The Splendid City

By Karen Heuler

The Splendid City, a novel by Karen Heuler
Book details

Urban Fantasy has become a staple of the Fantasy genre in recent years, and you are as likely to find a book about a necromancer librarian or zombie private detective walking around a modern city as you are elves and dwarves in a version of the past. I thought I had seen it all; teddy bear detectives included, but none have been quite like Karen Heuler’s The Splendid City. It is not the working witch coven or even the talking cat that makes it different. It is all this combined with a surrealist humour. 

Eleanor has only recently discovered that she is a witch and already she has managed to turn her annoying work colleague into a giant talking cat and got them both banished. Her punishment is to move to the new country of Liberty, a former US State, and find a witch that has gone missing. Her only ally is Stan, who happens to be the person she just turned feline. The pair of them must learn to work together if Eleanor is ever to going get back to New York and Stan to get apposable thumbs again. That is easier said than done – they hate one another. 

Jumping into any science fiction or fantasy novel can be deep water and a reader may find themselves floundering for a few pages as they get their bearings. This is certainly true of Splendid as the opening act has a lot to take in. The characters of Eleanor and Stan may be odd, but it is a perfectly normal dysfunctional relationship. The odd couple being forced to work together. Heuler does take things further as Stan is borderline useless in helping Eleanor. He has the stereotypical personality of a cat; a little indifferent to the feelings of others, a tendency to just drift off. However, how much of this is just Stan? From what Eleanor can tell he has always been a selfish idiot, hence him being turned into a cat in the first place. 

It is the country of Liberty that is so confusing. It is fascist, yet fun. This is what the President wants you to think anyway. Vans drive around belting out jolly tunes only to stop and snatch people from the streets. Everyone else does not mind as the vans often throw out candy as well. There are animatronic talking heads all over the place that give out information, but also keep a tab on the citizens. Everyday there are parades in the street to celebrate the greatness of Liberty, although it is awful. It is a very surreal parallel world, but one that satires our own. The willingness of people to look away from the suffering of others, the slow decent of a society in which the citizens are willing participants in. 

The first act is a little confusing as the crime style case of the missing witch takes place in this surrealist backdrop. Eleanor and Stan are quite normal in comparison and bring their more moderated perspective with them from the east coast. Act two throws the odd nature of Liberty into stark relief as it is a flashback to how Eleanor and Stan met. This part of the book feels more like traditional Urban Fantasy where witches are real. Once the action returns to Liberty, having spent some time exploring the wider world, the surreal makes more sense and the book increases in pace and action. 

Splendid is certainly an entertaining book with wry humour and some interesting, if odd, ideas. Fans of Jasper Fforde or the game We Happy Few will jump straight on board. Those used to their fantasy a little more routine may take a while to understand, but Heuler works in the book to make things make more sense and they do come into relief after act one. The characters of Eleanour and Stan make it a fun relation piece, if nothing else, although the way that Stan acts makes me think that he deserves to be something less than a cat. 

Written on 21st June 2022 by .

You may also like

Who is Charlie Keeper
The Wind
Gods of Jade and Shadow