If you’ve visited New York City in the past year and kept an eye out for water sprites, sexy succubi and man-eating snake demons, then you have most likely read Mur Lafferty’s ‘The Shambling Guide to New York City’. If you did all that and have never heard of this book, then you should probably be worried; more importantly, you should seek it out immediately and prepare to be introduced to the NYC inhabited by Zoë Norris, Lafferty’s heroine and editor of travel guides aimed at a supernatural audience.
Thankfully, Lafferty kept Zoë alive following the devastating earthquake that ended the first book (‘earthquake’ here translates as ‘battle between Zoë’s zoëtist, golem-raising love rival and the rest of New York City’) and brings her back for its sequel ‘Ghost Train to New Orleans’. The setup is practically the same: sassy human book editor tasked with writing a guide to a popular US city for visiting ‘coterie’ (demons, scary monsters, etc.) and, along with her eclectic writing staff and assorted sidekicks, gets dragged into some dangerous and wildly entertaining situations. What makes ‘Ghost Train’ an especially fun ride to take is that, following the setup and denouement of the first book, Lafferty can build on the template and characters and throw us some cool curveballs from the get-go.
The opening chapter updates us on Zoë’s situation: it’s a month since the climax of the first book and she’s since lost friends including best pal Morgan and mentor Granny Good Mae, gained a boyfriend whose zombie-reversal magic herbs have been flushed down the loo (oops), and has been talking out loud in Central Park to practice her newfound ‘citytalker’ abilities. She could probably use a good trip to clear her head, so it’s a good job she has a night train to catch to The Big Easy to begin researching and writing her team’s new travel guide.
To reveal more would be to spoil the surprises in store, but suffice to say the New Orleans setting is the perfect playground for Lafferty’s offbeat and often ghoulish characters to run amok. Early on, we’re informed that NO is ‘the unofficial coterie capital of the US’ and anyone gasping for a return to the swampy supernatural terrain of ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ will feel right at home. From the moment Zoë steps on the memorable bullet train that transports her from New York to Louisiana (Hogwarts Express who?), it’s non-stop fun and death-defying games as a new mystery presents itself.
Lafferty’s done it again with this charming blend of comedy, horror, romance and travelogue that’s not quite like any other entertainment property around at the moment. You get the feeling the series could run and run, due to the fun in uncovering the underground world of other prospective cities – indeed, Gaiman fans might consider the approach a US spin on ‘Neverwhere’ for the blog generation, with snippets from Zoë’s fictional guide revealing more about the destination’s devilish attractions throughout. Zoë is a key entry point for the reader, as we identify with this all-too-human lead (an alter-ego for Lafferty, perhaps?) as she navigates these unfamiliar places and situations populated by super creeps and assorted nasties.
I’d already visited New York before consuming Book One but, if it wasn’t already (it was!), New Orleans is now on my hit list following Book Two. Lafferty’s adventure in the bayou is like a well-seasoned pot of gumbo, offering up rollicking set-pieces, memorable characters, zippy dialogue (“Are you objectifying to women fighting monsters?”) and a geek-friendly tone throughout that positions Lafferty as one of us. In short? This is perfect flight-of-fancy reading for a gloomy morning commute – you may even start to wonder if your fellow passengers are on their way to a publishing office populated by vampires and death goddesses.
Intrigued by the weird world Zoë inhabits? Look out for an exciting giveaway this week and you could be transported there – more details soon.