The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold.
At the time of writing this, it is the middle of the Covid 19 crisis and I just hit the three month mark on unemployment. Least to say, I am pinching pennies trying to budget everything until I get things figured. So for now, for reading material I been watching Amazon deals like a hawk. And one novel I saw on a super cheap sale called The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold. It sounded cliché, yet in my wheelhouse of the hard boiled detective tales with magic and monsters. So I thought I would give this a try. So here is my review of The Last Smile in Sunder City.
So what is it about? It begins with Fetch Phillips. He is an alcoholic (and part time junkie) private eye in Sunder City. Its a place where he is one of the very few humans among a population of magical beings including vampires, elves, stayrs, witches and you name it. It’s a bit of a difficult place to live because six years prior a band of humans found the source of all magic and destroyed it trying to get magic for themselves. This led to elves aging rapidly causing some obvious casualties, vampires falling apart, trolls eternally turning to stone and a number of things. It destroyed their way of living entirely. Even the eternal fire under the city that powered it ,was extinguished making the city itself hard to live in. All of this damage done by humans leads to extreme racism against humans. But Fetch stays taking jobs only for the ex magical folks regardless, to try to do something good. And he is hired onto a missing persons case. A vampire professor has gone missing. Though he most likely has rotted away somewhere because he would be over a century old, the client insists that he may be alive. Fetch takes the case, sure to find the vampire dead somewhere. But the case is stranger than he expected.
But there is a second story in this book. Fetch carries a lot of guilt on his shoulders and it’s revealed in the first few few pages. Fetch was part of the military group that destroyed the magic in the world. The story flashes back often about how he grew up and how he ended up involved in the event that ended magic and destroyed so many lives. It explores the world before. How he fell in love with the magical world before and how he grew disenchanted with it over time as he could not find a place in a world where humans have no use.
Let’s move onto the good and bad? Let’s start with the good. The story is good and in a way I did not expect. This is more of Fetch’s personal story than a mystery. Fetch as such a fascinating character with such a great history. He is trying to stick around and help people who suffered to try to achieve some kind of redemption for what he done. In the time before magic disappeared he struggled so hard with bright eye optimism in this city he loved. He grows close to the mayor, and gets a high ranking position only to learn it wasn’t earned and that he was diversity hire to be seen in public. The ultimate form of tokenism. All his life before the event, the humans were treated with ideology that they are useless and often looked upon in a condescending attitude of, ”Its so cute a human thinks he can be someone.” Then after the event, these humans feel empowered wanting to hurt the ex-magical folks because they're so angry after all those years and now the ex-magical folks hate the humans with a blind racism. It is not uncommon for Fetch to be beat up and be told to go kill himself. Yet he stays trying to help people. It’s a fascinating look at racism through a fantasy lens. Where I expected Dresden Files / Anita Black rip off, I got fantasy magical version of Zootopia instead. This theme was handled amazingly well. Fetch’s tale was heart breaking at many points.
Beyond the great handling of themes of racial division that run thick into this story, the world building is fantastic. From how the city works before and after to how the ex-magical beings are not living or just barely surviving was amazing. This world was fascinating and I could not get enough of it. Also the missing person’s case led up to some interesting twist turns and an amazing climax. Also chemistry between all the characters is also very well done.
The bad? I have to admit it, there is nothing I can complain about. This story had no faults that I could see.
Overall, this book was a total surprise. Between the mystery and Fetch’s personal tale (which was an emotional roller coaster), this was an amazing book. Even in the last few pages after the case wrapped up, the story made me want to cry for Fetch. When it’s revealed who was the person to smile in this city it really yanked on some heartstrings. This book created a character worth following in truly unique world. And after this story, I am willing to follow Fetch through more tales and hope he will finally gets the redemption and happy ending he deserves. This book is worth the read. In fact this is a must read. In this fantasy mystery genre many authors have copied one another trying to emulate the top authors. Unlike those, this is its own thing and it’s done so well. I would call this a masterpiece. So go out and read this. You won’t regret reading this.
5 smoothies out of Five
Overall Rating: A Groundbreaking Tale Set in a Fantasy Mystery Genre