problems that are still prevalent in South Africa – the homeless, drug abuse, xenophobia and discrimination and gives it a fantastical twist.

In Zoo City she creates a vivid version of contemporary Johannesburg. A Johannesburg where magic and muti is real and where Hillbrow (the Zoo City in the title) is a haven for ‘animalled’ people. The ‘animalled’ are people who due to their sinful deeds are magically tethered to an animal companion.

It is believed that the animal is a physical manifestation of their sins – their cross to bear for all the world to see. Separation from their animal companion causes extreme pain so they are forced to take the animal with them wherever they go.

The main character, Zinzi December, in one of the ‘animalled’ (a zoo in slang). She has a sloth on her back – literally! It isn’t all bad though, each ‘animalled’ has a special talent. In Zinzi’s case it’s the ability to find missing things. She uses this talent to make a living by finding lost items, charging a reasonable fee for their return. That’s of course when she isn’t busy running a 419 scam in order to pay off her drug debts. Read the full review.

Poison City by Paul Crilley

Paul Crilley is a Scotsman living in South Africa. His novel, Poison City, is the fantastical love child of Supernatural and a Lauren Beukes novel. Part urban fantasy, part crime novel this is a pure twisted reading delight.

Poison City is filled with a cast of memorable, snarky characters. Gideon Tau is not your typical hero. Haunted by the death of his daughter he is a broken man struggling to deal with loss; his only true purpose is his quest for justice. He sees ‘n job that needs doing and then simply does it. His spirit guide, Dog (just ‘Dog’) is the perverted spiritual successor to Discworld’s Gaspode - a quite literal boozehound. Dog loves nothing more than getting drunk and watching TV, only occasionally deigning to provide a helping paw. Oh, and he seems to love fire a bit too much... And lastly there’s Armitage, the no-nonsense head of the Delphic Division, with a wicked sense of humour she is overly protective of her domain and doesn’t suffer fools easily.

It soon becomes apparent that in this dark, morally corrupt world there are larger forces at play. Tau’s relentless search for his daughter’s killer drives him to a point where he has nothing left to lose. Utterly despondent, his choices lead the world to the brink of disaster. As a sharp counterpoint to those who wash away all memory of their wrongdoing through the services of sin-eaters, Tau takes responsibility for his actions and claws his way back from the dark abyss to redeem himself, but redemption always comes at a price. A price Tau might not be willing to pay...

The major theme in Poison City is corruption in all its forms. There are corrupt politicians and officials, the law is perverted for personal gain, even people's beliefs are corrupted and ultimately humanity itself proves to be a corrupted blight on the world. You’ll never be able to look at humanity in quite the same way again. It turns out that even in a world filled with supernatural creatures, humans are still the greatest monsters.

If you read it for no other reason, read it for Dog. He steals the show and makes this one kickass read! Read the full review.

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