The Shambling Guide to New York City – Mur Lafferty

About the Book

A travel writer takes a job with a shady publishing company in New York, only to find that she must write a guide to the city – for the undead!

Because of the disaster that was her last job, Zoe is searching for a fresh start as a travel book editor in the tourist-centric New York City. After stumbling across a seemingly perfect position though, Zoe is blocked at every turn because of the one thing she can’t take off her resume — human.

Not to be put off by anything — especially not her blood drinking boss or death goddess coworker — Zoe delves deep into the monster world. But her job turns deadly when the careful balance between human and monsters starts to crumble — with Zoe right in the middle.

350 pages (paperback)
Published on May 28, 2013
Published by Orbit
Author’s webpage

The Shambling Guide to New York City is a deceptively long name for such a short, quick read. In fact, it’s so long that I don’t want to type it throughout my review so I’m shortening it a bit. Heretofore this book will be known as Shambling. You have been warned.

Shambling is Lafferty’s first published novel, which hit shelves right before she won the Campbell award. This book tells the story of young Zoe, who moved to New York to start over after bad stuff happened with her old boss. She lands a job in publishing and then the adventures begin.

Zoe is an interesting protagonist. Much of urban fantasy involves female leads who start out as everywoman and then learn that they are the key to saving the world/super special/uber tough/whatever. Zoe never really takes that turn. She’s just your average jilted woman trying to move on. This makes her incredibly relatable and very down-to-earth throughout the book, something that Lafferty should be praised for.

Another aspect of Shambling that I absolutely loved was how this book never took itself too seriously. Lafferty keeps the humor strong throughout, and there’s a note of self-depreciation in Zoe, in regards to the fact that she really is a stranger in a strange world and she’s well aware that she’s incredibly ignorant, that kept everything humble, light, and fluffy. This is a brain-candy sort of read. It requires almost no thought, there’s not much depth. That’s not a negative, by the way. Sometimes you just need to sit back and feed your mind some lighter fare. I could tell that Lafferty had a lot of fun writing this book, and that sense of easygoing zeal automatically punches the reader. I loved the enthusiasm I felt throughout this book.

Lafferty fills Shambling with coterie (read: monsters). There are zombies, vampires, incubus, fairies, gods and goddesses, and more. In fact, you’ll run into more coterie in Shambling than you will run into plain ol’ humans. Lafferty also gets a bonus on the fact that all of her other-than-human characters are unique in one way or another. She doesn’t fall into the drop-dead-sexy vampire cliché that drives me absolutely insane. No, the vampire that is Zoe’s boss is slightly overweight, which humanizes him a bit. The incubus’ sexiness is dependent on how hungry he is. The goddess is followed by a flock of birds. The zombies have to eat brains, which they get from morgues throughout the city. These details might seem small to you, but they go a long way to making Shambling stick out in an exhausted, same-old-same-old genre.

That being said, Shambling did suffer from some leaps of logic that I just didn’t buy. For example, Zoe gets a job at a coterie publishing house, which made no sense to me seeing as how this is a publishing house geared toward an entire world she knows absolutely nothing about. She’s told over and over again that the job isn’t for her, but she demands an interview in conditions that would have me calling the cops, for no real reason than to damn the man. Then she lands the job, and almost too easily adjusts to this shadowed world she never knew anything about before.

There is a sex scene that felt incredibly contrived and made me feel almost like Lafferty was checking off items on a list of Things That Belong in Urban Fantasy Books. There’s a fight scene in an (sort of) abandoned building that had an incredibly convenient ending and also felt like it checked off a box on the list I just mentioned. Her next-door neighbor is really handsome, and conveniently convenient to the to-do that Zoe is in the center of. Furthermore, after many events take place, Zoe learns easy ways around them that would have stopped the problem from happening in the first place. Example: Don’t want to be effected by an incubus? Don’t look him in the eyes. Simple. If only Zoe could have learned that a chapter earlier.

Shambling is rather dialogue heavy, and I felt like a great deal of this book was infodumps in dialogue form. Zoe is getting schooled in her new world, and conversations are how she (and you, by default) gets her information. This works for Shambling. I’m not really sure how else Lafferty would educate the reader with Zoe’s world, but it does get rather tiresome. On the flip side, these discussions are also how you learn a lot of the details that I really loved about the book.

I believe Shambling is the first book in a series where Zoe will visit different cities and fun things will happen. I’m honestly rather torn about this. While it was a fun, witty, brain-candy sort of read, I found myself rather disappointed overall. Honestly, I loved Lafferty’s writing. I enjoyed the humor. I thought Zoe was an everywoman that was fun to read about even if there were some leaps of logic that just didn’t work for me. The plot was all popcorn and unicorn farts, and the characters varied in their levels of believability, but there are some truly creative details here that shine with Lafferty’s obvious skills. I just wish that she had deviated from the tried-and-true formulaic path a little more. Lafferty obviously has the capability to write a knock-your-socks-off book, and I have no doubt she could knock my socks off and keep me laughing the whole time (two things that rarely go together but Lafferty has the ability to master). I just feel like playing it safe overwhelmed much of her talent.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a time and a place for fluff books, and I enjoyed this for what it was. I just think Lafferty has the talent and ability to really wow me. She’s an author I’m watching. I will pay attention to this series. I am waiting, anxiously, to be absolutely wowed.

I know she’ll do it.


3/5 stars

5 Responses

  • Angela

    Actually she does have another book, but it may be out of print. It was called Playing for Keeps and in it Ms Lafferty is playing with superhero conventions in ways that remind me a little of the movie Mystery Men.

  • She has several books out: Playing for Keeps, Marco and the Red Granny, and also a series of novellas.

    Actually, I thought she covered the reason she got hired fairly well. She was the bridge between the two worlds, and it was hard to find a human that could deal with monsters well like she could. In the world Ms. Lafferty created, I thought she covered that pretty well.

    Thank you for sharing this review! 🙂

    • I don’t know why I was under the impression that this was her first book. Oops.

  • Shambling has been getting mixed reviews, so i think it’ll be a library book for me. You’re right, there is a time and a place for braincandy fluff, and i prefer to know it’s fluff before i start reading it.

    • I expected it to be fluff, so I wasn’t too disappointed. If I go into a book expecting something deep and I get fluff, I get pissed off. So I went in with the right mindset. Mindset can make all the difference.

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