Book Review: A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky

M can do magic, though he prefers not to call it that. Mostly, he just enjoys the positive effects and good luck it brings him so that he can travel the world, drink beer, get high, meet pretty women, play chess, and get into various different sorts of trouble. And now that M is back in New York, it doesn't take long for trouble, and everyone he knows---friend and foe---to find him.

Title: A City Dreaming
Pages: 304
My Rating: 2.5 Stars
More Info: Goodreads, Amazon, Publisher


*I received a free ecopy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Right off the bat the writing style struck me as different but also familiar, and even though I hate comparing books to other books, I have to say it: this was like a modern day, non-romantic, adult, urban fantasy version of The Princess Bride. The story, the plot, the characters, and the setting were all completely different, but it was written in a way that was kind of distant and whimsical and roundabout yet also matter-of-fact all at once, and it had that same type of absurd, quirky humor—that kind that just makes me shake my head and say, “What the &#@$?” while I can’t help but laugh. And I loved both of those things.

Unfortunately I didn’t love the rest. I’m just kind of confused because this book… didn’t have a plot? There was no goal or main storyline. Each chapter was just a different, random anecdote about the protagonist, some new bit of trouble he got himself into or endeavor he decided to set off on, most (if not all) of which were anticlimactic and lacking in urgency or any sense of consequence. In one, he and his friends accidentally ended up in some steampunk realm for a few months in which they joined some groups of rebels, and then they went back to their world. In another he took some drug and ended up sharing his body with a god for a few hours. In another he realized a group of people was planning on making him a human sacrifice, so he turned the tables and made them all play games to determine who would be sacrificed while he officiated (and thus was in no danger), and then he left the next day. In another he got cursed by his nemesis, who never showed up anywhere else in the story. There was also a lot of description of M just traveling—walking through some different realms, taking subways through some different realms, taking magical shortcuts through door after door, walking through a library and passing different sections of books, walking through a creepy house and passing all sorts of weird things, etc. I could’ve skipped any chapter—could’ve skipped four in a row even—and not missed anything. Individually some of them were entertaining, but I never had that “I need to know what will happen next!” feeling. Eventually I reached a point when I kind of just wanted the book to end since it was clear nothing of any importance was going to happen. And that mention in the blurb of M calling on all his magic and being a hero? That didn’t happen until the last 6%, and it too was anticlimactic and not intense the way the blurb makes it seem.

Overall, I feel kinda disappointed. Did I just not “get” this book or something? I think I could’ve loved it because it had the exact kind of absurd humor I love, but I need there to be an actual story too in order to enjoy a book.


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22 thoughts on “Book Review: A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky

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    1. Kristen Burns

      Eh, then yeah, probably not for you. The absurd humor at least made it bearable for me despite the lack of main storyline, but I don’t think you’d enjoy it if you don’t like that type of humor.

  1. Greg

    This almost sounds like a bunch of short stories. I like absurd humor in some situations, I mean yeah Princess Bride is a classic, but I’m not sure I’d like it here. I do like a little whimsy and weirdness from time to time, and urban fantasy is great for that, but this one… I don’t know. I can see this one not working. Might be great for the right reader.

    A plot helps.

    1. Kristen Burns

      It was kind of like a bunch of short stories, but I’m not even sure I’d call them that. They really were just more like anecdotes. The humor worked just fine for me, but humor only goes so far. A plot definitely helps lol.

  2. Bookworm Brandee

    Hmm, this sounds like it was written while on an acid trip or something. And maybe you’re supposed to be on an acid trip to read it? Then it’d all magically make sense? I don’t know, Kristen. From your description I’m thinking it’s not just you. I don’t think I’d get this one either. I’m sorry that it ended up being disappointing though. Especially when it seemed like it’d be a hit for you. Hopefully your current read is better! 🙂

    1. Kristen Burns

      I sometimes wonder if a lot of things might make more sense on acid 😛 No, but see, the humor worked great for me, I loved the absurdity, it was just the random, little stories instead of an actual plot that bothered me. Good to know it’s not just me who thinks that’s strange though! Thanks 🙂

  3. sjhigbee

    A shame… Have you read his Low Town trilogy? I thought it was superb, but although it sounds as if there were the same elements as this book, those novels had an ongoing plot and went somewhere.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I was hesitant to try any of his other books, but I’ll look into those since I did like the writing and humor and other stuff. Thanks for letting me know!

  4. Lola

    Sounds like the writing style was a good one at least, it can be great if you like the writing style. The way it’s told with random anecdotes from his life does sound original, but that’s weird it doesn’t have a plot. While it does sound entertaining if it lacks that I want to know what happens next feeling it’s less exciting to read. And when the event mentions in the blurb doesn’t happen till the last 6% and then feels different seems rather anti climactic indeed. Too bad this one didn’t work for you. It just sounds like a bit of a weird book to me the way you describe it.

    1. Kristen Burns

      It was a good writing, but the writing style doesn’t really do much good when the story isn’t interesting you because it’s just all over the place with no goal :-/ But I guess that’s why they put the story from the last %6 in the blurb, since there wasn’t any central thing to use. It was kind of an odd book.

  5. verushka

    I was dissapointed too — I tried reading this, but I couldn’t get into it at all. I didn’t get very far because I was just SO frustrated SO quickly.