20 Words or Less: A lackluster urban fantasy that fails to offer empathetic characters almost as often as it fails to be funny.
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Pros: Interesting setting with potential for future stories,
Cons: Poorly written humor, inconsistent “rules”, lack of protagonists to empathize/identify with
The Review: Angry Robot Books is pushing 4 launch titles. Moxyland was spectacular. Nekropolis? Not so much. Urban Fantasy is very hit-or-miss with me. The characters have to be heroes I can cheer for and the author has to have a certain narrative style that distinguishes the story from the sea of paranormal dreck out there. Unfortunately, Tim Waggoner doesn’t deliver with his characters or in his delivery.
Matt Richter. Private Eye. Zombie. I’ve read paranormal fantasy with wizard protagonists, vampire protagonists, and exorcist protagonists. This is my first zombie. What’s so special about a zombie?, you might ask. Nothing much besides dulled senses and an increased attention span. They don’t feel pain, they don’t breathe, and they apparently don’t have emotions or a libido. Except that they do. When it’s convenient for the story or necessary for character development. Also, Waggoner repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly) hits you over the head with the fact that zombies can’t smell, can’t taste, and can’t feel. Yet Matt has no problem with seeing or hearing. If there’s one thing that bugs me more than anything else, it’s a lack of internal consistency and logic within a story. I wouldn’t have a problem if Matt was a zombie whose only quirk was a lack of pain receptors. Just don’t set up the rules and break them a page later.
I also was irritated by Waggoner’s tone and the lack of consistency in his writing. At times, the story flowed extremely well and the pages flew by. At other times, there was a pun or an attempt at humor that was so painful that I had to set the book down in disbelief. Here’s just one example:
I found myself blasted across the street and through the front window of Les Escargot, a gourmet restaurant run by giant snails. The food's suppossed to be great, but you wouldn't believe how slow the service is. - Pg 229If you are trying to create a city of darkness, malice, and evil, where everything humans are afraid of resides, don’t make it so pedestrian. It’s takes itself too seriously to be campy and it takes itself too lightly to be scary or suspenseful so it ends up being neither.
Waggoner’s titular city, Nekropolis is certainly a strange one. Advertised as “Tim Burton does Sin City from a Coen Brothers script”, I would say its more Beetlejuice meets Discworld, minus Terry Pratchett’s gift for humor. Vampires, werewolves, demons, ghouls, sorcerers, alchemists, ghosts, zombies, and everything else you can imagine (and some things you couldn’t). The city is interesting and well concocted (at least when Waggoner lays off the jokes). It could (and will) support multiple Matt Richter adventures. There is plenty to do in Nekropolis and Waggoner introduces us to dozens of characters and creatures, some of which work better than others. However, while the world itself is incredibly diverse, it's also significantly flawed in the fact that's lacking any sort of relatable character. The main plot revolves around the destruction of this extra-dimensional city and it’s sinful residents. I simply didn’t care if a bunch of bloodthirsty monsters die. And Matt? He’s already dead. The closest thing to a sympathetic character is Matt’s “love” interest who is 50% human, 50% vampire and 100% the stereotypical librarian type who doesn’t know her own inner strength until she needs to save the day. And I was rooting for the chiranha (that’s a cringe-inducing Chihuahua-Piranha hybrid) to eat her.
To be fair, this is only the first book in a series. Storm Front, the debut novel in The Dresden Files, is definitely the worst book in the series. The difference here is that Storm Front was Jim Butcher’s debut novel whereas Tim Waggoner has written over ten and it doesn’t show. There is an abundance of dialog tags, sloppy character exposition, and deus ex (how do you say coat in latin?). At one point, an informant character actually trades Matt some information in exchange for his origin story which Matt conveniently supplies in an out of place flashback chapter. At another point, yet another informant asks him word for word, “How do you feel about being a zombie?” These are certainly relevant details but the methods Waggoner employs to communicate them are lazy at best and amateur at worst. Waggoner also resorts to the Jacket of Bottomless Pockets that Richter must have stolen from the early Harry Dresden novels. He just always seems to have the perfect solution to every problem to the point where it begins to stretch past my willing suspension of disbelief. Not to mention that the vast majority of characters seem to be best friends of Matt’s that are more than willing to help out. This is surprising given that he is a passionless zombie who has lived in the city for less than two years. It’s the friendliest bunch of homicidal deviants I’ve ever read about.
I realize that I have been nitpicking the book a lot and honestly the book isn’t all bad. The world building in Nekropolis is fantastic and could easily support future Matt Richter stories. There are stretches were the writing is fluid, the characters are interesting and the plot is dynamic. But there are also a lot of stretches where those things don’t happen, and unfortunately, those portions really ruined the story for me. Maybe it just wasn't for me, maybe I just didn't "get it", I'm not sure. If you are a hardcover paranormal fantasy junkie, give this a try. Otherwise, just go read Moxyland again.
YetiPreview: Read here