The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Fetch Phillips is a “man for hire” in Sunder City, a place that used to be full of magic until The Coda — the day the magic disappeared. Now all of those magical creatures — elves, wizards, gnomes, faeries, dragons, etc. — are left without the source of their livelihood and longevity and they are quickly deteriorating. Humans in Sunder City are suffering, also, because magic fueled the lights, heat, and other sources of comfort.

Fetch feels guilty about all of this. That’s because, as we gradually learn throughout his story, humans are responsible for destroying the magic. That’s also why Fetch doesn’t work for humans. He wants to help the creatures whose lives have been ruined by his kind.

Fetch’s current case involves finding a missing vampire who teaches at a local private school. Soon he discovers that one of the vampire’s students, the daughter of a siren, is also missing. During his investigation, Fetch sees a few hints that suggest that perhaps not all magic is gone from Sunder City.

The publisher’s advertisement declares that The Last Smile in Sunder City (2020) is “perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.” While the urban fantasy settings are similar, and Luke Arnold’s Fetch Phillips is in the same image as Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant and Butcher’s Harry Dresden, (and the covers of the Arnold books are obviously styled after the Aaronovitch covers), I wouldn’t put the Arnold books in that class yet.

While Arnold’s premise is creative and compelling, and his writing style is quite appealing, at this point there are some significant deficits to be made up.

A lot of the charm of the Aaronovitch and Butcher books is the wit and humor and, so far, Fetch Phillips just doesn’t have that.

Another significant lack is the appealing side characters. I’m thinking of, for example, Murphy, Michael, and Bob the Skull in the DRESDEN stories. Fetch Phillips is a loner. He sulks a lot (one character says that Fetch “holds on to guilt like it’s a life preserver”) and repeatedly he admits to having no friends. Fetch needs some friends. Readers need for Fetch to have some friends. One last issue is the tendency for Fetch and other characters to give us long infodumps as they fill in the backstory for us.

But, the FETCH PHILLIPS ARCHIVES has promise. It took a few books for Jim Butcher’s DRESDEN FILES to completely win me over. I’m willing to give Fetch a little more time. The second book is Dead Man in a Ditch. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I’m listening to Hachette Audio’s versions which are read by the author himself. He’s an actor, so it’s not surprising that his performance is excellent. I love the idea of the author reading his own work because we know he’ll interpret it correctly. Usually authors don’t have this skill, but Luke Arnold definitely does. The audiobook is 8 hours long.

Published in February 2020. A former soldier turned PI tries to help the fantasy creatures whose lives he ruined in a world that’s lost its magic in a compelling debut fantasy by Black Sails actor Luke Arnold. Welcome to Sunder City. The magic is gone but the monsters remain. I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few 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, to the magic, it’s not the humans who need my help. Walk the streets of Sunder City and meet Fetch, his magical clients, and a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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