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Andrea K Höst

Australian writer of science fiction and fantasy.
The City's Son  - Tom Pollock Beth and Pen are the closest of friends. Beth is an artist and Pen a poet and together they cope with school and family issues, but they have a particular problem at the moment with a teacher who is repeatedly bullying Pen. Beth supports her friend through this as best she can, and indulges in a touch of late-night graffiti on the school grounds in revenge.But this leads to a schism between the two friends and Beth's expulsion. She has no support at home (her father is in a deep many-year depression following the death of Beth's mother) and so she's primed to do anything, go anywhere. And then she meets a living train, and Filius.Filius is "the city's son", child of a goddess who disappeared soon after he was born, apparently gone on a quest to make him strong enough to survive the long-running battle she's been waging with "Reach", the crane god (incarnation of greed/development/progress). Filius has been struggling to grow into his role during her absence, hoping she'll return before Reach completely takes over the city.The story is a variety of urban fantasy, the best-known example being Gaiman's Neverwhere. Here electricity is transformed into bull-like rail-wraiths, lights dance in human form, spiders steal voices and statues pray to die. Violently introduced into this world, Beth is in just the right frame of mind to embrace Filius' cause as her own, offering herself up as the first recruit of the army he must muster against Reach, and buoying up his flagging courage.The story follows Beth and Filius' efforts, and swaps back to Pen and Beth's father's search for the missing girl.I never quite settled with this book. It's well written, though the gleeful descriptions of grot and maggots and horror elements never quite meshed with me. Beth and Filius are reasonably well drawn – two brash souls finding each other amidst violence and weirdness – but at the same time never caught my heart. Their efforts to recruit an army turned into a progression of "meet magickified element of city, struggle to recruit, survive dangers, meet magickified..." etc etc. Still, I didn't dislike them, and wanted to see how their war ended up (though I wondered why 90% of the city's magical things were horrible - the only real exceptions being the 'nice train' and the sentient lights, and also found the characterisation of 'progress' as evil to be somewhat arbitrary, particularly since the goddess' side didn't seem that admirable). As cities imbued with magical life stories go, this just seemed to not have the charm of other examples.I was far more engaged with Pen, but at the same time I had a few big reservations with the progression of her story. Pen isn't merely being bullied by her teacher – she was raped by him, and continues to be molested by him. She can't bring herself to tell this to Beth, let alone her mother (who has a thing about things being perfect and 'unused' and thus Pen seems to think that being raped makes her no longer 'unused' and thus her mother won't love her). Pen's shame and inability to tell even Beth about this, to the point where she's pressured by her teacher into dobbing Beth in for the graffiti, comes across as very believable. Abused children are indeed vulnerable to the control of their abusers in this way.But then Pen starts looking for Beth, teaming up with Beth's finally-concerned father, and gets captured by the 'wrong side' and goes through horror upon horror. During this time, she never thinks about, references or recalls in any way the abused girl unable to speak. She's confident. She has no problems going off with Beth's father, even though one would suspect she might have issues with being alone with men, and even in the depths of a torture which leaves her disfigured never even thinks about her previous horrible experience.I breathed a sigh of relief when Pen was saved, but found myself uncomfortable with how she embraces her extreme scarring as a 'freedom'. She's no longer perfect, no longer marriage material, and thus is released and gains strength from this – enough to go to the police about her rape. As if the horror of her rape has been sufficiently trumped by physical torture.I didn't strongly dislike the story, but nor was I ultimately fully engaged by it. Not a series I'll be continuing with.