Monday, September 7, 2015

REVIEW: BROODING CITY

INTRODUCTION 
Mysteries have always been a bit of a love/hate deal with me. When done well, I find myself in a world of conspiracy, intrigue, lies, and carefully crafted investigations that navigate the webs of deception which are spun by a host of parties with different secrets to hide. Unfortunately, the mystery genre is also a rather saturated one. Between all the crime dramas on television and the large quantities of murder mystery literature that are readily available, I tend to find mystery stories to be a bit predictable and a tad formulaic. There are certainly a lot of ways to mix it up though and one method is to throw in a bit of the paranormal. That is largely what Tom Shutt has done with his debut novel BROODING CITY

HOW I CAME UPON IT
Tom Shutt is an indie author who offered ARC copies of this novel prior to it's launch. I already rated and left a temporary review of it on Goodreads and now I have composed my complete thoughts on what was fun about this paranormal suspense novel. For clarity's sake let me state plainly that I received a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest, unbiased thoughts. 

HOW I RATED IT
4/5 It's not genre-defining nor was it anything that left me particularly astounded by the end, but it is a solid and enjoyable read that builds up a world of paranormal intrigue and suspense.

CHARACTERS
The cast of Brooding City is largely a collection of enjoyably familiar archetypes. While none are particularly interesting or compelling on their own, they do mesh nicely into the overarching world in which the story takes place. There are two key persons in this story. One is Detective Brennan, a grizzled officer who also secretly used to be what is known as a Sleeper (more to come on that in a moment). Technically, Brennan still belongs to this underworld of mythic individuals and much of his character development has to do with how his past refuses to release its grip on him. Then there's the adolescent Jeremy who is only just beginning learn the truth about who and what he is. The chapters switch off between the two of them as their stories develop parallel to one another. 

Each of these main characters has their own narrative and set of supporting characters. Brennan and his colleagues at the police station are investigating a strange murder which leads to the unveiling of a dangerous gang/cartel/mob. In a separate section of the world, Jeremy and his family confront more domestic and personal issues. Out of the two, Jeremy is certainly the most enjoyable and his family feels far more colorful than the folks over in Brennan's neck of the woods. 

For me, a lot of the sequences relating to Brennan's side of the story felt a bit too much like an episode of Castle where all the characters are kind of mean. Neither Brennan, nor his partner Bishop, nor his buddy Sam were particularly likable and I didn't really feel like they were particularly true to life. I think Sam and Brennan were supposed to be funny and maybe Bishop was supposed to be a bit sassy, but I read all three of them as angry, conceited individuals that lacked any of the charm that marked the characters that they reminded me of. All that said, I did feel quite a bit more attached to them by the novel's end, but even then did not consider them characters that I was completely invested in.

The main attraction here for me was Jeremy and his family. It's here that a  lot more of the world building takes place since Jeremy is just being introduced to the world of the Sleepers whereas Brennan has already run away from it (or tried to). The characters here also seemed a lot more personable. There are plenty of interpersonal problems to keep things tense, but the interactions between these characters felt a lot more authentic. Jeremy's sister and uncle are the real standouts when it comes to strong supporting characters and serve as a big part of why this side of the story was so compelling for me. Then there's Benjamin who I really still didn't know too much about by the end, but he's a character with a lot of mystique and one I definitely want to know more about. 

WORLD/SETTING
Like I mentioned before, the world itself is divided into two distinct parts. There is the bustling urban area in which Brennan and his fellow officers do their investigative work and then there is the remote estate in which Jeremy's family resides. It was honestly kind of nice to have a story swap between such strongly contrasted backdrops. Both areas are expansive in their own way yet also fit the story like a glove. 

The events take place in present day, so these two spaces are approximately what you would expect. the main differences here have to do with the existence of "Sleepers" and "Patches."  Sleepers are bedtime story monsters. They are allegedly fictional beings that have the ability to travel into other people's dreams and even harm them to such an extent that they become "fractured" which seems to describe a catatonic mental state that people slip into either due to a Sleeper assault or a Patches overdose. This condition is also fatal as it shuts down all bodily functions. Patches are something that sounds similar to a nicotine patch, but have some other medicinal purpose. When these patches are doused with a large quantity of a pharmaceutical chemical, they become a hallucinogenic drug used by many, including two members of Brennan's extended family. The introduction of these major differences felt a little bit matter-of-fact and left me guessing at what they actually were. In the case of the Sleepers, this is a very good thing especially since by the end, I still wasn't quite sure whether Sleepers are actually bad or not. So far as the patches are concerned though, I would have preferred a tiny bit more explanation upfront since I made them out to be a lot more than they actually ended up being. 

It's also worth noting that there is a third section of the world that is explored in conservative portions. That is the world of the Sleepers. Both Jeremy and Brennan show us what the world of dreams is like and those sequences were by far the most compelling chapters in the novel. 

PLOT/TONE
Overall this story does strike a nice balance between the real and the supernatural. It was nice that the narrative spent so much time trying to make readers believe in these characters as real people, but I found that the novel was at it's best when delving into its more supernatural components. The characters aren't bad or anything, but some of the quieter moments between them just didn't resonate with me as much. This is especially true for the detectives, but I felt it across the board. Interactions between Jeremy and Benjamin and Jeremy and his uncle were moments that I lived for in this book and are largely what stuck with me after I turned over the final page. 

Fortunately the crime thriller elements take backseat to the mystery of the Sleepers on both sides of the story since the murder mystery is (somewhat) standard fare. The story also doesn't waste too much time trying to keep readers guessing about who committed the murder. In fact, this story really doesn't drag it's heels too much at all. Every moment seems to be used to its maximum potential and the pacing is, for the most part, very well done. It's a relatively quick read overall, but still felt satisfying to get through. That said, this is book DOES feel like only the start of something far more interesting. Brennan and Jeremy's stories happen beside each other but are never interwoven until the very end. They seem to be introducing readers to two sides of the same coin, but I think readers will have to wait until book two in this series before they get to see it flip. 

CONCLUSION
BROODING CITY promises to be the start of a complex and ever-unfolding story that dives into the secret world of Sleepers and how these all-too-real creatures can have serious consequence on the world as we know it. While it is true that the story starts to get really good right as this novel ends, it didn't feel like a manipulative or cheap cliff-hanger ending. The story that is told within this entry wraps up in a satisfying way while also paving the way for more interesting stories ahead. I'm intrigued to see where the larger narrative will go and am glad that I was introduced to this world, even if I don't know it as well as I'd like to. I also found that you don't have to be really up on all things paranormal to enjoy this story. It's rules are simple and it's immediately accessible, but it also has room to delve deeper into the ideas that are introduced. I'm certainly looking forward to the release of the next book in this series! 

BROODING CITY can be picked up in eBook and Paperback editions on Amazon

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