Thursday, 3 April 2014
The Skyscraper Throne Re-read: The City’s Son, Week 9
Tom Pollock's The City's Son, the first in his Skyscraper Throne trilogy, was my Book of the Year for 2012. The sequel, The Glass Republic, was even better. It should therefore come as no surprise to you that I am really, really looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy, Our Lady of the Streets, which is due to be published on 7th August.
In order to celebrate the launch of Our Lady of the Streets, Jo Fletcher Books are hosting a reread of the first two books in the series, and I have been an avid follower of the comments made by other reread participants over the past weeks. However, these have also made me very nervous because:
a) I'm not particularly good when it comes to analytical writing (I did Maths & Science for A Level, a degree in Civil Engineering and have spent the last nineteen years teaching Design and Technology - the last time I truly analysed a text was my O-Level English Lit back in 1987)
b) I really want to do this book justice, and my words seem less than amateurish in comparison to Tom's
So, deep breath, here goes... and please be warned, the very nature of this project means that there will be spoilers aplenty:
This chapter is the calm before the storm that will be the final battle between Fil's forces of good, and Reach's forces of 'evil', and as readers we can only fear for the worst given the somewhat ragtag nature of Fil's army. It's a little reminiscent of the Ewoks going up the highly trained and well equipped stormtrooper forces of the Empire. You have the Blankleits (aka Whities) acting like excited children, whilst their arch rivals Sodiumites (Amberglows) take themselves off, away from the gathering army, to practise their "war-waltzes". And whilst the foxes and feral dogs engage in a spot of overenthusiastic play fighting, the Pavement Priests wander through the disparate groups, bestowing their blessings. Hell, this lot make the Ewoks look like a crack team of commandos.
Meanwhile, Beth and Fil are taking a breather from this chaos. Fil outlines his rather sketchy plan of attack (whilst supping on his first ever cup of tea), only for Beth to pick holes in it, and pretty big holes they are too. This is Pollock showing us that even at this critical hour Fil, is still far more of an excited teen than he is a leader of an army. How can he possibly lead an army of amateurs to success?
And then it's the long-awaited sexy time for Beth and Fil, although like the kiss it is interrupted far too prematurely by the announcement of the arrival of Fleet and the Cats. Again, we see Fil desperately searching the skyline for sign of his mother - he really does not want to shoulder this huge responsibility - but "as they stared together into the darkness of Battersea Park, only the darkness looked back."
The arrival of the Cats is a major development for Filius and his army, but Pollock keeps us hanging by switching POV and taking us back to Paul Bradley and his desperate search for his daughter. His tracking of Beth's path, using her graffiti art as his only guide, has finally brought him to the abandoned tunnel where she spent so much of her time. It's a very poignant moment, as he sees the face of his beloved Marianne on the walls, amongst her artwork, "over and over again, smudged and pale as a ghost". It's also the moment at which he finds some inner strength, and becomes more determined than ever to find his daughter to apologise for everything, but all we can do as readers is fear for him as we know that his daughter has been changed for good by the Synod's toxic pool.
The arrival of Fleet and the Cats does not initially seem to have the effect on Filius that Gutterglass desires. Fil is confused, as the Cats have never been known to appear without their Mistress, and this scares him more than anything else. However, Beth digs deep and uses her own experience of losing a mother to snap him out of his confusion and, through his skillful handling of an altercation between rival Lampfolk, for the first time we see Filius the leader. And it's not a moment too soon, as the Scaffwolves are on their way and the battle is about to start.
This is the big battle scene of the whole story, and the part of the book that had a number of readers questioning why the real world people of London were not asking what the hell was taking place on the bridge and the Embankment. When I first sent my review of The City's Son to Tom Pollock, I mentioned this (it didn't bother me, by the way), and I know from discussing it with Tom that it was something he agonised over whilst writing the book. I'm not going to dwell on the battle scene here, except to say that it is brutal, as there are two other incidents in this chapter that I need to highlight.
The first is Beth coming face-to-face with her best friend Pen, for the first time since they parted under a dark cloud near the beginning of the book. Pen, of course, is now little more than a host for the parasitic barbed wire creature: "Pen's right nostril had been ripped away and her mouth slit was wider: a jagged grin towards her ear". Fil is about to become the creature's next victim, his cries of agony calling for Beth to kill the creature's host. But. This. Is. Pen! For me this is one of my (many) favourite passages in the book - Beth being put in the position where she has to choose between her best friend and her new love.
And this leads directly on to the second truly memorable moment in the battle. Electra, the Sodiumite who has found herself losing out to Beth as the object of Fil's affections, first helps her rival, and then makes the ultimate sacrifice for Filius, throwing herself into the Thames to tear him from the clutches of the Wire Mistress. Water, as we all know, does not mix well with electricity, but Lec is a spirited and cocky 'girl' and can't depart without one more dig at her rival Blankleits, whispered into Fil's ear as her light goes out for the last time.