I loved the opening chapter of Seth Fried’s debut The Municipalists, writing “nice” several times in the margins just in the first few pages, as when the narrator, recalling his parents’ death when he was young, notes how the old grocery “seems to have forgotten him. The flat, glass storefront stares straight ahead without so much as a glimmer of recognition.” Unfortunately, that was the high point for me and the book, while it had its moments, eventually devolved into a bit of a slog.
In a world gone all in on urban living, Henry Thompson, an agent of the United States Municipal Survey organization and highly disliked by his peers, is forced to go into the field with a holographic AI partner to prevent a major terrorist attack in Metropolis, one seemingly being planned and carried out by a Municipal Survey chief gone rogue. Unfortunately, the AI (Owen) is more than a little unstable (one piece of evidence — he has a drinking problem), leading Henry into a number of risky situations.
Neither character, Henry or Owen, was particular engaging, both feeling more than a little flat with just one or two characteristics to define them, and their problematic buddy-buddy banter was hit and miss. The plot, meanwhile, felt overly episodic and more than a little random. World-building was thin, and I would have liked to learn a bit more about the transition to this world and more on its impact. The humor, whether situational or growing out of dialog, often felt forced and eventually repetitive. The grey nature of the “villainy” could have been interesting (the villains themselves were not), and substantive, and to be fair the latter part of the book does offer some thought-provoking moments, but it was too little too late for me, unfortunately. Not recommended.