Think of The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty as a cozy urban fantasy novel, in the same vein as the popular “cozy mysteries” written by authors like Janet Evanovich but in an urban fantasy setting. In cozy mysteries, the detective is often an amateur who only solves crimes as a sideline: in real life, they may be beauticians or chefs or gourd decorators. Their “real” jobs often end up playing a role in the main intrigue of the novel.
In Mur Lafferty’s novel, the main character is a writer and editor of travel guides. Newly arrived in New York, she applies for a job, only to find that the publishing company’s employees are vampires, zombies, succubi and sprites, and the publishing guide she’s supposed to edit is meant for the vast, hidden population of supernatural creatures in New York. Thus, The Shambling Guide to New York City.
The book includes multiple excerpts from the travel guide Zoë is working on, gradually painting a lively—if not always entirely believable—picture of this version of New York City. If you know the city, you’ll recognize many of the spots Lafferty refers to. This format also sets up what may possibly be a new series that’ll focus on different cities in the future. It’s also, as Lafferty explains in an interview included at the end of the book, a reference to Douglas Adams’ wonderful The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Not that I’d put The Shambling Guide to New York City in the same league as that classic. This first book is… well, it’s… okay? It’s not for me, but it’s a fun and entertaining read. I laughed more than a few times (e.g. when main character Zoë calls her colleague the death goddess an “emo witch”). I also got annoyed more than a few times at annoying clichés, stock characters, and unlikely plot twists, including the entire setup of the novel: why would a publishing company hire an editor for a book on a subject she has zero familiarity with?
The Shambling Guide to New York City reads like the literary equivalent of a TV series like Sex in the City: it’s light, shallow, easy-going and easy to identify with for the right reader/viewer (in this case: not me). It’s predictable and occasionally, despite its innovative concept, a bit formulaic in its delivery. Still, it’s a quick, fun read: I had a good time reading The Shambling Guide to New York City, despite my criticisms, and would recommend it for urban fantasy fans looking for a quick, light and humorous read. I may not go for the next book in the series, but that’s probably more because of my personal preference for a different kind of fantasy. I could see many readers gobbling this up—especially if they also like Sex in the City.