After taking an unintended break from the realm of Urban Fantasy reading, I decided it was high time that I got back into the swing of things and check out the latest entries into the genre.
Nekropolis is the first in a new series of Urban Fantasy / Horror from a well established author (he has had more than 100 short stories published at the time of writing). Set in the alternate dimension / city of Nekropolis where every monster that humanity has ever dreamed up lives, the story follows Matthew Richter, a former Chicago cop turned not-a-private-investigator (he doesn’t charge for the cases he investigates you see) and zombie as he investigates the theft of a magical item called ‘The Dawnstone’ from one of the most powerful citizens of Nekropolis.
Right out of the starting gates, Tim Waggoner throws a continuous stream of information at the reader - from the various monsters who live in Matthew’s world (pro-tip, if you’ve read about it in classical literature, it lives in Nekropolis, plus a few surprising original creations that the author has thrown in too) through to the world itself and the various sections there-in such as the lycanthrope-infested Wyldwood and the vampire stronghold of Gothtown.
It’s a testament to Waggoner’s talent that the vast majority of this information actually sticks with the reader without bogging down the central film noir-style story. Indeed this is the best example I’ve yet read where the author is trying to create an entire alternate modern world. Mostly this is because Waggoner doesn’t get distracted by trying to show the readers just how different Nekropolis is from our world. Rather he creates a world similar enough for the reader to understand what to expect but different enough to subvert that very same expectation.
In the afterword, he mentions that Nekropolis was adapted from a table-top game scenario that he wrote for his Dungeons and Dragons group to play more than a decade ago and there are still clear elements of that origin with-in the novel – Matthew’s array of seemingly bottomless coat pockets with their range of impromptu weapons just screams “Inventory” to anyone who’s ever played an RPG or Adventure game and the progression through each of the five Dominions (areas ruled by the creators of Nekropolis) and climactic battle at the Darkspire are clearly Dungeons complete with a boss encounter for each.
This gamerfication of the story (or storification of the game … whichever …) actually works to a surprising degree and certainly goes some way to explaining how the world feels so fully realised and complete despite a setting which should feel completely alien and incomprehensible. This is a world that Tim Waggoner has lived and played in (and seen how others lived and played in) for a large chunk of time before it got anywhere near a novel and it shows.
My only criticism lies within the romance subplot. As a reader, I want to see the relationship develop and grow and blossom and the way the romance was handled here, I just didn’t get that. Now, I understand within the fiction what happened and how they formed an instantaneous emotional bond with each other, but it just didn’t feel right to me. Hopefully the relationship is expanded upon and explored further in the next books … but it’s always going to be niggling at the back of my mind that I don’t believe the relationship is genuine.
With my absolute adoration for The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and for what Anita Blake: Vampire Executioner by Laurell K. Hamilton used to be (you know, before it went all “OH MY GOD! TEH SEXY-TIMES! I MUST HAVE THEM!”), I usually find that new urban fantasy books have a hard time living up to my standards. Nekropolis on the other hand effortlessly managed to surpass (nearly) all of my expectations and has genuinely become a series of books I can quite happily place in the category of ‘Urban Fantasy done really, really well”.