A City Dreaming by Daniel Polanski

Posted On 13 October 2016

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dreamingA City Dreaming is such a strange and intriguing book, I admit that my expectations picking this up bear no relation whatsoever to the read itself and yet I found that I really enjoyed this nonetheless.  When I started reading my first thoughts were ‘what am I reading’ and yet just a few pages into the book  I found myself really keen to pick it back up.  It defies description in some respects and I think this will probably turn into a bunch of random thoughts but I’ll do my best to keep it coherent.

The jacket for A City Dreaming talks about two queens poised on the brink of war.  A world with divinities, wolves and phantom subway lines.  Reading the description you will probably imagine this is urban fantasy and to be honest it is although it might take a little time for you to become accustomed to that fact when you first pick it up.  It reads like a collection of short stories and yet that’s not really the case.  Basically the story  covers (roughly) a twelve month period in the life of ‘M’.  The chapters are all self contained but the characters from certain stories crop up again and again and as the chapters move forward so the story develops and we gain an understanding of M and the world in which he lives. Put bluntly, this is urban fantasy with a difference and I have to admit I found it fascinating and very entertaining – don’t be put off by my saying it reads like a collection of short stories.  I’m not a fan of short stories normally but this is different, the stories do all link and build a bigger picture and the chapters, whilst they may seem individual, play a part in building up the life of M and picking up the main thread of the story – which is his attempt, in a very unassuming fashion, to prevent certain disaster happening.  I think what makes it seem so unusual for me is I’m not really used to this approach in urban fantasy and maybe it won’t always work but I think this is really well done.

At the start of the book we make the acquaintance of M.  M is an unusual character.  He doesn’t like responsibility,  No long term relationships for him, no children, no real job to speak of and no home.  He just drifts from place to place and to be honest he seems to have an excess of good fortune not to mention a lot of friends in need!  M is an enigma, I don’t feel completely confident that I fully understand him – he has magical ability although he doesn’t seem to be one of the big shooters in that respect, and yet, he is frequently called upon when somebody he knows has something of a dodgy situation to face and he’s very creative with his solutions to any problems he finds himself in, he has a minimum effort style approach to things – why go for all out fireworks when a little puff of smoke can do the job?  I liked M – he’s well written and amusing and whilst you might start off thinking he’s a bit of a shirker I think as the story progresses you begin to see why he never really settles in one place for too long – he has a certain ‘friend in need is a bloody pest’ type motto that he lives by and yet at the same time, and in spite of all his grumblings, he always ends up helping.  Given his long life and extensive travel he seems to have a clutch of the strangest friends wherever he happens to be and they usually all request something from him.  He’s like the ‘fixer’ of the supernatural world.  And what a world of supernatural this is.  Everything is possible and if it’s possible its likely to be in this book.

In terms of world building.  Well, this is a contemporary setting, the majority of the story takes place in New York and I think Polansky does a great job in setting the scene and making things that we take for granted turn into major plot points.  We have slick parties, hipsters, a plethora of coffee shops and subways that are in fact gaping maws that lead straight to somewhere you don’t want to go. I really love the title – A City Dreaming – which seems such a great play on the story – is the city asleep and dreaming whilst this alternative world takes place around them, are the city dreaming of this alternative world – and this also seems to bring me to my next point.  Which is, I think people will take different things from this – it’s all about your interpretation really.  At the back of my mind I feel like I’m missing something important but I can’t figure out what it is – maybe there’s nothing to figure out more than what I’ve gained from the story already, maybe there is something more or just maybe the author has written it in a very clever way to make you feel that way!  Like I say, I feel this book is massively open to a reader’s own thoughts, not just of the characters, the fantasy elements and the plot but even down to the title of the book and the nature of each of the individual stories.

The writing is really good in fact it’s quite addictive – I found myself literally racing to find out what the next chapter would bring to the overall story and although I clearly liked some chapters more than others the whole book is just packed with imagination  We also move a little into the field of horror and the world of surreal.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this.  In terms of urban fantasy it’s unusual and innovative.  I’m not sure whether it will work for everyone and in fact I’m a little surprised that it worked so well for me with this short story feel – but, like I said, it’s so much more than I imagined after I first started reading.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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15 Responses to “A City Dreaming by Daniel Polanski”

  1. Tammy

    This sounds like the format might be similar to Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station, which I loved. It’s also a series of short stories that ultimately come together. I’m very excited to read this one!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really liked it and I think that provided you realise when you pick it up that you have to pay attention to most of the stories and characters because they eventually connect, then it’s a great read. Plus I loved the writing.
      Lynn 😀

  2. sjhigbee

    That interesting – have you read his Low Town trilogy? I loved the writing in that, but this sounds very, very different and has certainly divided folks, as I’ve read several critical reviews complaining about the lack of a plot…

    • @lynnsbooks

      No, this was my first book. I really like his writing. I can see why this might divide opinion a little although I think there is a plot – he’s just gone about depicting it in a different way. I think it would be very easy to pick this up, figure it’s all short stories and then either just dip in and out or read them fairly quickly and really you do have to pay attention to the stories. Some do feel random but then characters will reappear. I read a couple of reviews reading that there was no war between the two Queens and I think maybe it could have been described better on the jacket in that respect because it is misleading. There is constant enmity between the two queens and M in the middle doing everything possible to prevent war – but, it’s incredibly subtle and like I said in the review I’m pretty certain that a number of references have probably gone straight over my head. But, even so, I enjoyed it. I do own one of his other books and I will definitely try to pick that up soon.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        So, is it more of a fractured narrative, along the lines of the stuff that David Mitchell writes with The Bone Clocks, for instance? I’m a sucker for that… It looks like I’ll have to see if I can pick it up! Thank you for sharing it – and do read the Low Town book – it sounds quite different, but the dry humour certainly sounds familiar…

      • @lynnsbooks

        I definitely will read the Low Town book. Thanks
        Lynn 😀

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    I think you convinced me at the mention of “phantom subway lines” 😀
    And I like the idea of a collection of short stories (sort of) that are nevertheless tightly linked. One for the list, thanks for sharing!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really liked it and thought the writing was really strong. i will definitely head back for more books by this author.
      Lynn 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      It was a very unusual read and I enjoyed it – very different from the norm!
      Lynn 😀

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I think I know what you mean regarding the format. The structure isn’t ideal for me I admit, but a novel that reads like a series of short stories that nonetheless form a larger narrative is something I can handle. I knew next to nothing about this book, so thanks for the review!

    • @lynnsbooks

      To be honest, it wasn’t exactly what I expected and it took me a few chapters to get into the gist but once I’d got my head sorted out I ended up really enjoying it. I think probably the ending was a little bit rushed but overall an unusual and compelling way to tell a story.
      Lynn 😀

  5. tenaciousread

    I want to read this. I really enjoyed Low Town, and am curious about a book by him set in modern time.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I would be curious to see what you make of this one.
      Lynn 😀

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