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 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.
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The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty is her best work to date. I have listened to her podcast for over five years and have read or listened to most of the things she has written. During this time, her work has steadily improved. Don't take that as an implication that her early work was poor. I'm not saying that. Merely, her work has evidently matured and I found this book to be the best of her work thus far. Her nomination for the Campbell Award is well earned.
Urban Fantasy has been all the rage for over a decade now, so it's nice to see an author I enjoy bring something new to the table.
The accepted premise of most Urban Fantasies is that monsters of one form, or more likely many forms, share society with humans and humans fail to see them all around because we choose to not see them. Our puny human brains can't come to grips, for some reason, that monsters exist and we come up with excuses to explain their evidence away. I generally find this premise a little more than I can swallow, but I choose to not let this one thing ruin all the excellent stories that have been coming out. The Shambling Guide is no exception in using this trope.
What separates The Shambling Guide from other Urban Fantasies is the protagonist, Zoe. Zoe is not a Monster Hunter, or a Witch/Wizard, or even "In the Know" at the beginning of the story. She's an office worker. Specifically, a publishing editor. (Bet the people in the industry got a kick out of this one!) It was refreshing to read a story with an "every day" hero. Such heroes are my favorite. It gets boring reading about "experts" in the monster field with all the answers deal with problems. I'd rather read about how a "normal" person reacts to being thrust into an extraordinary situation.
Mur Lafferty handles Zoe's introduction to the local Coterie (as opposed to "monster") community in a very natural way. Zoe needed a job. If monsters existed alongside and unbeknownst to humans, this seems the most likely reason for a human to be introduced into their secret world. From there, Zoe's story unfolds into a "Save the City while protecting the Coterie Charade" as she works as the editor to the creation of a Monster's guidebook to visiting NYC.
That's as much of the plot as I'm going to give away. What I will say: This book was fun to listen to. There was a surprising amount of humor. Often used in Urban Fantasy, but rarely is it organic. The humor in the Shambling Guide came about as a natural consequence of the story unfolding and Zoe simply living in a strange new world. If you don't laugh out loud a half dozen times throughout this book, then you've never had a job where you've had to work with other people.
I suppose I give one warning: The story is read by the author. Whereas Mur has a fine reading voice, she does not "do" voices. If you listen to the audio book, as I did, and you prefer a reader who "performs" the reading with a different voice for each character, Mur is not your gal. However, after years of podcasting and releasing audio versions of many of her stories (for free), she has a professional voice, so there's no need to fear that she may not have the chops to make her own story come alive. I gave her performance 4 stars. She speaks well, but I reserve 5 stars for people who "wow" me.
I was really surprised by this book. I thought it was well written and funny. It had good character development and a nice pace. I liked the fact that this was not the same cookie cutter paranormal/urban fantasy set up. I also agree with the other reviewers, the author's narration is not bad, but does not provide the same depth as a professional narration can.