“Everything in the universe is made of string. Cosmic string…String City is where the cosmic string gets knotted so tight that all the dimensions kind of fold together.”
A fully imagined and realised setting is an essential component for any novel. It helps provide context and backdrop to the characters and events that comprise the story being told. Sometimes, however, it can evolve into something much more important. Sometimes, a setting becomes such an essential part of a story or character’s identity that it would be impossible to imagine one without the other. Imagine Batman without the gritty, urban nightmare that is Gotham City, Alice going on a journey to somewhere other than Wonderland, or even Winnie the Pooh without Hundred Acre Wood. The setting is so vital to the overall narrative that is an essential part of their DNA and wouldn’t work in any other setting. String City, Graham Edwards’ latest genre-blending work, can surely be added to this list.
Combining elements of science fiction, urban fantasy, film noir, and ancient mythology, Edward’s world-building for String City is nothing short of phenomenal. On his search for the truths behind the various cases that he takes on, our PI protagonist visits a diverse range of districts in the city that were so easy to imagine in great detail while also playing a vital role in the development of the story’s narrative. There was occasion when it was hard to visualise how a newly-introduced district, despite excellent description, was connected to the rest of the city, but I guess that is to be expected when the characters’ modes of travel are so outlandish and fantastic as skipping along the cosmic string that run between different dimensions. However, such feelings of disconnect never lasted long.
Edwards’ wild and imaginative concepts were evident not only in String City’s settings, but also its characters. The city is populated by gods, titans, angels, creatures, ghosts, humans, and god knows what else, all of whom fit into the city and its mechanisms in their own particular ways. The variance in the characters’ dialogue styles was easily apparent and worked effectively to add depth to many of them, in particular the PI, Aeolus, and Arachne. While many of the characters brought a sense of gravity and grit to the story, there were plenty that actually gave a sense of whimsy, bringing a touch of Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams to proceedings, which was very effective at creating subtle changes in the tone of the book.
String City is a busy and exciting story with a gargantuan cast of characters and locales that made for a thoroughly enjoyable read. Despite the hectic and busy nature of the book, however, it still feels as though Edwards has barely allowed us to scratch the surface of either String City or indeed the Cosmos it inhabits. So whether they are concerned with the PI, Runefolk, or new characters that didn’t make an appearance this time, I sincerely hope we are treated to more stories from this truly wondrous world.
Thanks to Solaris books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.