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The Fetch Phillips Archives #1

The Last Smile in Sunder City

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A former soldier turned PI tries to help the fantasy creatures whose lives he ruined in a world that's lost its magic in a compelling debut fantasy by Black Sails actor Luke Arnold.

Welcome to Sunder City. The magic is gone but the monsters remain.

I'm Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:
1. Sobriety costs extra.
2. My services are confidential.
3. I don't work for humans.

It's nothing personal—I'm human myself. But after what happened, to the magic, it's not the humans who need my help.

Walk the streets of Sunder City and meet Fetch, his magical clients, and a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

352 pages, Paperback

First published February 6, 2020

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Luke Arnold

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,052 reviews
Profile Image for Petrik.
654 reviews39.7k followers
March 17, 2020
ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.

A well-written urban fantasy with a wonderful take on the premise of “what happens when magic runs out?”

The Last Smile in Sunder City is Luke Arnold’s debut, it’s the first book in an urban fantasy series titled Fetch Phillips Archives. I think I’m speaking on behalf of many readers that we have come to know the name Luke Arnold from his role as “Long” John Silver in the Black Sails TV series. Admittedly, I didn’t finish watching the TV series until I saw Orbit’s announcement of Arnold’s debut, which frankly intrigued me. He did an incredible job there on the TV series, but how about his debut as a fantasy author? Well, there’s nothing to worry about, this was a great read, and I think if you know what you’re getting into, you’ll find that there’s plenty of things to love within this short book.

“I like books. They’re quiet, dignified and absolute. A man might falter but his words, once written, will hold.”

The world used to run on magic, but when the magic of the world disappeared, every magical creature suffered from the effects extremely. The story follows Fetch Phillips, a Man for Hire who worked odd jobs to help non-Humans in order to redeem his sin. Fetch’s job in this novel is to find a missing professor, a four hundred years old vampire. This situation seems impossible, the loss of magic should’ve ceased vampires' existence, and so the mystery thickens and Fetch’s investigation begins. We’ve heard of this premise before, many stories have danced their tune upon this premise, but I have to say that Arnold’s writing style and fascinating world-building was able to invoke a refreshing feeling surrounding the concept.

“In my short and sorry life, I’ve seen many people hide a desire for terrible deeds beneath an apparent higher calling. It’s not hard to find a belief system that will support your own selfish needs. The big surprise for me was discovering that it works the other way too. These broken-winged brothers, even without their story, just have naturally decent hearts.”

Almost the entirety of the novel focuses its narrative on two timelines, one being the present which revolves around Fetch’s investigations, and the other one Fetch’s flashback narrative that led to his biggest sin. Please don’t come into this book expecting there will be many action scenes, in total there were probably three small scenes, but the lack of action scenes doesn’t mean that it’s a boring book; not every book need action scenes to shine. Throughout the novel, we follow the first-person narration of Fetch Phillips exclusively, and honestly speaking, there isn’t much to Fetch’s characterizations that made his background or character distinctive. You know how it is, he’s someone who regretted his actions, ended up running to booze, and now he wants one more shot at redemption. It’s a common story, but thankfully, redemption is a theme, when done right, that I enjoy reading, and Arnold nailed the voice of the main character superbly. I do sincerely hope that there will be more prominent side characters in the sequel to add varieties to the narrative because Fetch was the only noteworthy character in this book. However, what’s lacking in the cast of characters department was redeemed by Arnold’s lovely writing style that made the themes of penance, hope, and regrets in the narrative so compelling to read.

“I was only in my thirties but I was old. You don’t measure age in years, you measure it in lessons learned and repeated mistakes and how hard it is to force a little hope into your heart. Old just means jaded and cynical and tired. And boy, was I tired.”

There’s something about Arnold’s prose that I found to be so accessible, melancholic, and lovely to read. The word ‘Smile’ may be in the title of the novel but don’t let this mislead you into thinking this is a hopeful book, focus on the word ‘Sunder’ instead. The Last Smile in Sunder City is bleak and depressing, the melancholic tone infused into the prose was splendidly done. For example, one of the main themes of the book is how dangerous hope can be. Take a look at these two passages:

“Maybe nobody gets better. Maybe bad people just gets worse. It’s not the bad things that make people bad, though. From what I’ve seen, we all work together in the face of adversity. Join up like brothers and work to overcome whatever big old evil wants to hold us down. The thing that kills is the hope. Give a good man something to protect and you’ll turn him into a killer.”

And this

“But it’s easy to accept your fate when you know you can’t change it. Things get harder when you have a little hope.”

Aren’t they so well-written? I found Arnold’s way of using the juxtaposition of situations to get his point across was incredibly effective to get my attention.

A great actor and also a great writer, Fetch Phillips would most likely say that life isn’t fair. But hey, as an avid consumer of escapism content, I’m happy that I’ve watched Black Sails, and I’ve read this book. The Last Smile in Sunder City is an urban fantasy debut with an impressive writing style and intricately immersive world-building. The book certainly ended on a standalone manner, and I have absolutely no idea where the story will go from here. I look forward to what Arnold has next in-store!

“Mostly, these historical legends come in pairs. Nothing allows a man to flourish quite like an adversary of equal strength. On their own, some of these figures might never have been noticed, but face them off against each other in bloody conflict and both names get drilled into the record book. A good man is made through a lifetime of work. Great men are made by their monsters.”

Official release date: 6th February 2020 (UK) and 2nd February 2020 (US)

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions

Special thanks to my Patrons on Patreon for giving me extra support towards my passion for reading and reviewing!

My Patrons: Alfred, Devin, Hamad, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,500 reviews24.5k followers
January 9, 2020
There is so much to love in Luke Arnold's debut, a dark, urban fantasy noir, it is so well written and positively drips with atmosphere. Then there is the central protagonist, the downbeat, jaded, cynical, tired, and self loathing detective, Fetch Philips. The world building is done with style and imagination, so richly descriptive that you can picture Sunder City, a place that originally grew and built upon the underground fire pit and the blue collar workers who made their living from the giant factory established there. It is a different place now, there was the pre-Coda world and the devastation of the human wrought Coda that brought with it disaster. It used to be a world where magic flourished, a world of magic folk, wizards, goblins, satyrs, elves, and more, and a great river of magic that humans eyed enviously, for they could not do magic and thought they would be able to do so if they took over the river.

However, they got more than they bargained for as they triggered the collapse of the magical world and its creatures, with fatal consequences, body modifications and increased suffering. Fetch bears responsibility for this horror of the post-Coda tragedy, weighed down by his guilt and driving his refusal to work for humans. Work is a scarce commodity for him, so when he is offered an opportunity by Principal Simon Burbage of the Ridgerock Academy, a rare cross-species school, he has no choice but to take it up. One of the Academy's teachers, the elderly vampire, the kindly Albert Rye has disappeared, and the apparently genial Burbage wants Fetch to find him. In a narrative where we learn of Fetch's childhood and personal history, Fetch stumbles over dead bodies, in a case that proves to be more challenging and demanding than he could have ever expected.

Arnold depicts a dangerous and inhospitable city where hate and violence proliferate, with the likes of the religious sect of winged monks helping the burgeoning tribe of homeless. Humans continue to spew forth their hatred against the once magical creatures, and there are nail gangs who deploy brutality against them. I was captivated by so much of this novel, but for me, Arnold needed to move the action and plot a little more quickly than he did. That is not to say that this is not a wonderful read, it is, but my enjoyment was marred by a little too much lingering in the world building part. Otherwise, this is a great debut. Many thanks to Little, Brown for an ARC.
Profile Image for Emma.
970 reviews956 followers
January 16, 2020
Fetch Phillips has a lot to atone for. More than most people realise, or he’d already be dead. Living at what might euphemistically be called rock bottom, he takes a last minute job investigating the disappearance of a vampire teacher at a local school. It’s this or die. The temptation to throw himself out the Angel door of his office is becoming too hard to resist. But Sunder City hides all manner of things in its shadows and Fetch is about to find himself a problem that might just be too big for him to handle…

The dystopian, post-war, post-magic Sunder City is all kinds of awesome. It’s clear that this is where the author has let his imagination and creativity go to work. What happens when the magic goes away? All kinds of shit. Once immortal creatures dusting away; twisted creatures not quite one thing or another, stuck in grotesque half forms; society, industry, politics, and culture patched back together as the magical races fall and humans become ascendant… Yes, yes, yes, this is a dark and desperate place where things can happen

The problem is this: while this achieves its aim for a noir feel, it lacks that ever so important distinctive voice which these types of books need to stand out, regardless of genre. There is absolutely nothing about Fetch to hold on to. Alcoholic, guilt-ridden, lost his love, suicidal, averagely intelligent, limited self-awareness. Blah. He really is the cliche. Character wise, there’s nothing to redeem him, making you wonder why you should care. He only barely seems to want to redeem himself, which doesn’t help either.

What makes it worse is that the plot is slow. S l o w. There are only 3 main action scenes I can recall: one past battle, one major fuck up, and one part of a chucked in thread that seemed to have no bearing on the main plot at all. There's lots of plodding investigation and flashbacks to where it all went wrong for him. It all seemed a little too justificatory to me. I did the worst thing ever…but I was used, I was lied to, this person didn’t love me, this person did (but I didn’t want them to)… You see the problem. Writing this now, I’m starting to realise just how much I didn’t like Fetch Phillips.

If Luke Arnold wants to continue this series, he needs to up his game. The worldbuilding might be top notch, but the characterisation and plot is seriously lacking.

ARC via Netgalley
Profile Image for Hannah.
583 reviews1,041 followers
January 29, 2020
I should have loved this. The world Luke Arnold created here (post-magic, well-thought-out, imaginative) is absolutely brilliant. I adore stories that deal with the fall-out of an event that fundamentally alters the laws of the physical world (see N. K. Jemisin's books and Robert Jackson Bennett's The Divine Cities trilogy for excellent examples) and this book does this incredibly - on a world-building level. I got the impression that Arnold's imagination is endless and the way in which he thought out how this sudden disappearence of magic would influence different magical races worked really well for me. I also really like mysteries set in an urban fantasy kind of epic fantasy world. Sunder City is a brilliantly done fantasy city, with flavours of a darker Ankh-Morpork. But there were two big kinds of problems I had with this book - one that I think is a problem with the book itself and one which I have to admit has more to do with my own reading tastes.

First for the more "objective" criticism I had: I found the writing clumsy. This showed itself mostly in a pacing that was, frankly, abysmal. The story moved in fits and bursts to suddenly coming to an absolute standstill, with the backstory and the world-building integrated in heavy, heavy info-dumps. While it did not bother me as much as it could have if the word hadn't been as fascinating, it led to the book feeling much longer than it actually was. The writing is also clumsy on a sentence-by-sentence level and filled with odd descriptions that took me out of my reading flow (examples: "My boots sucked up mud like hungry dogs in a pit of peanut-butter...", "Thick smoke tunneled through my nose like an escaped prisoner..." or my personal favourite "The future of [...] looked darker than a blackbird's shadow at midnight").

But ultimately my main issue with this book came down to the main character: Fetch Philipps is everything that annoys me with male protagonists in noir type stories. He is a guilt-ridden, alcoholic, direction-less, and unpleasant private investigator who is not snarky or intelligent enough to be interesting. He is also weirdly indistinct as a main character - he reads super young in the flashbacks and middle aged in present time, he reacts more to what is going on than being a more active player, his motivations are deeply selfish until they suddenly aren't, and his narration never became a distinct voice for me (and additionally, I found it fairly male gaze-y). I admit that this has a lot more to do with my own reading tastes but he really did rub me the wrong way. He is also, and this is a petty issue, disgusting - there were a few scenes where he behaves in a weirdly disgusting way in order to intimidate (?) people (like when he downs the drink the bartender he is questioning spit in or when he drinks from an open bottle although other people informed him there were flies swimming in there).

Content warning: trauma, loss of a loved one, alcoholism, substance abuse

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes are taken from an advanced copy and are subject to change.

You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.
Profile Image for Hamad.
971 reviews1,285 followers
June 3, 2020
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Actual Rating: 3.75 stars

“Sometimes, the one who looks like a monster turns out to be a monster.”

Thanks for the publisher for providing me with an E-ARC of the book through Netgalley. That does not affect my review of the book.

I know some readers are excited for this one because the author is a good actor. I did not watch the TV series he plays in and I just read this because the synopsis sounded good to me and because the cover is gorgeous and has one of my favorite combos of colors.

The book mixes two things I love very much: Fantasy and investigation. I love those two genres and I read a lot of books that belong to either category but never both. This book combined the two categories and that’s why I was very excited about it. The word Noir kept showing around when I was researching the genre. I have not read “Noir” books before but it looks like this book fits the description.

“A cop was a cop was a cop. Like pieces of fruit; there’s good ones and bad ones but once you smash ’em into jam they’re all the same.”

The book follows Fetch Phillips, the human investigator trying to solve the case of a missing vampire. This is a super short summary of the book because Phillips have a past that he is not so proud of and we get to see that through flashbacks. There were many characters but most of them are not important, I was highlighting names and expecting to see them again but most of them appear only once, they provide an info and we move on, and that can be the case in an investigation story. Phillips is a morally grey character, he keeps reminding us of that too through telling which I thought was not necessary as we are shown it. I just expected a bit more from the characters.

The writing is simple but good, my kindle showed me that it takes less than 4 hours to finish the book and I did finish it in that time. That does not mean it fell short in beautiful quotes because there were plenty of those, I love this description for example:

“The raindrops attacked the street like it was personal and wind pushed the water up at every angle, filling gutters, boots and eyelids.”

The world-building is my favorite part, I liked to see how the world is right now and how was it before, a few mythologies were explained and given the author’s own touch and I live for this kind of stuff, we were introduced to the origin story of Vampires, Sirens, Trolls and Dragons!

Summary: This debut was a good one with simple writing, few characters and great world-building. The plot is interesting although there was less action than expected. I loved how the book ended as a standalone but with the option to expand the story and continue as a series which I think was smart.

You can get more books from Book Depository
Profile Image for Holly (Holly Hearts Books).
366 reviews3,021 followers
February 6, 2020
“A good man is made through a lifetime of work. Great men are made by their monsters.”

The Wolf Among Us meets L.A. Noire in this new urban fantasy. Luke Arnold has delivered a well-written adventure, with an added dose of stylish noire presentation.
Fetch Phillips is a mercenary for hire with a colorful past. Running from one job to another, following whoever rings the bell. Fetch has a character introduction that’s funny, brutal, and mysterious in the best possible ways.

Set in a grimey place called Sunder city where a catastrophic event known as The Coda occurred which lead to all magic to stop. To seize to exist. It lead to a good chunk of the city dead. The people went cold and hungry in their homes. Elves age quicker, vampires die faster, werewolves to become deformed, Dragons to fall from the sky. It's sobering, sad, and tense. Fetch is tasked to search for a missing vampire. Each clue and scenario Fetch is brought up against brings you to a new area of Sunder City. We experience many locations in a short amount of time. The pace is functional, simple, and satisfying.

It’s a story that is constantly moving. What Luke Arnold brings to the table is an injection of actual detective work.  There were some slower flashback chapters but they are absolutely necessary for the story to evolve.

If this first book is any indication of the rest of the series, then Fetch’s adventure is set to provide an adventure every bit as memorable as the classic Big Bad Wolf.
Profile Image for Elena Rodríguez.
497 reviews227 followers
September 29, 2021
¿+3? No lo sé...

Ha sido una relectura que me ha sentado bien y mal a la vez. Por un lado, he visto con otros ojos más objetivos la novela, por el otro me he decepcionado un poco. Por este motivo le bajo una estrella.

A pesar de todo como primer libro del autor está bastante bien. Sin embargo, se nota que se ha basado en otros autores del género (los cuales no soporto) para crear a su personaje: un detective que tiene más podrida el alma que un demonio y está más salido que el pico de una mesa. De verdad, muchas veces sobran algunos comentarios hacia el género femenino. No sé cómo no me di cuenta la primera vez. Quizá es porque no estoy tan acostumbrada a leer novelas en inglés, no lo sé. Espero que el autor lo cambie en los próximos libros, aunque sinceramente lo dudo.


“Sometimes, the one who looks like a monster turns out to be a monster”

Tengo que admitirlo. Me ha gustado mucho. Hacía tiempo que esperaba una fantasía paranormal detectivesca de este tipo. Ya había perdido la esperanza con este tipo de novelas, pero no, muchísimas gracias Luke Arnold, tienes mis bendiciones desde ya.

Antes de nada, este libro me lo he leído en inglés. Aún no ha salido traducción. Su vocabulario es un poco es más complicado de lo que estaba acostumbrada a leer, pero si pones esfuerzo y te gusta la historia puedes seguir adelante sin problema

Comenzando con el mundo, Sunder City es una ciudad donde criaturas mágicas intentan convivir con los humanos. Sin embargo, los humanos en su búsqueda de la superioridad frente a las criaturas, acabaron por erradicar con la magia en sí, por lo que casi todas las criaturas se encuentran “rotas” y con crisis de consciencia. Además el hecho de convivir con los humanos no les hace mucha gracia. Lo mismo para los humanos. El racismo entre criaturas mágicas-no mágicas se palpa a distancia y la tensión se puede cortar con un cuchillo. Pero como dicen en la novela, ningún bando es mejor que el otro.

El protagonista, Fetch, no se caracteriza por ser una “buena” persona, es un cretino, un egoísta con todas las letras. Comete errores e intenta enmendarlo a la mínima de cambio, pero, vuelve a cometer alguna tontería al día siguiente. Sin embargo, entendemos porqué se comporta así a lo largo de la historia y vemos una evolución por su parte. Podría decirse que es un antihéroe en esta saga. Además es muy sarcástico y tiene golpes muy buenos y por ultimo pero no menos importante, no trata a las mujeres como si fuesen un trozo de carne ( al menos por el momento).

Luke Arnold, ha hecho muy buen trabajo. Se nota que le apasionó escribir esta novela porque se nota al leerla. Se ha ganado las estrellas que le he puesto. Estaba perdiendo la fe en este género como dije antes y la verdad es que estoy esperando a tener en mis manos el segundo
Profile Image for August Reads.
106 reviews49 followers
September 1, 2022
Excelente novela, mezcla de fantasía y género policial.

Acá conocemos a Fetch Phillips, un personaje bastante patetico, que trabaja como detective privado para agonicas criaturas mágicas en un mundo donde la magia ya se ha extinguido. En ésta, la primera novela de una trilogía, iremos averiguando detalles de su pasado y la razón de su autodesprecio, como también qué se oculta tras la desaparición de un vetusto profesor vampiro.

Decir que esta novela me ha enganchado el cien por cien sería mentir. La verdad es que me ha resultado bastante extraño, al inicio me costó entrar en ella, pero una vez planteado el misterio me resultó adictiva al tenerla en las manos y navegar por sus páginas, más cada vez que la pausaba por algún motivo no había nada que me llamara a retomarla. Por lo mismo debo haberme demorado unos dos meses en terminarla (Hay un montón de otras lecturas que llevo en paralelo y que solían tirarme más), dos meses en los que tomé la novela tan solo unas cinco veces para concluir la lectura, ya digo que cuando la tenía entre mis manos no la quería soltar.

Dentro de lo bueno destaco un par de giros de trama que la verdad no vi venir, los flashbacks que nos cuentan cómo se perdió la magia y por supuesto destaco al personaje de Fetch Phillips, personaje que está bien construido, que no llega a ser agradable o del que te puedas encariñar, más tiene una personalidad fuerte, compleja, plagada de culpa y autocompasión, con la que en algún punto no puedes evitar empatizar, pese ha no compartir su autodestructiva visión. Phillips es patético, el tipo de persona que va por la vida ocultandose en un manto de tipo duro para disimular su tremenda vulnerabilidad interna. Sin olvidar tambien su baja eficiencia como investigador, muchas cosas las resuelve por pura suerte.

Por otro lado, entre lo malo y que me hizo restarle puntos, destaco los tan común "deus ex machina" del tipo: Necesitaba entrar a ver un cadáver con la policía y justo, justo, justo se encuentra con la persona que le puede conceder el permiso en una situación en la que... bueno, le termina dando el permiso porque sí. O que justo, justo, justo un gnomo, el único cliente de un bar, termine escuchando lo que justo, justo, justo nuestro protagonista necesitaba saber. Entre lo malo también está la sensación que nos queda de que la novela nunca termina de explotar del todo, hay un encuentro final por supuesto, pero los motivos tras el misterio del profesor vampiro desaparecido no llegan a ser tan poderosos como para hacernos volar la cabeza, es solo una pequeña porción de algo más grande. Asunto que por lo visto el autor abordará en novelas futuras, o al menos eso espero yo.

Pero bueno, es fantasía juvenil después de todo. Tampoco podemos pedir demasiado.

En fin, una buena novela que en ambientación me recordó mucho a "Carnival Row" en una época más moderna y que pese a qué su misterio con el vampiro termine cayendo de cierto modo a un segundo plano logra entretener lo suficiente como para qué me haga querer tomar su segunda parte. El mundo creado por Luke Arnold es interesante y hasta cierto punto original, solo espero que sí hay un nuevo caso esta vez sea resuelto más con ingenio e inteligencia que por el poder del guión cómo fue acá, crucemos los dedos porque así sea.

Si te gusta la fantasía juvenil con toques policiacos te la recomiendo. ¡No decepciona!
Profile Image for Nicholas Eames.
Author 8 books5,365 followers
April 15, 2020
A great start to a promising series. I listened to the audiobook for this, which I think is the perfect medium for it, since the author himself narrates the story--and does so really, really well.

Being a 'noir detective' tale, there's an huge number of analogies (my cup of tea) and most of them are fantastic. A bit of humour, a bit of poignancy, a ton of interesting characters...I'm looking forward to seeing where Fetch goes next!
Profile Image for Haïfa.
185 reviews177 followers
February 26, 2020
ARC provided by the publisher, Orbit in exchange for an honest opinion. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and the quotes included may have changed in the released copy.

Actual rating: 3.5 stars

The Last Smile in Sunder City is a UF mystery, imbued with a unique personality, a moody atmosphere and a deep wistfulness.

The very first paragraph set the tone quite immediately, hurtling you into Fetch Phillips' melancholic thoughts and destroyed world. For the world, or more specifically the world’s essence, was indeed destroyed beyond repair six years ago when the humans decided they were done being the inferior race. Early on, we learn that the Human Army discovered the location of the source of magic and by trying to harness it for themselves, froze it instead. The immortal Elves withered, The Vampires lost their vigor and their fangs, the shapeshifters became monsters, neither beasts nor men, the mighty dragons fell from the sky. And Fetch Phillips, former soldier turned PI, believes he’s the one to blame for this tragedy. Racked with guilt and regrets, on a steady diet of opiate and alcohol, Fetch became a man for hire, working solely for non-humans.

Life once felt so grand and meaningful. This new world is hushed. Diminished. Fleeting.

I should have loved this book. I used to enjoy mysteries and I was excited to revisit this genre in a unique Urban Fantasy setting. I was warned beforehand that The Last Smile was a slow book. No problem! Investigations tend to be slow and complicated. But Fetch’s was downright tedious and I felt the pacing suffered from multiple digressions. Fetch’s misery and guilt impeded his investigation and he became his own obstacle, turning in circles, ignoring promising leads, mouthing off, getting himself trashed and thrashed and trying desperately and unsuccessfully to redeem old sins.

What had I become, when laughter felt like a lashing?

If I'm being honest, this could have worked for me if I cared more about Fetch. Heck one of my favorite UF series mixes investigation and personal tribulations. But Fetch was not a likable character. He did his best to prevent you from liking him, especially at first. His investigation quickly turned into a meandering stroll down memory lane and was pervaded with so much misery and remorse that I had to consume it a little sip at a time.

It didn’t help that I also found the characterization wanting as Fetch had to take most of it upon his wary shoulders. It too much for a one character to carry, more so when said character was already weighed down with his past. The other characters came and went, too furtively and lacking depth to make a lasting impression. The only interesting ones were the ghosts (figuratively) from Fetch’s past and the missing person he was tasked to track. Neither of them had enough screen time to develop into well fleshed out personalities, even though their influence on Fetch's life and personality was tangible.

A good man is made through a lifetime of work. Great men are made by their monsters.

Characters and pacing issues put aside however, I was thoroughly impressed by Luke Arnold’s writing and imagination. The prose was just perfect for the story and the atmosphere. Arnold’s words were straightforward, clever and raw and even felt oppressive when the situation demanded it. Following the unfolding story, it went gradually from dry and quite emotionless to quite evocative and engaging, capturing skillfully the subtle shifts that took place in both Sunder City and Fetch.

I like books. They’re quiet, dignified and absolute. A man might falter but his words, once written, will hold.

Something I very much enjoyed as well were the detailed flashback sequences that Arnold incorporated into the narrative and that told young Fetch’s story prior to the Coda, the destruction of magic. Though these sections didn’t redeem Fetch in my book, they urged me forward to discover the real story behind the continuous hint dropping and made me appreciate the extent of the disaster that befell the world and its consequences. The world, post-Coda, was meticulously built, morbidly fascinating and one of the bleakest and saddest I’ve visited so far.

We all fear the other, and if we ever make friends with our enemy, the first thing we do as allies is identify some new foe. There is no real peace, only the brief moments while we turn our heads from one adversary to the next. .

Despite my conflicting feelings about this book, Luke Arnold’s debut impressed me on many levels. It held a rough around the edges kind of charm and its conclusion left me curious for more.

You can find this and more at Novel Notions.
Profile Image for TS Chan.
691 reviews851 followers
January 24, 2020
ARC received from the publisher, Orbit UK, in exchange for an honest review.

4.5 stars.

The Last Smile in Sunder City was an impressive debut by Luke Arnold; a dark urban fantasy that enraptured me with its stellar worldbuilding and writing style.

Firstly, I've never been exposed to much noir elements in my reading so far, so I won't be able to make any comparisons. However, I can still safely say that this book accurately captured that feel in its worldbuilding and the characterisation of its main character, Fetch Phillips. In a world where magic was destroyed, creatures or beings dependent on magic for their existence suffered delibitating effects. The setting has a truly bleak, post-apocalyptic feel. Sunder City couldn't be more appropriate a name for a progressive city where all hopes and dreams have been torn asunder when magic was lost.

"It was over. The world will continue to turn and there will still be jobs and seasons and kissing and chocolate; there just won't be music in it anymore. We can bite the fruit and understand that it is sweet but not taste it. We will look at the sunrise and do our best to will some warmth into our hearts and feel nothing."

The entire narrative is told from the first person perspective of Fetch Phillips, Man for Hire. As far as noir type stories are concerned, Fetch could be considered as a standard trope. He appeared to be an even more hardboiled Constantine. World-weary, given to vices to numb his pain and regrets, and still trying to atone for the his mistake (not with much success) even though he believed it to be futile. A man for hire for pretty much anything to get by, I saw him as a highly sympathetic and realistic character. Fetch's voice is one of the highlights of the novel for me. I think Luke Arnold nailed his characterisation from the way he thinks and talks.

"There was no denying that it was bad taste for him to become a mortician after the Coda, but where else does a Necromancer go when the dead stop rising to his call? Sometimes it's just too hard to say goodbye to old friends."

There are hidden depths of emotion in our main character which I found compelling. Everyone makes mistakes, he just happened to commit the biggest one of all. When a unexpected and almost impossible possibility reveals itself, would he dare to hope again, or would he give in to resigned acceptance.

"The thing that kills us is the hope. Give a good man something to protect and you'll turn him into a killer."

The entire plot of the story was centred around an investigation of a missing vampire. Throughout the narrative, the worldbuilding unfolds through the interactions Fetch had with various ex-magical beings like Gnomes, Elves, Sirens, Witches, Wizards, Werewolves, etc etc. The loss of magic was felt very keenly when we get to see how these non-humans are getting by, or rather, barely scraping by. We also get rather long monologues from Fetch about his backstory leading to the annihilation of magic in this world. Although it felt info-dumpy at times, it was still fascinating.

I absolutely have to commend the writing style of the author, as I was so enamoured with it. The writing was lyrical, almost poetic at times, but also gritty, raw and darkly humourous. I don't think that I've ever highlighted so many quotes in an urban fantasy book before. Many a times I caught myself swirling those phrases and word choices around in my head, savouring the elegant simplicity with which it was all put together.

"I like books. They're quiet, dignified and absolute. A man might falter but his words, once written, will hold."

The Last Smile in Sunder City was not your typical urban fantasy with a lot of action. It's a slow-paced mystery and at the heart of it, about a defeated man still trying to make amends and find redemption. I've always thought that I'm not the type who would enjoy such bleak stories, but Arnold's writing was remarkably engaging. Couple that with the excellent worldbuilding, and I was hooked from start to finish.

Official release date: 6th February 2020 (UK) and 25th February 2020 (US)

You can pre-order a copy of the book from Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository (Free shipping)

You can find this and my other reviews at Novel Notions.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,799 reviews479 followers
October 23, 2020
The underlying premise of this book is that 6 years ago humans tried to harness magic but instead they destroyed it. Since then all of the magical creatures lost their powers and have had to struggle for existence. That poses a problem in urban fantasy, since the author has removed all of the fantasy from the present. The formerly magical creatures (including elf, dwarf, werewolf, vampire, ogre, gnome, goblin, satyr and siren) just look weird and are helpless in the presence of human greed and indifference. All of the magic is in the backstory of the PI, Fetch Phillips. The book is written in cliché-ridden noir fashion. If you have read any urban fantasy you have already met Fetch. Here, he is tasked with finding a missing vampire, but that search gets lost in the general busyness and world building of this book.

The writing is fairly pedestrian. “I swung my left arm out at him; I never was much good with it. I telegraphed it so bad that he had heard rumors of it three weeks earlier.” I made it through 50% of this book and started to skim. This is the author’s first book, and there is enough there to make me consider reading him again. I assume that this book is intended to be the start of a series. The author narrated his own audiobook and he did a good job, probably because he is an actor.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Javir11.
513 reviews136 followers
August 17, 2021

La verdad es que no se que me esperaba, si una novela estilo Dresden, me encanta el personaje, o algo muy diferente, pero lo cierto es que al final la sensación es que esta historia se queda a medias en casi todos los aspectos.

El Worldbuilding, que debería ser su punto fuerte, es un si, pero no. Me explico, se nos narran eventos y situaciones acerca de muchísimas razas míticas, la mayoría nos sonarán, y un mundo fantástico en decadencia por culpa de los humanos, ese punto si me ha gustado, pero en el fondo se pasa de puntillas por casi todo, ya que son demasiadas cosas que narrar y su autor no se puede permitir ir más a fondo. Creo que hubiera estado más acertado centrarse en un par de aspectos y explicarlo mejor, que intentar abarcar tanto.

Otro punto que no me ha convencido ha sido el modo en que la novela está narrada, cada vez que cogía un poco de ritmo, zasca, flashback o viceversa y perdida de ritmo. Si a eso le unimos que la parte detectivesca, que es obvio que en una novela de este estilo no es lo más importante, no destaca ni para bien ni para mal, pues al final el resultado es una historia que bueno, se deja leer, no se hace demasiado pesada y que tiene puntos interesantes, pero a la que le falta un poco de todo para alcanzar el notable.

Profile Image for Fiona.
1,184 reviews215 followers
September 7, 2020
It was over. The world will continue to turn and there will still be jobs and season and kissing and chocolate; there just won't be any music in it any more. We can bite the fruit and understand that it is sweet but not taste it. We will look at the sunrise and do our best to will some kind of warmth into our hearts and feel nothing.
That is the Coda

I don't like most noir, much as I want to - a lot of it is simply too grim, and there's plenty of that around without adding it into my reading time. But The Last Smile in Sunder City doesn't just bring fantasy into it, it brings just enough humour and light and hope to offset that gloom.

Set in a world post-magic, after it all came to a sudden and grinding halt, the action is centered around Sunder City, previous technological wonder, and kind of an Ankh-Morpork writ serious:

The coastal towns out East loved their out-the-back beer gardens and sea-view rooftops. In Sunder, you stayed inside with your back to the wall and your wits about you.

It's a melange of neighbourhoods - rich, poor, slum - and inhabitants of almost every formerly-magical stripe, and in grand noir tradition, even the streetlights don't shed light on the dark in the streets. It's a beautifully built world, incredibly thoughfully done, right down to considerations like, now that the magic is gone, do plants still grow? Was that magic too? Technology is still in that nascent stage of old-fashioned telephones and automobiles, common in noir, but here turned into further effects of a world struggling to make up the shortfall left by magic's absence. Even our hero's traditional tragic backstory isn't just another set piece, but integral to understanding this world and where it came from.

I ran a comb through my haggard mop of hair and brushed my busted teeth and gums. Half an hour later, I still looked like a bucket of shit, I just had a cleaner bucket.

I really, really enjoyed this book. For a debut it's even better - and I see we're due another in the series at the end of the month. Let's hope the magic missing from it's world stays firmly in the series.
Profile Image for Dave.
2,958 reviews309 followers
December 21, 2019
Last Smile is a blend of urban fantasy with Hardboiled private eye. You see there once where all these magical beings, but the war is over, the magic is gone, and the elves, the dwarves, the ogres, and the goblins are now doctors, lawyers, and accountants. Lots of good imagination at work here, but I never fully bought into the concept.
Profile Image for Justine.
465 reviews297 followers
February 3, 2020
Originally posted to I Should Read That

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.

I’m not familiar with Luke Arnold’s acting career, however I was still intrigued by his debut novel, The Last Smile in Sunder City. I had heard good things about it and was incredibly curious to try it for myself. I admit I was a little wary going in because the book seemed to have some similarities to The Dresden Files, a series that I very much dislike, however The Last Smile in Sunder City proved to be exactly what I wanted from The Dresden Files. 

I enjoyed the heck out of The Last Smile in Sunder City -- Arnold manages to strike the perfect balance between grit and snark, as well as magic and reality. As a huge fan of film noir, I can confidently say that he manages to capture the spirit of noir and crafted the book with such care and passion -- never once did it fall into caricature or cartoonishness, which I sometimes find with books that attempt a noir setting. 

I absolutely loved the world and world building in this book -- the concept of a land that has lost its magic years before and the impact that loss has on the magical and non-magical citizens was incredibly compelling. Arnold did a fantastic job of painting a bleak picture of Sunder City’s present day, while giving the reader the story of its past. The various types of magical creatures and how everything from their lifestyles to physiology changed after the Coda was so awful, yet totally fascinating and inventive. I really enjoyed that he included so much about how the magically-enhanced technology crumbled as well, launching the world into a bizarre modern dark ages. I was completely absorbed by the events of the Coda and would love to read more in this setting and about this world. 

I absolutely, unexpectedly, adored the character of Fetch Phillips. He’s a refreshing and updated (and not a misogynist! What a concept), yet completely identifiable noir detective. He’s a hard drinking, unkept mess of a man trying to atone for the sins of his past, but you never doubt for a moment that he cares deeply for the people he is investigating or for the lives of the formerly magical folk whose lives have been torn apart. I really enjoyed his back story and the way that details of his past are teased out over the course of the book.

I did find the pacing a little choppy at times, especially with the long flashback sequences tucked in between events. It didn't slow down things down, but I found that it did pull me out of the story a little. However, I did really appreciate those sequences because they added so much richness to Fetch's backstory.

Overall, The Last Smile in Sunder City was an absolute treat to read. The perfect crossover between fantasy and noir, it’s a fast-paced read that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.
Profile Image for Raquel Estebaran.
255 reviews146 followers
June 9, 2022
Novela detectivesca de fantasía urbana, con un personaje principal alcohólico y cínico en un mundo en el que sus habitantes mágicos tratan de sobrellevar la hecatombe de la ausencia de magia.

La trama detectivesca recuerda al noir clásico, pero el ritmo queda un poco lastrado al combinarse con las memorias y vivencias el detective.

Entretenida, un mundo muy original.

3,5 ⭐
Profile Image for Peter McLean.
Author 35 books836 followers
October 27, 2019
The magic didn't die, it was killed. That's a problem in a world that runs on magic. When humans killed the magic, they doomed all the magical creatures in their world to suffering and death. Technology stopped working, factories stopped running, dragons fell out of the air, elves got very old very quickly, and dryads turned to dead wood. It's fair to say this lead to some resentment.

Welcome to Sunder City, a bleak, noir cityscape struggling to come to terms with the Coda, the death of magic. Where werewolves are living rough on skid row, permanently half-changed, where cat people live in slum alleyways and toothless vampires teach college to make ends meet. Where a human called Fetch Phillips is trying to atone for what he did.

The despairing vibe of Sunder City can be summed up in this one line from Pete the Dogman: "I'd rather be ashamed of the things I've done than ashamed of the things that others have done to me."

It's a parable, certainly, but this book has a marvellous noir voice; Luke Arnold has captured the spirit of the genre perfectly and wrapped it around a fantasy setting with consummate skill.
Profile Image for Terry.
406 reviews112 followers
February 25, 2020
A successful blend of detective noir and urban fantasy. I can't begin to express how much I love this novel.

A protagonist who by all accounts should be unlovable, uninteresting, even unlikeable, yet I love him. He was so well-written, it was easy to get a glimpse into his mind and soul, and get a real understanding of him. At that point, Fletch Phillips became a trusted friend.

Deep, immersive, a little lengthy at times, yet the world building in this book made Sunder City an interesting, vivid place with a tragic history. An uncomfortable, dark, hate filled place, filled with violence and corruption, which became familiar, even almost comfortable through the author's skillful storytelling. I grew to love Sunder City too.
The world building in this novel is near perfect as the foundation for the next books in this series.

Luke Arnold is a new favorite author and "The Last Smile in Sunder City" is a new favorite book. I love this author's skill, creativity and imagination. I'll buy anything and everything with his name on the cover.

For me, this book was a breath of fresh air. It was unique in the fact that it did not rely on constant action to make it work. It introduced me to the person, allowed me to get to know the person, then become aware of and learn about the world they lived in.

I'm sure now, with the way Luke Arnold wrote this first book, that there's plenty of time for action in the following books. Plus, I won't have to experience it alone. I have my new friend and companion Fletch Phillips to take the journey with. We've already become good friends.
Profile Image for Rob Hayes.
Author 34 books1,278 followers
April 25, 2020
I'm making a bit of an effort this year to read some new books. It's pretty important, especially to debut authors, that folk take a chance on the new stuff instead of just reading the next book by Sanderson or Martin. So, I figured this one was fairly short, narrated by the author himself, and... bloody hell, it was written by Long John Silver. I'm in!

The Last Smile in Sunder City is a book written in metaphors. I like a bit of noir. The bitter PI, drinking hard and smoking harder, down on their luck and with a heart two sizes too big but hidden behind a gruff exterior. Well, this book hits those notes and hammers them home with a vengeance. It bathes in the old cliches and comes out smelling of whiskey and smoke. It's clear from about 5 seconds in that the author loves the old noir films of the 60s and that loves oozes from every sentence.

But it's also fantasy. Set in a world where the magic has died, but the elves and dwarves and halfings and vampires live on only less than they once were. It's not a new setting. Nothing about this book is a new idea. But it's packaged beautifully and told with a compelling voice. There's also some lines that full on made me chortle and that's an impressive thing for a book to do.

It's not perfect. As I said, it doesn't really try anything new, and when the action ramps up, it loses a lot of its flair and starts to feel like a list of actions. But it was a damned lot of fun to listen to and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

4 whiskey-soaked stars.
Profile Image for Emma.
252 reviews44 followers
August 8, 2020
The world in this book reminded me of Pixar's latest film Onward. It's set in a world with mythical creatures- werewolves, vampires, sirens, ogres and more are commonplace, but they are essentially living in a normal city, set in a time where magic no longer exists.

Our main character is a depressed human detective who was hired to investigate the disappearance of a vampire. As a character he hits a lot of the down-on-his luck detective stereotypes- he is an alcoholic loner with a dark past, trying to make a difference. He serves as an ok protagonist but I found his flashbacks dragged on excessively.

The central plot was interesting enough but wasn't much of a mystery. The main appeal to me was the rich world built by the author.

3.5 stars, I will read the sequal to see more about the world.
Profile Image for Leona Lecturopata.
267 reviews62 followers
April 10, 2021
Me lancé a conocer Sunder city sin saber a penas nada de la novela y ha sido una sorpresa de las buenas. Novela fantástica (urban fantasy) con un detective al más puro estilo noir del que, inevitablemente, te acabas encariñando.
Profile Image for The Nerd Daily.
720 reviews342 followers
January 28, 2020
Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Annie Deo

The Last Smile in Sunder City is a dark fantasy noir novel in which the protagonist investigates a disappearance that appears simple on the surface, but as he digs deeper, he becomes embroiled in a complex web of deceit, corruption and violence.

In the classic tradition of noir fiction, the protagonist Fetch Phillips is a deeply flawed and morally ambiguous man in a broken world where nothing makes sense anymore and the lines between right and wrong have been blurred beyond distinction. Sunder City shares traits with the standard noir landscape as Fetch walks its mean streets to visit seedy bars, torch-lit town squares lined with thugs, garish brothels and more. But it’s creatively fused together with fantasy so that this world is also populated with Cyclops bartenders, Ogre bouncers, Elvish and Mermaid ladies of the night plus a hodge-podge of other creatures from myth and folktales.

From the very first page, Fetch is the epitome of the anti-hero, presenting himself as a barely functioning alcoholic whose work life is in shambles and is actively flirting with death to escape from his guilt over a mysterious past. The only thing keeping him from teetering over the brink of self-destruction is the memory of a woman who beseeched him to do good with his life instead. This is what distinguishes him from popular characters like Marvel’s Jessica Jones (a modern fantasy noir example) whose tragic past shapes her into a bitter misanthrope who uses sarcasm to alienate people around her. While Fetch is also cynical and world-weary, he doesn’t typically lash out at others and is more open about his desire to help people while remaining self-aware that he is a trainwreck of a human being and likely to make more of a mess of things.

“‘So, you’re a Man For Hire?’
‘That’s right.’
‘Why not just call yourself a detective?’
‘I was worried that might make me sound intelligent.’ “
The Last Smile in Sunder City (and what a gut-wrenching moment it is when you arrive at the scene which inspired the book title) is both a fantastic character study and a thrilling detective romp. Because of the noir sensibility, these two elements are closely wound together – you can’t separate Fetch’s character from the case he is investigating in the way that you could on the likes of CSI or Law & Order where the investigators are normally consummate professionals whose personality and home life have little impact on their job. The hare-brained manner in which Fetch follows leads regardless (or perhaps because) of the painful consequences for him, the allies or enemies he engages with along the way down the path to the bitter truth and the compromises he agrees to in order to make progress…it all sheds light on who he is as a person. Which is to say, decidedly not heroic, given to indulging his vices and listening to the devil on his shoulder and unfortunately prone to bad judgement.

“I’d been awake for several minutes but didn’t want to admit it to myself. If I admitted that I was awake, I’d also have to accept the fact that I’d screwed up. I was under a bridge in a bad part of town with a broken nose, no shoes, and nobody to blame but myself.”
Sunder City and the world beyond feels utterly convincing and lived-in due to the remarkable level of thought and detail that the author has put into its creation. Magic once existed in this universe, but was lost thanks to the selfish actions of humans who were jealous of other beings with abilities superior to their own. After they broke the world in what came to be known as the ‘Coda’, centuries of living caught up to elves who deteriorated rapidly, banshees lost their voice, wizards became powerless to perform spells, vampires found blood no longer sustained them and on and on, with catastrophe afflicting every single magical race and leaving humans at the top of the food chain. Through flashbacks, the author unspools the series of events that led up to the Coda, detailing how our knight in tarnished armour was involved in the whole sorry mess, and offers a view at the world in its heyday when magic still ruled and the future looked bright.

This is in stark contrast to the grey, rundown state of despair that most people occupy in the present day, aside from some avaricious humans who have profited as a result of the Coda and can assert their superiority now. The shift in politics, impact on daily life and changing dynamics between the species is well-thought out and also very smoothly incorporated into the story. Exposition is often considered a dirty word, but it’s the execution that’s important; here, the author conveys vital information to readers over a couple pages in the first chapter in a manner which makes sense for the story and engages the audience with this new world by showing its effect on Fetch and setting up the mystery of his past. Once this heavy lifting was done, each of the future concepts and locations that are introduced feel like they gracefully fall into place because the overall structure of Fetch’s world is so clearly established. The writing flows easily and is wonderfully evocative, creating vivid impressions of everything Fetch sees and hears – it’s sometimes sad, sometimes distasteful, but never less than truly immersive.

“The Human Army had won their war, but their victory destroyed the spoils. The magic they’d hoped to harness was gone, so they change their name and moved their focus. The generals became managers and the soldiers became salesmen. They only waited a courteous couple of months after breaking the world before offering to sell their products to it.
Of course, no ex-magical business wanted to hand over their savings to the idiots who screwed up the future of existence, but what choice did they have?”
I had no issues with the pacing myself, but because of the focus on character building with intermittent flashbacks, some readers may find the pace a little slow. In addition, the writing sometimes veers over the line from descriptive to confusing flowery prose (the librarian apparently has ‘lips you could throw to a drowning sailor‘).

This is a stunning debut that showcases incredible talent and imagination. If you like the sound of an enjoyable character-driven mystery with amazing world-building, I highly recommend picking this up!
Profile Image for Amanda Hupe.
953 reviews53 followers
February 15, 2020
If you are familiar with my blog, then you know I am a HUGE fan of pirates. So when I found out that Black Sails actor, Luke Arnold wrote a book. I could not resist. The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold is the first book in an urban fantasy series called the Fetch Phillips Archives. Magic has been torn away from the world, but the creatures are still there. Everything is upside down. Fetch Phillips is human. He holds so much guilt. Once a soldier now a man for hire. One job he picks up is looking for a vampire. He uses his detective skills to search out this 400-year-old vampire. When the magic was destroyed, magical creatures suffered, vampires included. This mystery seems like an impossible task and the more he digs, the more dangerous this task becomes.

As far as debut novels go, The Last Smile in Sunder City is spectacular! The storyline is complex, with well-developed characters. The story left me wanting more! Since it is the first book in a fantasy series, it is a little slow. As a fan of fantasy, that is pretty typical. The authors need to focus on world-building and creating a cast of characters. I absolutely love the premise of a magical world with the magic stripped away. It kind of reminded me of BBC’s Merlin, where magic is banned in Camelot. Sorry. I got distracted. I tend to do that with fantasy.

The other aspect that I love about this novel is the writing in general. The writing has a very noir feel to it and also poetic in a sense. It is dark and with seriously flawed characters. Fletch Phillips is phenomenal. I can’t wait to see what is in store for his character in the next book. I rate this book 4 out 5 stars! If you enjoy urban fantasy, then this book is for you. It is available February 25th!

Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read the book!
Profile Image for Bibliotecario De Arbelon.
230 reviews94 followers
March 19, 2021

Primera novela de Luke Arnold y, la verdad, está bastante bien.

Nos presenta un mundo (más bien una ciudad) dónde la magia desapareció y las criaturas mágicas sobreviven como pueden sin la magia.

La desaparición de un vampiro conduce a Fetch Phillips a una investigación trepidante donde hay más cosas ocultas de las que parece en un principio.

Aunque la novela tiene buen ritmo y se lee muy rápido (capítulos cortos) el autor, para mi gusto, peca un poco de dar mucha información que alentiza un poco la trama.

Pese a eso, es una novela que consigue crearte el suficiente interés para seguir leyendo y descubrir que secretos se esconden en Sunder City a través de la visión de Fetch.

Con ganas de leer el segundo y saber como continúa la historia, aunque este primer libro bien podría considerarse bastante autoconclusivo.
Profile Image for Sensei_cor.
256 reviews80 followers
April 10, 2021
Muy interesante libro! Aunque esté lleno de criaturas mágicas varias no es ni fantasía urbana ni tampoco fantasía clásica aunque tiene un poco de cada.

Hay un crimen que resolver y al mismo tiempo que avanza la investigación te va contando el pasado de la ciudad y del mundo donde se desarrolla la historia (un mundo basado en la magia en el que hace unos años la magia dejó de funcionar).

Sería mejor leerlo en inglés porque la traducción es regular...
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
1,985 reviews2,584 followers
April 13, 2020
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2020/04/12/...

This is going to be a short review because The Last Smile in Sunder City was a relatively short book—straightforward and uncomplicated, and that’s no bad thing. The story may be a bit on the sparse side for how fascinating its setting is, but author Luke Arnold makes up for this with the kind of care and intricate attention to world-building detail that we speculative fiction fans live for.

And really, what more do you need than a moody mystery that’s like a mix of urban fantasy meets detective noir? Welcome to Sunder City, a dreary home to a desperate populace doing whatever they can to get by now that all magic in the world is dead and gone. Six years ago, the human army, hungry for power, had sought to harness magic for themselves but instead destroyed it at its source, causing an apocalyptic event known as the Coda. From that moment on, everything that was fueled by magic failed or began its decline, and now a former human soldier turned PI-for-hire is trying o do all he can to atone for what he felt was his part in the disaster.

Meet protagonist Fetch Philips. When he’s not drowning his guilt and sorrows in cheap booze, he’s offering his services exclusively to non-humans as a way towards his own redemption. When the story begins, he has just been hired by his latest client, the principal of a cross-species school called Ridgerock Academy who wants Fetch to find their missing professor. It is a peculiar case in many ways, and not least because the victim is an elderly vampire—literally a dying breed since the Coda. And when further digging leads to more missing people and several close calls for Fetch, it’s clear something a lot more dangerous and complicated is going on.

That said, for a mystery novel, the detective story behind The Last Smile in Sunder City actually has very few mysterious elements, and in fact, one might reasonably say that it isn’t even the main plot at all. The true focus of the book is arguably the origins of Fetch Philips and the larger body of lore behind the setting, which explains the background and nature magic as well as how it all died in the Coda. Threaded through the present timeline are multiple flashbacks that also go on in rich detail about Fetch’s life, starting from his youth. While those who came into this hoping for more mystery and action might end up being disappointed in the constant shifts away from the investigative plotline, I believe fans of character-oriented stories will be very pleased with the depth and level of development Arnold has achieved here with his protagonist.

Then there is the truly awe-inspiring world-building. Clearly, a lot of thought has been put into this aspect of the novel, as everything from the history of Sunder City to the culture and lives of its people are inextricably intertwined and must be viewed as a whole. You can always tell when world-building is weak or lacking, since nothing feels connected and lots of explanations fall apart or don’t make sense when placed under even slight scrutiny. This is certainly not the case here, where the world feels like a real world should—a living, breathing system. Arnold has proven himself a double threat as an actor and an author, since his prose is evocative and solid (with even some delightful quirks added for flair), but his main strength in my eyes is his imagination and ability to convey his ideas and characters’ emotions in his writing.

Sure, I wouldn’t have minded something more on the story front, but even with a light and familiar premise at its heart, The Last Smile in Sunder City was a surprisingly good read. While its plot is nothing fancy, what the book does well, it does extremely well—namely, the world-building is clever and superb, not to mention the character development is to die for. I am very excited to see what Luke Arnold will bring in the next book in The Fetch Philips Archives!
July 25, 2020
This was terrible. If I could describe it, it would be as though David Caruso, in his role as Horatio Caine, was sailing a sea made up of metaphors and similes, if all Horatio did was to speak those one liners and was suicidally depressed and drunk the entire book -- oh, and without any ability to solve the mysteries presented to him.

Magic died 5 years ago in this fantasy world. This was done by jealous humans who were... jealous. And now all the magical folk aren't magical anymore. It's a bit of UF and the weakest amount of steam punk.

The world was interesting but incomplete. I call BS that the once magical folk of the world would just take it all lying down and I call it BS that they treated humans as equals. Like, there's a human investor who buys a block of houses and wishes to kick out these dwarfs who can't pay rent because magic died. There's like 20 of them and we're to believe they're not kicking up a fuss with this dude?

And MAGICALLY (haha) human technology basically brought the world to 1950s standards with cars and phones and electricity? IN FIVE YEARS?

Ha. Nope.

The mystery was laughable. He totally could've woven it into the books events, put clues here and there but nope. This is a book were the hero is told the answers at the end. LOL. Yeah. That's how bad this is.

What really killed it for me was the writing style. It's like Arnold just vomited all the most cliche and worn similes and metaphors that he could come up with. No one ever told this dude that less is more. We even get a "devil smile in the moonlight" BS one. FFS. It was terrible. It felt like an assault. I can totally get that the MC is depressed with he was surrounded by so many similes and metaphors. LOL

This was just so painful to read that I had to write a review and warn other's away from this crap.
Profile Image for Nadine.
1,130 reviews216 followers
February 18, 2020
The Last Smile in Sunder City has an interesting concept, but fails in in execution. Arnold focuses on his world at the expense of the plot.

The Last Smile in Sunder City features a lot of fantasy elements making the world rich and colorful, however Arnold relies heavily on the telling the reader about his world instead of showing. There are pages upon pages of the main character directly explaining to the reader why things are the way they are or how things got to be a certain way. It almost becomes formulaic.

What I enjoyed most about The Last Smile in Sunder City was its gritty noir vibe. Readers get know Fetch and come to realize he’s not a black or white character. Fetch operates in the grey and has no problems doing so. Fetch’s investigation is also something else I really enjoyed, however Arnold spends more time developing his world than the actual mystery. So, by the end of the novel the mystery has barely moved and is then quickly resolved.

Overall, The Last Smile in Sunder City is an interesting concept that fails in its execution by focusing too much on world building at the expense of the actual plot. The Last Smile in Sunder City is the first in a series, so I may be interested in reading the sequel since all the heavy lifting for the world building is already done.

***I received an ARC via Netgalley for an honest review.
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187 reviews1 follower
March 31, 2022
Estoy dando esta calificación con base a mis gustos, me gustan muchísimo este tiempo de historia, de hecho me hacía pensar un poco en la película de “Onward” de Disney y “Las Crónicas de Narnia: El Príncipe Caspian” La película.

Nota: Aclaró, no es un libro infantil, yo de hecho recomendaría una lectura para +17

Cuenta con escenas de:
•Lenguaje Soez

Fetch Phillips es un detective a sueldo que contrata el director de una escuela para encontrar a uno de sus profesores. Rye es un vampiro, o lo que queda de él.
Digo lo que queda de él porque es un mundo donde hace ya 6 años desapareció la magia y, todos los seres mágicos sufrieron cambios. Los vampiros, por ejemplo, perdieron toda su vitalidad, y sobre todo su inmortalidad, literalmente se están haciendo polvo poco a poco.
A la comunidad mágica le está costando el cambio cada vez más. Y a muchos la inmortalidad les está cobrando la factura, sobre todo a muchos elfos. }

Digamos que los seres mágicos están comenzando a conocer lo que es ser un humano con enfermedades, el tiempo contado. Y esto podría haber sido más fácil de digerir, sino hubiesen perdido todo por la ambición humana. (O problemas políticos entre ambos).

Fetch pertenece a la raza de los humanos, la cual no es para nada raro, en su intento por conquistar la magia, terminó extinguiéndola.
Los humanos dieron vuelta a la pagina como sí nada y siguieron con su vida. Mientras que las personas mágicas pagaron las consecuencias… “Pero a qué costó”.

Fetch comienza la investigación. Y, mientras se va resolviendo el caso, la historia es narrada de manera anacrónica, con una secuencia temporal de momento en la historia. Por tanto, en la trama se presenta un juego de tiempos y espacios, donde la historia va del presente al pasado, y del pasado al presente.
En el pasado vamos a descubrir, qué pasó con la magia. Cuál fue el papel de Fetch en todo eso. Y cómo se dio el momento exacto en el que todo cambio. También, de dónde viene él y cómo su destino se vincula con el mundo mágico.

En el presente, acompañamos al detective a conocer qué fue lo qué pasó con Rye y, de paso, vamos descubriendo que algo se está cocinando en la oscuridad a fuego muy lento.

Personaje principal:

Fetch Phillips en un principio no fue de mi agrado. Para ser honesta, me costó tomarle cariño. Comenzó siendo el típico protagonista “Nada me importa, y sobrevivo con Whisky y desayuno golpes” Que me tiene un poco cansada, las primera páginas me fastidio un poco que la actitud del protagonista fuera esa. Pero así como fue transcurriendo la historia, descubrí que era más que eso, más que un borracho valemadrista.
Personalmente no tengo afición por los alcohólicos, pero sí por los rotos.
Y Fetch Phillips terminó siendo el mejor protagonista para el mundo tan melancólico, y deprimente que Arnold construyó.

La verdad es Fetch que como detective hay que decirlo, es un asco, y la pinta de tipo rudo no le queda, pero tiene corazón y voluntad y terminé apreciándolo mucho.

Personalmente los disfruté muchísimo.
En algún momento del libro sí me descolocó un poco que la trama no se centraba por completo en la investigación, pero la verdad es que al trasfondo de la historia fue lo que más me fascinó leer. Ciertamente también lo que se estaba cocinando con el profesor en la investigación, pero sobre todo el trasfondo de las cosas.

No es un libro con mucha acción, aunque, sí que la hay pero no me parece que en realidad fuese necesaria. Es un libro con un ritmo lento pero de narración ligera y ágil. Con una ambientación bastante lúgubre y panorama sombrío. Cómo leer un cuento en blanco y negro donde solo pocos consiguen sonreír.

Estoy ansiosa por comenzar a leer la segunda parte.

reseña completa: https://www.bibliophilove.com/2022/03...
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