City of Halves
by Lucy Inglis
Published on 08-07-2014
by Chicken House
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Mythology, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
London. Present day. Girls are disappearing. They've all got one thing in common - they just don't know it yet.
Sixteen-year-old Lily was meant to be next, but she's saved by a stranger: a half-human boy with gold-flecked eyes. Regan is from an unseen world hidden within our own, where legendary creatures hide in plain sight. But now both worlds are under threat, and Lily and Regan must race to find the girls, and save their divided city.
Before I review City of Halves, can I just mention what a beautiful cover design it has?! I don’t even have words for how gorgeous it is. It’s one of my favourites of the year so far!
This book has an amazing premise, but during the early chapters, it just didn’t click for me. It relies on the appeal, the glamour and the contrast of London, where it’s set. If you’re a Londoner, or just British, I think the references to the distinctive city setting will read like liquid gold. International readers on the other hand may be a little lost to begin with. The feel of these early pages is one of faceless modern technology and colourless backgrounds; there’s nothing to anchor to, nothing to hook you in. It takes about 60 pages to repair the damage of this shaky beginning, but investing in the story is worth it.
There’s so much to love about the myth and magic of this book. From wraiths and children of the Serpent King to cherubic mothwings and devilish hinkypunks, it turns out London is a hotbed for magical creatures of all shapes and sizes – including, unfortunately, a vicious two-headed dog intent on tearing protagonist Lily to pieces until the elusive Regan races from the shadows and saves her.
Regan is Guardian of the Gates, the half-human, half-Eldritche defender of the London Wall. His world is divided by Eldritche and Chaos (races of supernatural beings who are two sides of the same coin; just assume that all the monsters, folklore and fairies you’ve ever heard of are real and you’ll find them somewhere on either side of that coin). The Eldritche, while not inherently evil, are mostly indifferent toward humans. Why make humans a priority when there are murderous banshees and plague demons on the loose?
Lily is a teenage coding expert with a rare blood type, and if she’s not being attacked by Chaos, she’s semi-accidentally wandering into the nearest criminal hideout. She doesn’t make one sensible decision in the entire book. I kind of liked her, but she allows others to control her choices, and when she doesn’t, she’s so indecisive it’s agonising. She’s described as ‘breakable’ and ‘fragile’ (oh, how I long for books that don’t reek of Twilight). She keeps waiting for Regan to save her, and even says it aloud just to confirm it for us. When Regan asks, ‘What do humans do when girls won’t do as they’re told?’ she doesn’t shut him down for being misogynistic (no matter how jokingly he meant it, and no matter how much I loved him elsewhere in the book, casual misogyny in YA is a big issue authors need to be called out on) she starts pandering to his every whim. She goes from ‘I’m leaving, this is insane’ to ‘Will I see you again?’ in mere pages.
Ironically, it’s the little details that make up for most of the book’s major flaws. It’s full of action and it’s fast-paced. The cast is also more diverse than most. There are chapters where the writing style borders on the brilliant. It draws fantastically on history, from the age-old idea of sanctuary – in City of Halves, this means the parts of London safest from Chaos, like the Temple where Lily lives and the Rookery where Regan lives – to the ancient belief that magic can be tied to certain objects or places. It uses mythology – did I mention there are two giants sleeping beneath London who could one day wake and destroy it all? – and introduces a whole host of fascinating concepts rarely seen in UKYA.
Regan and Lily’s romance is well-written, lying somewhere between slow-burn and passion, perhaps to try and give it credibility (Lily is sixteen! Regan is nineteen! Isn’t there some kind of law against that?!). I appreciated that there were no slow-motion, meadow-sprinting declarations of true love, but the brevity of the relationship did lessen its shine and on reflection, it may have been a little too close to insta-love for me.
Lily’s father is a human rights lawyer and it’s great that they have a strong bond – but he’s also willing to let her roam the city unchecked all day, which I found difficult to believe. He repeatedly asks her to chase down shady passport forgers and has her working on legal cases with no regard for her personal safety. City of Halves isn’t the first YA novel to explain away the role of parents and it won’t be the last (in fact, you can see our discussion on that topic here). The problem is, Inglis tries to depict Lily’s father as caring and present, when he so evidently isn’t. He got a raw deal with the way the book ended so I felt sorry for him, but his characterisation just wasn’t up to scratch. In fact, characterisation is a problem in general in this book. Lucas and Elijah are flat; Lilith (not Lily, just a completely different character with a similar name), Gamble and Sam are lacklustre; Caitlin’s just plain confusing. The dialogue was often stilted and unrealistic.
It’s characters like Eleanor and Mona who save the day; they deserve entire books of their own, they’re so awesome. Felix is very entertaining, brightening up the page wherever he goes, and Micky is downright hilarious (‘What’s a fireball in the workplace between friends?’). In fact, the humour of this book showed flashes of genius, and I wish there was more of it. Moments like this became the highlight of the book for me:
“You don’t like humans very much, do you?”
“I like you, don’t I?”
“Most of the time I really can’t tell.”
Also, there were dragons in this. Seven of them! They’re usually dormant, but they wake when Chaos starts to take over London. Lily and Regan even take the occasional detour into secret dragon lairs. City of Halves could have been entirely about dragons and I still would have loved it. This is a book that says “Oh, and by the way, a dragon just landed on the Bank of England, but let’s focus on blood types and general swooning, shall we?” when really it should be saying, “But you guys, dragons! DRAGONS!”
I’ve seen City of Halves compared to The Mortal Instruments, and there are similarities, such as having a teenage girl for a protagonist and a love interest with tattoos, but then again, it also shares those traits with Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper and several books in Katie McGarry’s Pushing the Limits series. It actually reminded me of Death & Co by D.J. McCune more than anything else (you can see my review for that book here). The final showdown doesn’t leave many unanswered questions – though some of the answers given are a little lacking in detail and plausibility – but there is potential for a sequel and I for one would love to read it.
However, what struck me most about this book is the fact that Lucy Inglis could be a fantastic new talent for UKYA. I really enjoyed the story within City of Halves – everything else is just execution; it can all be improved. Storytelling is an innate ability, and I can’t wait to see what Inglis has in store for us next.
In short: City of Halves is less about character and more of an ode to a city the author clearly adores. It soon diverges from the mysterious and misleading synopsis, and it’s worth reading just to find that out. It may have its faults, but it’s a very enjoyable read so it gets 4 stars from me. There’s so much potential and I’d love to revisit the world of the Eldritche in a sequel – particularly if dragons will be involved!
Huge thanks go to Chicken House for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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