Usually, I would start my reviews with the blurb from the back of the book. In this case, Our Lady of the Streets is the third part in The Skyscraper Throne trilogy. If you’ve not read parts 1 (The City’s Son – review here) or 2 (The Glass Republic – review here), the blurb will contain small spoilers that I don’t want to give away. However, please do go ahead and read my review of The City’s Son and then read the first two parts of the trilogy – they’re fantastic! If you’ve read those, or you’re not worried about small spoilers, go right ahead and click Read More – here’s my review of Our Lady of the Streets.
Four months ago Mater Viae, the Goddess of London, returned from London-Under-Glass to reclaim her throne. And ever since then, London has been dying. Streets are racked by conclusions as muscles of wire and pipe go into spasm, bunching the city into a crippled new geography; pavements flare to thousand-degree fevers, incinerating anyone and anything touching them. Towers crash to the ground, their foundations decayed. As the streets sicken, so does Beth, drawn ever deeper into the heart of the city, while Pen fights desperately for a way to save her. But when they discover that Mater Viae’s plans for dominion stretch far beyond London’s borders, they must make a choice, for Beth has it within her to unleash the city’s oldest and greatest powers – powers that could challenge the vengeful goddess, or destroy the city itself.
Ever since I read The City’s Son, part 1 of The Skyscraper Throne, in 2013, I’ve been enthralled by Tom Pollock’s incredible cast of characters. First, the blossoming relationship between Filius Viae and Beth, and her fraught friendship with Pen, then Pen’s incredible growth and development through The Glass Republic as she conquers her real and figurative demons, and not forgetting Gutterglass, the Pavement Priests, the Blankleits, Sodiumites, Railwraiths, Mirrorstocracy, the Faceless and all the other amazing residents of London we don’t normally see. I’ve got a particular soft spot for the Sewermanders, myself. I’ve waited for Our Lady of the Streets with excitement but also with the bittersweet knowledge that this was only ever going to be a trilogy. Whatever happened, this was my final journey with characters who I’d come to care about deeply. But. What an adventure it was.
I’ve already reviewed The City’s Son, where I talked about how much I loved Tom’s irreverent reimagining of London and the way he allows his characters the freedom to explore and enjoy the city, and The Glass Republic, where I discussed the darker, more political and dystopian edge of Tom’s writing and how I felt that Tom really tapped into the ‘real’ teenage mind in the character of Pen. I don’t want to repeat myself, but those elements are present in Our Lady of the Streets, once again, in abundance. There were things that surprised me, though, that were unexpected, in the best possible ways.
Our Lady of the Streets draw together the threads that have been spun from the first page of the trilogy, as Mater Viae struggles to regain control by battering the city into submission and wearing down Beth, Pen and their loyal band of followers. Of course, it makes perfect sense that Beth should be sickening as the city sickens – after all, she draws her energy from the city, as Fil did in The City’s Son – but this puts Pen on a far more even footing with her, and I loved seeing this change. She’s grown in confidence over the course of the first two books, and she’s now in a perfect position to shoulder more responsibility at a time when Beth is barely holding it together.
There are also some very difficult decisions to be made. Mater Viae will not be satisfied merely controlling London, and this puts so many people at risk, including Pen’s family. In order to prevent her incursion into the rest of the country, Pen must choose whether or not to seek out The Wire Mistress, a creature which formerly controlled her in the service of Reach but which she may now be able to control. Paul Bradley must choose between staying at his daughter’s side or taking action to further the cause against Mater Viae. And Beth must choose between the unknown and the unknown, because if she fails to unleash the old powers that existed before Mater Viae, who knows where the destruction will end, but if she does unleash those powers, she may not survive.
I thoroughly loved reading Our Lady of the Streets; part of the reason I found it such a satisfying experience, from beginning to end, was that Tom Pollock kept me guessing. Despite feeling I knew Beth and Pen so well after previous instalments, I was still surprised by their choices, agonised over the decisions with them, rooted for them, cheered when things went right and, yes, even shed tears when they didn’t. Tom pulls no punches. This may be urban fantasy but it felt totally real, and in real life, there are no completely happy endings. Not everyone can live happily ever after; there are winners and losers. The only other time I’ve enjoyed reading a recently-written trilogy so much, whilst simultaneously being so “oh-no-he-didn’t”-angry with the writer is when I read the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness (come on, you know what I mean, right?).
The Skyscraper Throne trilogy is a fantastic achievement by a really talented writer. It’s action-packed, passionate, visceral and yet also humane, gentle and perceptive. Tom has effortlessly combined ancient mythology, historical fact, psychogeography and brand new science fiction/fantasy – that’s no mean feat, especially considering that The City’s Son was his debut. I’m so sad that it’s over, but nonetheless I’m very excited to read whatever comes my way next from Tom Pollock. I know it’ll be brilliant.
Our Lady of the Streets is out now in hardback from Jo Fletcher Books, at £14.99 Jo Fletcher Books kindly provided a review copy, which did not affect my opinion in this review.