Review: The Last Smile In Sunder City by Luke Arnold
Updated: Dec 27, 2020
Orbit, Feb 25th, 2020. 368 pages; paperback available on Amazon here.
Reading fantasy books since I was a child, I’ve always loved the escape from the tedium into something more. Better still were the books that were based in this world; as if a thin veil existed between the magic and the mundane and the author had managed to glimpse behind it. I always liked to imagine that once upon a time the magic, the dragons, the unicorns, were real. That only time and disbelief and ignorance led to their disappearance. That maybe I could find it again. Reading The Last Smile In Sunder City reminded me of that dream, and finally offered a reason as to why magic might’ve been lost in the first place.
Having hit rock bottom and taken out a shovel, human Fetch Phillips is now a ‘man for hire’, ready to do whatever he has to in order to pay his bills. With magic destroyed, the magical creatures that remain live a half life, and Fetch dedicates himself to helping them instead of other humans. When a principal from a new cross species school hires him to track down a missing vampire teacher, Fetch begins the hunt through Sunder City, though no one can prepare him for the other missing, dead, and broken souls he finds in his search.
While one could class this as magic meets mystery, the irony is in the fact that the magic has been destroyed, and the mystery plot is a little sparse. Fetch regularly encounters obstacles that distract him from his goals of discovering what happened to the missing vampire, yet in doing so, we get a much more in depth look at the world building done and the assortment of characters to compliment his own fractured psyche.
As far as characters go, I didn’t fall in love with Fetch because he was trying to be the hero. No, I admire Fetch because he’s just trying not to be a villain again. He sees his faults and, while he doesn’t necessarily embrace them, he’s learning to live with them, knowing nothing he does will ever atone. He’s raw and unfettered; unapologetically using whatever vice he can to cope with the self hatred. His was a sin I know I’ve suffered from; wanting to be wanted. Wanting to be praised. To matter. That need doesn’t make a man evil, but the deeds that can be done through ignorance and desire can lead to the worst things in the world. That’s what Fetch lives with now.
In telling Fetch’s story, The Last Smile In Sunder City takes a pointed look at the very nature of humanity; that our fears, insecurities, and our need to be in power drives us to destroy even the most beautiful things. That was, perhaps, what gripped me the most about the novel. We experience a world so horrifically broken of all the things that made it wonderful, and the hero we can’t help but root for as he staggers through the quagmire, is the one who helped make it so. A part of me wanted to hate Fetch, but I saw too many of my own demons in him.
I didn’t see The Last Smile In Sunder City in a bookstore. I didn’t pick it up off a shelf or even have it suggested on my Goodreads. No, I heard about the novel straight from the author. Luke Arnold, or @longlukearnold, if you want his twitter handle, is an Australian born actor and, as of January 2020, author.
Now, I became interested in Arnold after I saw his performance as Michael Hutchins in INXS - Never Tear Us Apart, but I didn’t reach all out ovary death until witnessing him in Black Sails. I mean, it helped that he was attractive, and Australian, but sweet mother of monkey milk, seeing his portrayal of Long John Silver was enough to make me re-evaluate turning to a life of piracy. The depth and growth of his character was delivered so masterfully I was done.
So, to circle back to my point, when Arnold mentioned on his twitter feed that The Last Smile In Sunder City was on sale on Kindle, I just about fell out of my chair. He’s published? A book? To heck with the price, I want it.
Thus, the novel was purchased, sight unseen, summary unread. It didn’t matter though. The same energy and passion that went into his acting performances translated to the page. Grippingly sombre and beautifully heart rending, The Last Smile In Sunder City is sure to leave a mark. Below are just a few of the sections that gave me pause.