Luke Arnold’s debut novel has both claws and fangs. The Last Smile in Sunder City introduces us to wily private investigator Fetch Phillips, seemingly a brazen and confident jack-of-all-trades, but a wounded and traumatized veteran at his core.
Fetch is a Human, a race despised and mistrusted due to their choices in the great civil war, in which they caused the Coda, a gruesome and disastrous event that stripped magical beings of their power. Sunder City is now a wreck of a town—poverty, corruption and seedy activity run rampant—and Fetch often finds himself on the wrong edge of the argument in whatever dive bar, brothel or slum he wanders through. Once brimming with magic and power, the city’s citizens are now crumbling (some of them quite literally) and losing their abilities, which range from flight to everlasting youth to the ability to healthily transform at every lunar cycle into a Were-canine or -feline.
But a flicker of hope for the now non-magical inhabitants of Sunder City is revealed when a new case concerning a vanished Vampire professor and his young Siren student leads Fetch to suspect that magic may be, somehow, returning. Fetch must grapple with the ghosts of his past—a failed romance with the love of his life and his guilt over his actions in the the war—to discover if the magic really is coming back, and at what unspeakable cost.
Arnold’s gothic-infused noir introduces mythological characters seamlessly and with just the right dash of dark humor, including an excitable Cyclops bartender, an ageless nonbinary demon historian, a snuffling Magum (wizard) principal and a sensual, egotistical Elf benefactor. Fast-paced, action-packed flashbacks reveal Fletch’s haunting backstory, and fleeting glimpses of emotions humanize him in a land of monsters. The crafty detective-soldier stays ahead of the reader every step of the way, and unanticipated twists and turns down hallways of decrepit mansions and stacks of musty library archives turn the usual fairy tales of good and evil, maidens and monsters, on their heads as we slowly but surely uncover the secrets of Sunder City.