The Last Smile at Sunder City: a human PI searches for a vampire in a formerly magic city

What is this about?: Fetch Phillips is hired to find a missing teacher and then a young girl — who happen to be a vampire and Siren respectively. And finds out something else entirely that could mean far more change than he expected.

What else is this about?: This is an introduction to Fetch, Sunder and the world as it stands now — and Fetch’s part in that. This is a melancholy book, noirish in fact and filled with excellent characterisation and worldbuilding

Blurb

A former soldier turned PI tries to help the fantasy creatures whose lives he ruined in a world that’s lost its magic in a compelling debut fantasy by Black Sails actor Luke Arnold. Welcome to Sunder City. The magic is gone but the monsters remain.I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:1. Sobriety costs extra.2. My services are confidential.3. I don’t work for humans. It’s nothing personal–I’m human myself. But after what happened, to the magic, it’s not the humans who need my help. Walk the streets of Sunder City and meet Fetch, his magical clients, and a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher

The Last Smile in Sunder City is the first in the Fetch Phillips Archives by Luke Arnold. Yes, Long John Silver in Black Sails — and closer to home, Michael Hutchence in Never Tear Us Apart.

This is an accomplished debut from the actor turned author, filled with confident world-building and world-weary characters that grow increasingly compelling as the book continues. These are the elements that are most important in the story, you would think would be more action-packed, but really didn’t need to be.

So what does Fetch Phillips do? 

Fetch is a soldier turned PI in Sunder City. He is also human.

The headmaster of a school asks him to find Rye, a vampire and teacher at the school who has just disappeared on him. That takes Fetch through Sunder City, introducing readers to the darker parts of the city, the haunts he favours, his informants, his relationship with the police. It’s a well executed introduction to this world that never takes away from the case at hand, while still ensuring readers know why things in Sunder are the way they are — and that responsibility does fall on his shoulders.

Interspersed with the current timeline is one of Fetch in the past, growing up with his family and losing them to an attack from a magical creature. That set him on a path that led to Sunder and playing a role in the way the world is today when the book begins — without magic. Thing is, no one really knows his part in that, but it’s enough that he does — and his self-loathing shows.

What do you do when magic disappears from the world? 

That’s the thing about Sunder and this world — for all that the familiar words and ideas are in this book about vampires, chimeras, dwarves and ogres, magic has been wrenched away from this world.

So what happens to a vampire without magic? They age and need old age homes. Heroes? They open diners and learn how to cook. Dwarves continue to try to do their work with human tools and not magic, and angel doors — doors in buildings and apartments that open to the skies for the magical creatures that fly, stay closed. Unless you’re Fetch and you keep opening them and staring out.

For all of the absence of magic, it plays a big part in this book — those who are old enough remember what it was like to have magic, but the kids of this world need to know how and why they’re born different. They don’t know magic, and they go to schools that don’t accept humans, because humans ripped magic from the world. It’s an interesting difference when you consider the way things are in the world today — Sunder is a city where those that are different are the norm, and humans, the ones that don’t belong, are avoided.

As the book continues, the case continues to evolve, leading Fetch into danger, but more than anything, what it reveals about this world is utterly compelling. This world is evolving, as are the formerly magical inhabitants but into what? What does that mean for Fetch? For the place he holds in this world? I cannot wait to see what the next installment holds!

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