After the success of their coterie travel guide to New York City, human editor Zoë Norris is back with her writing team of coterie to investigate the hidden pleasures of New Orleans. The book opens with her hiring a new addition to the team, Norse healing goddess, Eir, who comes at the recommendation of death goddess Gwen and is somewhat aloof and disrespectful of Zoë’s human authority – much like the rest of her team. The team are set to board the ghost train to New Orleans, with Zoë’s sort-of-boyfriend Arthur coming along in pursuit of a cure to prevent turning zombie.
The drama begins onboard the train, with humans Zoë and Arthur forced to sit in a separate carriage from the rest of her team, with the coterie not allowing humans into the first class area. It is here that she meets Reynard, a citytalker who identifies a kindred spirit in Zoë, enlightening her to more information about citytalkers whilst remaining shrouded in mystery. However, their talk is soon broken up by an old-fashioned train robbery, orchestrated by ghosts, who have the ability to become corporeal onboard the ghost train.
It is also onboard the train that Zoë meets Anna, a ghost and fellow citytalker, who explains more citytalker history and continues to watch out for Zoë throughout the course of the novel. As in the previous instalment, this protection is much needed, as Zoë has a habit for finding trouble wherever she goes, not least with the tension amongst her own team, as vampire Kevin still has it in for her, refusing to accept her authority as his boss. Regardless, the book still has its characteristic humour from before, with Zoë managing to make light of most situations, which also includes some amusing drunk scenes when it all gets a bit much for her.
What this instalment is mainly about is Zoë’s identity as a citytalker, and developing this new coterie power. The history of this power is discussed at length, with more and more detail being revealed as the book goes on. However, as a result of this the plot felt too focused on Zoë and her power than the basic plot of constructing a travel guide. It felt like despite the various settings visited, there were too many mysteries created, with characters interacting with Zoë in a knowledgably superior way and yet still keeping her (and us) in the dark.
I still loved Lafferty’s narrative style throughout this book, as Zoë comes across as such a witty character, with there also being a number of cult references to shows such as Doctor Who to bring a smile to your face. Even if you don’t always understand the references the book is accessible, and the passages from the travel guide interspersed between each chapter are cleverly written and provide an extra dimension of detail to the scenes which have just been visited in the main plot.
I think what was problematic for me in this second book was that my conception of Zoë was challenged, as at times she didn’t seem as strong-willed as she had in the book one, and almost seemed to be following the coterie around without making her mark. I thought that there was more of a problem with her stamping her authority as a boss, and that she was too centred on her own issues to focus much on her team. I did enjoy how she handled her problems, as well as her times of solitary reflection, but I sometimes found it hard to come to terms with her as a citytalker, as she seemed so proud of her ordinary human status in book one. Despite this, I think that Zoë did grow as a character, and that Lafferty is definitely taking her in the right direction, as she maintains her inquisitive tendencies.
Although this series isn’t exactly a romance, I didn’t like the way Zoë’s relationship with Arthur was treated in the book. They are separated for the majority of the book, speaking via the phone, but I didn’t feel any sense of connection between the pair at all. There was angst on both sides, and I didn’t really understand Lafferty having brought the pair together if she intended to separate them straightaway. I think the book worked well with Arthur being absent, proving that a love interest is not always necessary in the urban fantasy genre, allowing the heroine to stand on her own two feet.
As a concept for a series, I still love the idea of a travel guide for the supernatural, and love that Lafferty introduces new beings, such as citytalkers, into the already-saturated supernatural literary world. It made the series much more refreshing, and there were some unexpected events which are sure to shock. The new characters were all intriguing despite their mystery, and I can tell that they have so much more to offer when the series resumes. With the book’s finale indicating that the next instalment will take place in London, England, I am extra excited to find out where this series goes next, and what secrets are held in the English capital.
After the brilliant read that was book one, I felt that book two failed to live up to my high expectations. It was still an entertaining and funny read, introducing more depth to the coterie world, with the setting of a new city allowing for exciting new characters and unanticipated situations. This instalment to the series was still enjoyable, but I am hoping for a return to form with book three.