Cover Image: The Last Smile in Sunder City

The Last Smile in Sunder City

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I wasn't sure what to expect going on but this story hooked me from page one and I can't wait to pick up the sequel and continue the journey!
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The premise of this (a world where magic has recently disappeared) was so promising, but I had mixed feelings about its execution. I didn’t dislike the main character, but I had the feeling that I’d come across PI-type characters just like him many times before. Still, I’ll probably read the next book in the series eventually because I am curious to see where the world building goes.
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I've been reading this off and on since the end of February. Not sure why it's taken me so long to finish it. I did enjoy it when I read it. Good character and good story. An okay pace. It was slow at times and dragged a little for me, but it wasn't too awful. Overall it was enjoyable.
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Ultimately I am disappointed by this, relatively, hyped new series. I was looking forward to an ‘urban’ setting in a fantasy world with a gritty, bitter leading male whom took down the bad guys for the greater good. This was really not what we receive in The Last Smile in Sunder City; instead it's a testosterone fuelled mess that just lacks true emotion.  

Setting, History & Magic
It feels like Luke Arnold had a clear intent with his new debut series: create a grim dark fantasy world, add in a complex magical history (that our leading man had a major role in affecting), plus a large disparity between races/species; all which culminates into a beautifully put together setting. This complex world and history is easily the best part of Arnold’s opening book in the Fetch Phillips Archives. I love the intertwined magical abilities that each species has (or had) at any given point; and how it affected the stereotype of each group of characters. From wealth, typical job, community lived in, etc. Arnold gives us a messy society that mirrors our own in so many ways. From unfair disparities to societal expectations to rules/laws, etc. 
If the actual plot itself had been better and our leading man Fetch Phillips had more personality and intrigue then I believe this would have been a brilliant opening book to a series. 

Leading Man, Fetch Phillips
Unfortunately our leading man Fetch misses the mark. He feels close in the beginning. But put him up next to say, Geralt of Riviera and suddenly he feels like a poor archetype of a macho man who messed up badly and is attempting, fairly badly, to ‘redeem’ himself. I know we are supposed to have sympathy for Fetch and feel like everyone else screwed him over and set him up; but to me I feel like if he was as “clever” as Arnold seems to want him to be, then he would never have made the mistakes of the past that dominate his current situation. There is a careful balance that needs to happen between young and reckless versus plain stupidity that doesn’t match up, even considering his experience over the years, with the man we know in the current timeline. 

Supporting Roles & Masculinity
As with most fantasy stories, the characters around our lead(s) are super important. This is another place where Arnold almost makes it but then ultimately misses. It’s a bit frustrating as Arnold is an actor himself (in Black Sails) and should know how important every voice and person are in a story. Given he has played many minor characters I would have expected him to know that each of them needs to feel genuine and have a rapport with the leading man. 
It becomes particularly relevant just past halfway that there are only ‘macho’ male characters in this book. It’s a typical pre-1990’s issue in fantasy; but I’m super disappointed to see it happening in 2020. There is no reason why some strong female characters or at least a few LGBTQ+ ones couldn’t have been put in some of the placements where we encounter more ‘manly men’. And while many of them are enemies I still don’t see why the testosterone level has to be so high on almost every character.

Silly Language
I’lll confess I have a pet peeve against ridiculous metaphors, similes, and absurd language. There are so many in The Last Smile of Sunder City that I could write pages of them for you. But here is the one that annoyed me the most: 
”The last thing I remember was the sound of the landing, like someone stepping on an egg full of snails.”
Let’s just break this sentence down for a minute… 
1) Snails are not born with hard shells, they are soft and so there is no sound of a breaking snail baby (it’s too squishy), 
2) Like snake eggs the shells of snails are gelatinous or very soft; they don’t have the crisp break of a chicken egg like we are used to, and
3) why on earth would you use a comparison that no one has probably ever heard (even if the shells were hard)? I just don’t get it and it drives me crazy. 
I literally put the book down upon reading this line just to post on Goodreads about how ridiculous it is. Anything that takes me out of a book so abruptly is a fail. 

I really did want to love this book. I had high hopes for a new grim dark, gritty series with a sarcastic leading detective that would be a good break between intense historical or in-depth fantasy stories for me. This is Arnold’s debut novel and it is possible that this series will improve. I will likely wait for further reviews of book 2 (just recently released) or further releases in the series to see if other reviewers feel the story and writing improves. However at this time I have to say that if you are desperate for a detective story that is different in a complex world you might like this one. But if you are just fulfilling books on a TBR that were/are hyped or new; The Last Smile of Sunder City could be passed over for now. If you want a super witty, sarcastic, and disillusioned character I have to (continue to) promote Murderbot as the best choice in the last few years or pick-up any Jim Butcher series for some fun. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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I am a member of the American Library Association Reading List Award Committee. This title was suggested for the 2021 list. It was not nominated for the award. The complete list of winners and shortlisted titles is at <a href="">
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A really imaginative it and fantasy and a solid debut. If you’re a fan of noir With grumpy cynical detetctives, you’ll like this. Not sure I’m interested enough to continue the series, but it held my attention while reading it and was a unique, dark and twisty tale.
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I’m not sure what I expected when I requested a copy of this book for review. I’m not a fan of the self hating down on his luck private detective male savior main character and that is probably why I’ve been setting on this review copy for about a year. This book is not to my taste but the idea of a magical world that has lost its magic was very well done. 

If you like Fantasy detectives like the Dresden Files then you might enjoy this.
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Imagine the world went to hell in a handbasket, and you knew whose fault it was.  Like, you could name them.  
Now imagine that person told their story,  and you have Last Smile in Sunder City.
Original magic system (or lack of), characters I can believe, enough darkness to be believable but ends in hope for a slightly-less-shitty future, I really liked this book.
I couldn't love it though.  It has a noir detective feel, but tries too hard.  The one-liners start out great, but towards the end seem forced.
The characters carried this book for me.  They sin, have faults, try their best but sometimes just aren't good enough.  You know, like real people.
Looking forward to the sequel.
**I received an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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This book screamed noir detective story with fantastical creatures from the very first chapter. The world was gritty and immersive, and the characters were amazing.
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The underlying premise of this book is that 6 years ago humans tried to harness magic but instead they destroyed it. Since then all of the magical creatures lost their powers and have had to struggle for existence. That poses a problem in urban fantasy, since the author has removed all of the fantasy from the present. The formerly magical creatures (including elf, dwarf, werewolf, vampire, ogre, gnome, goblin, satyr and siren) just look weird and are helpless in the presence of human greed and indifference. All of the magic is in the backstory of the PI, Fetch Phillips. The book is written in cliché-ridden noir fashion. If you have read any urban fantasy you have already met Fetch. Here, he is tasked with finding a missing vampire, but that search gets lost in the general busyness and world building of this book. 

The writing is fairly pedestrian. “I swung my left arm out at him; I never was much good with it. I telegraphed it so bad that he had heard rumors of it three weeks earlier.” I made it through 50% of this book and started to skim. This is the author’s first book, and there is enough there to make me consider reading him again.  I assume that this book is intended to be the start of a series. The author narrated his own audiobook and he did a good job, probably because he is an actor.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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I wasn't able to read the book but it will be featured in a series called "I Wish I'd Read That." Text below:

The concept of The Last Smile in Sunder City is brilliant. I love the idea of mixing a good PI mystery with a fantasy world that’s filled with any number of magical beings. I’m always interested in a good creature feature, and I was excited to discover how Arnold incorporates those creatures alongside what I imagine to be a modern city. The description is simple but super compelling, and I’d love to hear what everyone thought of the book! Read more about the author and book below, or purchase a copy for yourself. And of course, a big thank you to Orbit for the free review copy!
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DNF. Thank you NetGalley and Publisher for this early copy! I decided to not keep reading this one, it was not for me. Thanks!
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I have bought this book for three people since The Last Smile In Sunder City's release date. 

What could be more enjoyable than a reluctant Raymond Chandler main character looking for a dying vampire in a world with hard and fast choices? Hard-boiled detective novels have been a guilty pleasure of mine and so have intricate fantasy novels so when I heard and read Luke Arnold's book (on a plane) I spent the entire trip engrossed in that ebook. 

The writing style was everything it promised. Gritty and harsh and so lovely at the same time. The main character is instantly likeable in a reluctant hero sort of way. Drinks too much. Doesn't ask many questions and flirts with librarians. Then we add the detective plot and a city marked by rich people and fantastical creatures and the want/need for magic in a place where it doesn't exist anymore. Oh, and humans are the bad guys. Another guilty pleasure storyline. 

This book really makes you want to sit at a dimly lit bar, sipping a two-fingered scotch to watch that one guy who enters the bar and doesn't order anything. I want everyone I know to read this book. It's so beyond cool. It's watching a black and white film dipped in magic. 

Thank you Netgalley & Orbit Books for this advanced sampler!
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Sadly, this book was not for me. After trying a couple of books following a detective, I don't think those stories are for me. I was hoping that the world and the fantasy aspect in this one would be enough to make me interested and make me enjoy it but unfortunately, it wasn't the case.

I think if I had DNF'ed it instead of finishing it, the result would have been the same. I didn't connect with the writing and I didn't care about the mystery and my mind wanted to do pretty much anything else but focus on the words. I also had a hard time picturing this world where humans and monsters exist.

(Thank you for letting me read and review an arc via Netgalley)
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Content warnings: Violence, drug use, fantasy gore, arson

I saw that Long John Silver from Black Sails had written a fantasy novel, and I was immediately interested. In this fantasy noir, Fetch Phillips is a human detective who doesn't work for humans, investigating disappearances around town.

This city felt so alive. There is a deep sense of history and a contemporary culture. It manifests most obviously in the presence of a private school which teaches both magical and human students, and the various types of bars and tea shops. It feels modern in a way I don't see too often, especially given the presence of cars and other non-magical technology. I found it interesting that perspective of the city came from a feeling of recent-history, not so much ongoing conflict. There is healing, there is trauma, and Arnold doesn't flinch from any of it.

Fetch is also a compelling narrator. A depressed PI consumed by his regrets, he has insights into the city that ring true given its history. There's a very self-inflicted kind of bitterness, and that kind of introspection lent the voice an authenticity. He doesn't seem to feel that the world did him any wrong, but his view of things isn't at all optimistic. Fetch, however, is also a bit of a disaster. He's so nervous about repeating the mindset that set off his mistakes, at the expense of his own better judgment and safety.

The plot, however, is a bit slow, with not many action pieces until the very end. It meanders through the different worldbuilding pieces which help us get to know Fetch and Sunder, plus the things that ail both of them. It's windy, but the bitter, darkly humorous voice helps bring it to life.

A fantasy noir about a city with as many regrets as our main characters, drenched in the aftermath of conflict.
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This is a debut novel, but you may recognise the author’s name. For not only is Luke an author but you may have seen him as an actor – he was Long John Silver in the television series Black Sails.

As the first novel this one introduces us to Fetch Phillips, a cantankerous, moody, grumpy sort of guy who makes his way (barely) through Sunder City, a city of iniquity and decay worthy of comparison with other decrepit urban areas.

I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are three things you should know before you hire me:
1. Sobriety costs extra.
2. My services are confidential.
3. I don’t work for humans.

It’s nothing personal – I’m human myself. But after what happened, it’s not the humans who need my help.

I just want one real case. One chance to do something good. Because it’s my fault the magic is never coming back.

The beginning was a little generic. I couldn’t help feeling it was (at least to start) something I’d read before, an homage like many others to the film noir detective novels of the 1930’s. The cover also didn’t help, making the book at first glance feel a little like a Rivers of London ripoff, or a poor man’s Ankh-Morpork. (I thought of this before finding out that the author himself admits to being inspired by Terry Pratchett’s city in an illuminating interview at the back of the book.)

To the author’s credit, I found that the lead character was not as unremittingly nasty as some of our genre characters have been of late. Fetch is more like Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. than like someone out of Tyler Whitesides’ The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn. He has some redeeming qualities, although admittedly they are often well hidden beneath his snarky exterior. It may not be a characteristic that’s too realistic, but it’s bearable. This is a character damaged by his life-experiences, trying to survive in a changed world, a change that he blames himself for.

The surface plot is the usual detective fare. Fetch is hired by Principal Burbage to investigate the disappearance of a teacher at an interspecies school. Professor Edmund Albert Rye is a Vampire, a species that since the start of The Coda and the ensuing loss of their ability to gain sustenance through drinking blood, is in decline. Rye was also one of the founding members of The League of Vampires, the group who has vowed to protect, not prey, on weaker species, which leads Fetch to discover that this may be more than a simple missing person case.

What is actually more interesting is the back-plot that we get along the way. This is about how Fetch managed to cause the loss of Magic in an event known as The Coda, although some of this is explained in clunky blocks of exposition, such as during a school sex education class lecture at the beginning of the book. However, once the book has got over its slightly wobbly start, it finds its feet and clicks along at a great pace.

What worked for me most, more than the characterisation, was that the world of Sunder City is interesting. It is not a medieval-esque world, but a fairly modern one. There are cars and telephones, for example. It’s what we would probably describe as a factory town, created atop an underground fire pit to smelt iron. The Sunderites are generally straightforward folk – often tough, belligerent and worn down – that made me think of a 1920’s New York in style and manner. It feels industrial, with old, decaying warehouses, dark and dim bars and limited light sources. A flood in a shanty town shows the reader how precarious some areas of the city are.

This precariousness doesn’t just apply to the buildings, however. Most of all The Last Smile in Sunder City is about a world where magic, once part of everyday life, has gone and how the inhabitants deal with the consequences. Wizards, witches and warlocks have been rendered impotent. Vampires can go out in daylight, but no longer get sustenance from blood, which leads them to eventually just crumble into dust. Ogres are now having to get jobs as bodyguards, whilst dwarves are reduced to squatting in properties they can no longer afford. Necromancers have to earn their keep by working in the City Morgue, whilst Sirens are often having to make do with getting by singing and playing music in bars or even becoming strippers in less salubrious environments. Nail Gangs roam the streets, vigilante groups killing ex-magic characters for fun. It’s a sobering yet imaginative world.

What doesn’t help is that Fetch himself is a pariah, outcast from the elite ruling body known as The Opus. He’s also a human, despised because it was Humans who caused the magic to go away. Along the way we discover that he’s an ex-soldier whose life-experiences have led him to become this dour, broken person, and yet one who wants to make amends and help, despite the consequences to himself. This meandering backstory gives us glimpses into the wider world of Sunder City, which are intriguing, even if not always directly related to the story at present.

And it is this that really engaged me. By the end, and despite my initial reservations, the character of Fetch and the world he inhabits won me over. Whilst The Last Smile in Sunder City is clearly a debut novel, but one with an intriguing set-up, and once it got going became an engrossing and entertaining read that kept my attention happily whilst reading. There’s scope for more novels here, which I’m pleased about, as more books will no doubt follow. (Indeed: Dead Man in a Ditch is due in October 2020.) Now that the premise has been set up, I suspect things will now get very interesting.
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*I voluntarily read and reviewed an ARC of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. *

DNF @ 15%

Alright, this one was a bit too bleak for my tastes and I wasn't into the writing, so I decided to stop. I'm not rating it though because I think the fault lies more with me for picking up a book that isn't to my tastes and I can see the appeal, see how people will like this one.
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I’m switching things up today and reviewing three books at once. Why? Because I accidentally read three fantasy cop stories in two weeks and I don’t think I have it in me to review each one separately, but I want to talk about all of them. So the question of the day is this: which of the following fantasy cop novels takes home the golden gumshoe? Is it a) The Last Smile In Sunder City by Luke Arnold, b) The Last Sun by K. D. Edwards, or c) Titan’s Day by Dan Stout? For full transparency, Sunder and Last Sun are both the first book in their respective series, while Titan’s Day is a sequel to Titanshade, a book I have already reviewed. It’s possible that because of this I came into this showdown with a favorite, but let it be known that I attempted to curtail my bias to the best of my ability.

Next, let’s establish some judging criteria. I want to keep this clean and easy, so I’ll judge the books on three categories: worldbuilding, plot, and characters. For worldbuilding, I am looking for reasons this story couldn’t just be a cop drama – show me a cool world that adds something to the story and tension. For the plot, I am looking for a mystery or drama that is exciting and keeps me guessing. For characters, I am looking (begging) for a cast that breaks out of the bottomless pit of cop tropes and tired cast members you can find in any cop show. Now, let’s meet our contestants.

Sunder City is about a former soldier turned PI named Fetch Phillips. He is searching for repentance in a ruined world that he had a hand in destroying. Years ago he was part of an army that accidentally ripped magic out of the world, badly disfiguring and killing the majority of fantasy creatures that lived in it. Now he tries to help the fantasy creatures whose lives he ruined.

The Last Sun is about Rune Saint John, the last child of the fallen Sun Court. John is the last remaining member of an aristocratic Atlantean family. The Atlanteans are essentially high tech magical elves who resurfaced the continent of Atlantis to live alongside humans because they were bored (I am not doing it justice, but it’s complicated and not well explained). There are TONS of magical families in Atlantis with different powers, and John is hired to search for a missing son of one of the most prominent ones.

Titan’s Day is the sequel to Titanshade, and tells the next chapter of Detective Carter – a good cop who isn’t afraid to do the right thing no matter what. This book follows the discovery of a new source of energy in an oil town that is desperate for something to restart its dying economy. While political factions squabble over the new lifeblood of the city, Carter single-mindedly pursues a seemingly unrelated murder case of a “candy”. He is forced to navigate political pressures and resist becoming a pawn in the struggles tipping the city toward anarchy. But when more innocent lives are lost and time runs short, he’s forced to decide if justice is worth sparking an all-out war in the streets during the biggest celebration of the year: Titan’s Day.

Category one: worldbuilding. Worldbuilding (to me) in a fantasy cop story is more important than in a normal book. The author has to justify placing the story in a fantasy setting instead of just writing a piece of fiction. In addition, the best fantasy cop stories tie the investigation/crimes to the magic while making the worldbuilding clear enough that the reader can use it to solve the crime themselves. What I don’t want, is to read a cop story in a cool world where the magic is just a backdrop.

Sunder City starts us off strong by killing it with the worldbuilding. Luke Arnold has crafted an impressively detailed magical world then pulled the rug out from under it. He does a fantastic job of showing the reader how magic was a foundation that his society was built on – and how it crumpled, was rebuilt, and evolved once the magic disappeared. The worldbuilding is brilliantly interwoven with the mystery, and he empowers the reader to solve it themselves. Sunder City gets 4 out of 5 for worldbuilding.

The Last Sun, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. On the good hand, the world and magic are cool as heck. Each house has a different set of powers and there is a fun and inventive magic system involving the use of trinkets called “crests”. On the bad hand, the worldbuilding doesn’t quite feel coherent. It constantly feels like Edwards is giving the reader just enough information to get them through the current scene and that the world beyond the current situation is unfinished. I didn’t really believe the world was a real place. And while the magic was integral to the mystery of the plot, I didn’t really feel equipped to solve it. The Last Sun gets 2 out of 5 for worldbuilding.

Titan’s Day likely had the strongest worldbuilding of the three, but I need to ding it slightly. If you read my review of the previous novel you will see that the series has an impressively well-realized world. Stout put an agonizing amount of detail into how his magic and worldbuilding are fused into the world and the story. The rules and restrictions of the magic are set down like laws and it empowers the reader wonderfully to enter the mind of the protagonist and solve the crimes. However, one thing I was unimpressed with was I did not feel like Titan’s Day did a good job expanding the world past the road that Titanshade paved for it. Titan’s Day gets 3 out of 5 for worldbuilding.

Category two: plot. This one in my mind is the most subjective. I don’t have crystal clear criteria for the plot – but what I am hoping for is a story that isn’t predictable, is exciting, and has some good twists.

Sunder City has a perfectly serviceable plot, but it didn’t really impress me. The story focuses primarily on how the case takes Fetch through a cavalcade of situations that are difficult due to his involvement in the destruction of magic. The plot feels more like a vehicle for character growth than a good murder mystery. At the same time, it isn’t terrible, and there were a few good twists. Sunder City gets 3 out of 5 for plot.

The Last Sun was my frontrunner for plot. Despite the fact that the book didn’t set me up to solve the mystery myself, I was extremely invested in what was happening and urgently turning pages to find out what happened. In some ways, Edwards’ loose worldbuilding helped the book here as it provided a stronger sense of mystery and intrigue. In addition, The Last Sun has excellent combat and action scenes that put it at the top of the group in terms of excitement. The Last Sun gets 4 out of 5 for plot.

Titan’s Day continues to make this competition difficult by being complicated. On some level, I actually think Titan’s plot is phenomenal – but I am the wrong audience for it. Titan focuses on hyperrealism and trying to make the book feel like it uses real police work. I am sure there is someone out there who will really appreciate this, but it is not me. I found Titan’s Day’s plot boring — a rehash of the same exact story as Titanshade. The book felt like it had almost no growth whatsoever, and I didn’t like where it started. Titan’s Day gets 2 out of 5 for plot.

Category three: characters. With characters, I am looking for all the usual hallmarks of good character design: depth, growth, relatability, and originality. In particular, I was hoping to see something beyond the usual tropes you see in every cop drama on TV.

Sunder City has good characters that pull you into the story. Fetch is a complicated person with some very believable demons. The slow reveal of his past over the course of the story is a masterclass example in how to control what information to give the reader when. On the other hand, the supporting cast leaves a little to be desired. Sunder City is the Fetch show and it doesn’t feel like there is much room for anyone else. Sunder City gets 3 out of 5 for characters.

The Last Sun does well on characters. John is fun, relatable, original, and deep enough to stand out in this crowd. In addition, there is a plethora of supporting cast members who stand well on their own and do a lot to enhance the story. I was invested in almost every character who made it onto the page and I think Edwards killed it on their character writing. The Last Sun gets 5 out of 5 for characters.

Titan’s Day has terrible characters. I don’t know how else to phrase it. They are box standard tropes of the timeless cop identities. The characters have almost no depth. They demonstrate little to no growth over two entire books. I didn’t really like or care about any of them. After two books of no one growing or evolving, I found myself frustrated with the cast and considering giving up on the book entirely. Titan’s Day gets 1 out of 5 for characters.

Final Scores: The Last Sun just barely edges out The Last Smile In Sunder City to take my top spot of cop books I have read within the last two weeks – which is clearly a prestigious victory. Coming in way beneath both is Titan’s Day, which struggled to do anything with the excellent groundwork that Titanshade built. If I had compared Titanshade to the other two books I think the competition would have been a lot closer to a threeway tie – but I don’t think it would have taken the crown. Though each of these books has its strengths and weaknesses, The Last Sun is my recommendation for any of you looking for a good fantasy cop drama right now.


The Last Sun – 7.5/10
The Last Smile In Sunder City – 7.0/10
Titan’s Day – 4.0/10
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This is a wonderful debut and addition to the urban fantasy genre. Fetch is such a unique character and he rides the moral grey line in a way that makes you sympathetic to his actions. There were moments that could be a little bit slow if you’re not into a flashback type of novel, but I thought the book ultimately flowed well and did a nice job of keeping our interest between these different periods of time. The world building is rich and you’d hardly know that Luke Arnold is a first time author. I’m looking forward to reading more by him.
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The last Smile in Sunder City is a post-apocalyptic world when magic is gone. The magical creature within Sunder has become sickly and tormented by the new era.  Our main character is a drunk, ex-military, orphaned, and broken-hearted man who is on a case to find a missing vampire. 

The storytelling is incredibly depressing, which it is supposed to be, but it pulls on your heartstrings. 
Our main character is trying to make it to the next day with all his burdens and guilt for being the cause of the new era without magic. But there is more to his origin story than what meets the eye. The missing vampire is just one piece of a bigger puzzle of what many supernatural creatures are willing to do to survive without magic. 

The audiobook was excellent, and I couldn’t put this book down! 

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