Series: The Shambling Guides #2
Published by Orbit on March 4, 2014
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Sexual Content: Some implied sexual situations.
Reviewed by: Megan
Could you find a museum for a monster?
Or a jazz bar for a jabberwock?
Zoe Norris writes travel guides for the undead. And she's good at it too—her new-found ability to talk to cities seems to help. After the success of The Shambling Guide to New York City, Zoe and her team are sent to New Orleans to write the sequel.
Work isn't all that brings Zoe to the Big Easy. The only person who can save her boyfriend from zombism is rumored to live in the city's swamps, but Zoe's out of her element in the wilderness. With her supernatural colleagues waiting to see her fail, and rumors of a new threat hunting city talkers, can Zoe stay alive long enough to finish her next book?
With this sequel to THE SHAMBLING GUIDE TO NEW YORK, Mur Lafferty returns her readers to a world of vampires, zombies, dragons, and gods, most of whom are just looking for ways to pass their lengthy, or even immortal, lives. The pressure’s on Zoe Norris in GHOST TRAIN TO NEW ORLEANS, as the urban jungle she’s scouting for her next supernatural travel guide recognizes her as a rare creature known as a citytalker, and doesn’t want to let her go - especially when she’s determined to go straight into danger. GHOST TRAIN is a fun urban fantasy, with some clever ideas in a rich setting, but it’s tripped up by repetition, a few too many characters, and some flaws in the internal logic of the universe.
As I read, it became harder and harder for me to understand why everyone treated the travel guide like holy scripture, or some kind of stealth weapon. Zoe is repeatedly informed that as editor she has to be the ‘leader,' in a way that suggests she's leading them into battle. She won’t even fire a subordinate who constantly threatens to kill her (and really means it) because she doesn’t want to lose one of her best writers. The rest of the coterie staff treat the creation of the travel book like it's life and death, even when there are literal life and death situations to worry about. I understand the importance of meeting deadlines, but unless the dead part is literal...
The travel guide framework allows Lafferty to imagine what a modern vampire hangout would look like, or where voodoo practitioners would get a cup of coffee. But a lot of urban fantasy does that, and what I thought was most clever about Lafferty's story was her idea of citytalkers. Not only is it an unusual branch of magical ability, but it allows Lafferty to really delve into a city, and color each one with its own personality. Zoe is considered the ‘human’ member of the team, but soon learns that her own abilities are nothing to sneeze at, and the backstory on citytalkers and their role in the supernatural world makes her much more formidable. It’s also a lot of information to be delivered in one go.
There is quite a lot of exposition dumping, but I was more distracted by the repeat reminders of who particular characters are, or what their abilities are, or even their character traits. It feels as if Lafferty doesn't trust her reader to remember these details, in which case she should think about paring down the group to focus on just a few members of the Subterranean Press team. 'Morgen the Water Sprite' has to be mentioned (full title, in case the reader forgets that Morgen is a fairy) a dozen times, and doesn't actually appear in this book. Arthur, Zoe's zombie-bitten boyfriend, will hopefully have a reduced role in future novels - not only is he the load in this story, he's a racist jerk, too, and pretty unsympathetic despite his zombie problem.
GHOST TRAIN TO NEW ORLEANS reads like a collection of short stories where the stories are happening all at once. With so many characters dealing with their own problems, the greater threat against Zoe and New Orleans is hard to see until the very end. The real danger seems so much closer to home that half-way through the novel I agreed with every character who said she should quit, and I don't think that was what Lafferty was hoping for.Series Titles:
- The Shambling Guide to New York City - 4/5
- Ghost Train to New Orleans