Monday, 18 August 2014

Review: Our Lady of the Streets by Tom Pollock

Ever since Beth Bradley found her way into a hidden London, the presence of its ruthless goddess, Mater Viae, has lurked in the background. Now Mater Viae has returned with deadly consequences.

Streets are wracked by convulsions as muscles of wire and pipe go into spasm, bunching the city into a crippled new geography; pavements flare to thousand-degree fevers, incinerating pedestrians; and towers fall, their foundations decayed.

As the city sickens, so does Beth - her essence now part of this secret London. But when it is revealed that Mater Viae's plans for dominion stretch far beyond the borders of the city, Beth must make a choice: flee, or sacrifice her city in order to save it.

Warning: this book could seriously damage your holiday. At least, it very nearly did that to mine. My wife and I recently spent a week in Scotland. Obviously, therefore, it wasn't a beach holiday with plenty of time to lounge around and do nothing but read. We were going to do stuff. And then I made the mistake of starting to read Our Lady of the Streets, one of my most anticipated books of 2014. And instead of travelling from Fort William to Mallaig on the Jacobite steam train (over the Harry Potter viaduct!), I found myself wanting to stay inside and read. Instead of driving up to Loch Ness, I desperately needed to stay in our apartment to continue reading. The small amount of time at night and in the morning before doing stuff just wasn't enough for this book. It demanded more. It demanded uninterrupted, quality time. And so I did something I rarely ever do - I put it aside and read something else. And then when I got back home from Scotland I picked it up and started reading it from the beginning.

I've waxed lyrical about how great the previous two books in this trilogy are in previous reviews, and I had incredibly high hopes for this one. However, in recent months there have been mutterings amongst some of the UK bloggers about how they are becoming fed up with trilogies because so often the all important third book turns out to be a huge disappointment. This is most definitely not the case with Our Lady of the Streets: it is everything I wanted and hoped for from the final book in The Skyscraper Throne trilogy. In short, it is bloody brilliant!

Please do not read on if you haven't read the previous two books as there are likely to be a few spoilers. Pen and Beth have been reunited following Pen's adventures in London-Under-Glass. However, Pen isn't the only 'person' to have come back to our world from the other side of a mirror: Mater Viae's reflected version has also crossed over and she is bitter and out for vengeance. The story picks ups some time after the close of The Glass Republic and London is already cut off from the rest of the country. Fever streets, Blank Streets, claylings, Sewermanders have all combined under the control of Mater Viae to kill and destroy. And Beth feels almost powerless to help as she herself is sick and possibly dying, along with the city that gives her life and power. 

Fortunately Beth has Pen at her aside, a girl who is almost as unrecognisable as Beth, in comparison to the two friends we were introduced to at the beginning of The City's Son. Yet where the changes in Beth are obvious, for Pen, apart from her scars, it is the inside that has changed the most. Although desperately missing Espel, who is still fighting battles in London-Under-Glass, Pen is stronger and braver than ever before, and she almost edges Beth aside to become the main character of this final piece. Over the course of this book and it's predecessor, Pen has very quickly become one of my all-time favourite heroines from literature.

Our Lady of the Streets is at times a pretty brutal read. Tom Pollock, as he has shown previously, is not afraid to make his characters suffer, and sometimes pay the ultimate price, and so when things seem particularly bleak for Beth and her rapidly diminishing band of survivors, we really do not know who will make it through to the end of the book. Our Lady of the Streets is therefore bound to be an emotional rollercoaster of a read for some, and I am sure that there will be more than a few tears shed by readers at times.

This trilogy is a remarkable achievement for Tom Pollock, especially given that The City's Son was his debut. He writes like someone who has mastered the craft over many, many years and although I am deeply saddened that Beth and Pen's story has now come to an end I can't but helkp feeling a little excited about whatever Tom Pollock may deliver next. He is certainly in my personal top 5 favourite YA writers of the moment, and probably of all time.

Our Lady of the Streets was published in hardback on August 7th, and my thanks go to the fab people at Jo Fletcher Books for sending me a copy.

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