Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Bookwyrm's Review of The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Author: Luke Arnold

Length: 369 Pages/ 7 hours, 55 Minutes (Audio)

Publisher: Orbit

Release Date: February 25, 2020

Narrator: Luke Arnold

Series: Fetch Phillips Archives, Book 1

Rating: 4/5 stars


Barnes and Noble

I saw the premise of Luke Arnold's debut novel, The Last Smile of Sunder City, and decided I had check it out, especially after a few recommendations from people I trust. What I found was a very solid story that mixes several fantasy genres and created a gripping dystopian world in a shambles, struggling with the loss of magic. 


Six years after the humans of the world "accidentally" wrecked the source of magic, life has changed significantly for the residents of Sunder City. A city founded as an industrial hub taking advantage of a geothermal hot spot which went out when the magic died, the city now tries to make things work with science based technology. The magic folk, such as elves, trolls, weres, vampires, etc., have suffered far worse, as the magic that made them strong, long lived, or magic wielding has disappeared, and killed a significant part of their populations. 

This is the world Fetch Phillips, human former soldier and now private investigator finds himself in. Called in by the schoolmaster of the local school for magicals, Fetch is hired to find the schools history professor, a distinguished historian who is also a vampire, who has disappeared without a trace. Fetch takes the case, beginning the search at the vampire's local haunts, including the city library. Not finding him, but finding some clues, he continues the search, finding that one of the vampires students is also missing. Linking the two together, Fetch broadens his search, getting push back from elements of underworld, the business community and even the remnants of vampire society, who, with the loss of the magic, are now slowly dying off.

Slowly gathering evidence, he comes across some shocking evidence that the magic might not be as dead as everyone thought. This is impossible, as Fetch knows, since he had a big part, albeit unknowingly, for the magic dying. We see a series of flashbacks into Fetch's past, as he grew up a poor human in a magic dominated world, ended up the lone human in the Opus, the governmental organization of the magical beings, as a soldier. That part of his life doesn't end well, and he foolishly gives away information to the humans that lead to the disaster the world ends up.

Following the clues finally leads Fetch to a confrontation with forces beyond his control, leading to Fetch barely escaping with his life. It also leaves him with more questions than answers, and he and his allies have to wonder if the magic is really gone. Fetch has a very personal reason to hope not, and makes a deal with someone he could never imagine to keep that hope alive. You can see that Fetch has more reason than ever to stay in business and keep looking for the elusive solution he hopes to one day see.


This book is a combination of excellent character creation and strong world building. Fetch is an especially interesting character, having such a tragic backstory, dealing with the aftermath of past mistakes that caused so much damage to the world. Stubborn and morose, he finds it hard to find value in his own life. This changes a bit as the story progresses, and you get to see some real character growth with him. The secondary characters are for the most part well written, and you get a real feel for their thoughts and motivations, and you feel the interactions are realistic within the settings.

The setting, Sunder City, is just a fantastic new setting in the fantasy world. A combination of a fantasy city crossed with magical steampunk with some science thrown in for variety, it is not the usual fantasy setting. The reader is immersed in this tragic fallen city as it tries to recover from a disaster that affects every aspect of it's citizens lives, from food production to transportation to communication. It's one of the best realized worlds I've read in quite a while, especially in a debut novel.


The narration is handled by the author, who is an actor. You may even be familiar with him, as he played the pirate Long John Silver on the Starz series Black Sails. I have to say this worked out well, since he is talented as a voice actor. He does a great job creating a voice for each character, using a variety of tones, cadences and pitches. His narrative pacing is excellent, keeping the story moving along, never getting monotonous. I hope to hear him doing more narration in the future.


I did really enjoy the book. For a debut novel, it seemed very polished, which tells me he worked well with his editor. There were a couple of debut issues, such as an overuse of metaphors in inner monologues, and his use of third person plural pronouns to describe a single demon was jarring and a bit hard to follow, and since it was describing a non-human character, seemed a bit unnecessary, but these are minor issues. All told, it was an entertaining story told by someone who has a real feel for the fantasy genre, without resorting to all the usual tropes. I look forward to the next installment in the series.

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