Michelle Herbert reviews A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky…
With A City Dreaming, Polansky has written an intriguing and at times mind boggling urban fantasy that seeps into the unconscious via a series of vignettes following the exploits of M, his friends and associates. M’s world encompasses our own, but like a VIP curtain, you only get to see beyond the veil if you are part of the magical community, for the rest of us, there is only one reality, but this is a surreal look into the other side.
The story begins in Paris, with M witnessing an unfortunate incident and deciding that it’s time to go back to New York and see what is happening there. This first story gives an insight into the world M inhabits, this would is permeated by magic, although M likes to see it as being “in with the management” rather than consciously practising magic itself. When you are in the with the management, everything goes the way you want it to, you can float through life without a care until you do something to piss off the management, then trouble will have a way of finding you.
As each chapter follows M on his journey through New York, we see him reconnecting with old friends and enemies. A pattern begins to form showing M as much as a trouble solver, albeit one who cares mainly about himself and also a trouble maker as he tries to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. It is this that makes the book so uncanny, as you never know what situation M will find himself in next, there are some chapters that have the feel of a D&D game, whilst others are pure horror. M likes to keep himself out of trouble, but it seems that his reputation precedes him, yet for all of his faults his friends know he will be there for them, even if M doesn’t want to be.
New York’s magical hierarchy is kept in balance by the Red and White Queens of New York, each looks favourably on M, even though he has a foot in both their courts, allowing him to be one of the few neutral parties they will both turn to in times of crisis. This has allowed M to become the ultimate slacker, although he is seemingly ageless he is also quite juvenile by nature which allows people to constantly underestimate him. M is recklessly outgoing and yet never trusting the people or situations he finds himself in, which has probably saved his life on more than one occasion.
There are lots of things to like within this novel, it feels manic in its pacing, and yet you feel caught in the dreams of the city. The city itself is in flux, so that you can never tell whether the city’s dreams are actually nightmares. The characters that surround M all feel as if they have their own lives, even if those stories are not being told here. M can also be seen as the best and worst aspect of this book, M’s inherent character means that you probably wouldn’t want to meet him in real life, but for a lead character he is engaging and for all his faults you would definitely want him to have your back. As mentioned I found this book very intriguing and I really enjoyed being taken on this trip into a world just beyond certainty.