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Monday, June 13, 2022

Book review: The Splendid City by Karen Heuler

 


Book links: Angry Robot, AmazonGoodreads

Read FBC's Interview with Karen Heuler

AUTHOR INFO: Karen Heuler is the author of The Splendid City. Her stories have appeared in over 100 literary and speculative magazines and anthologies, from Conjunctions to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to Weird Tales, as well as a number of Best Of anthologies. She has received an O. Henry award, been a finalist for the Iowa short fiction award, the Bellwether award, the Shirley Jackson award for short fiction, and a bunch of other ritzy awards. Her stories and books often feature women facing strange circumstances on this world and others. Karen Heuler lives in New York City with a large dog and two alarmed cats.

Publisher: Angry Robot (June 14, 2022) Page count:  Formats: ebook, paperback


I loved the first few chapters of The Splendid City. Stan, a talking cat, has no patience for fools; he shoots them. But wait! Things get even crazier. Stan is living with Eleanor, a hasty witch, and they loathe each other.

And the world around them? It sucks. Water shortages, poor job prospects, and political machinations make life hard and prosperity difficult. The president of the dystopia tries to distract the inhabitants with parades and, more recently, a treasure hunt.

Stan is excited by the idea of finding the treasure and sets out to get it, attracting the attention of the influential players. On the other hand, Eleanor is on the lookout for the missing water witch Daria, who may have played a role in shaping the world around them.

I enjoyed the satirical, often a deliciously absurd tone of The Splendid City, which should appeal to fans of whimsy. The first part of the story had me laughing aloud and delighted by Heuler's dialog and ideas. But unfortunately, parts two and three soured the experience a bit. Part two shows how Eleanor became a witch, who Stan was, and why they ended up living together.

Part three concludes both storylines. While Heuler's observations and humor remain astute and quotable, the structure feels unbalanced. The ending was somewhat predictable, and the characters remained relatively shallow though fun.

A few words about them: Stan is a cat. He's delusional, comically self-absorbed, and arrogant. And yet, it's impossible not to like his narration. He's unpredictable, self-absorbed, but always funny. Eleanor, on the other hand, is likable but less intense. Still, it's easy to like her and understand her motivations. Their tense relationship leads to entertaining dialog and good scenes with lots of dark(ish) humor.

All in all, I enjoyed the book and read it in two sittings. I feel like it didn't quite meet my expectations after the excellent part 1, but that doesn't change anything. It's fun and quirky in a good way.

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