Just after finishing Karen Heuler’s The Splendid City, I emailed the publicist saying that this is a very special book and we need more like this. So you could say I enjoyed this. Set in a futuristic Texas, we follow a young witch and her cat Stan – well, the annoying man in her life who she’s turned into a cat. As a cat, Stan’s no less frustrating, but he’s at least more contained. He spends his days flittering around town, hunting for the best fish tacos and rumours of treasure. And indeed, he hears of a long-lost inheritance rumoured to have been buried in the desert.
While Stan chases after shinies, as cats are wont to do, Eleanor, his mistress, is dealing with witch politics. Having been banished from her old coven (because of Stan), she is trying to redeem herself – and witches are going missing. It is a whimsical and weird book, but it is so in all the best ways. I devoured this in a single sitting and left it wanting more – feminist witches, talking, sassy, opinionated cats? That is pretty damn up my street. You have a solid plot here, but The Splendid City doesn’t live off plot. It lives of characters, and let’s be honest, it lives off Stan. Eleanor and the witches are pretty amazing, but not much beats the misogynist turned into a cat. And really, Stan is so much happier as a cat than he was as a man. Except for the thumbs. He’d like those back, please.
The Splendid City is a compelling book, compulsively readable. It is a story to get lost in and to then re-orient yourself within the expansive world Heuler creates. And the writing itself stands out too. It is understated but hilarious, funny without being too on-the-nose. It is not a book you will encounter every week, or even every year. It truly stands out – at least to me. In that, it is a true Angry Robot book, one of those books that work so well and fit amazingly with their list, but you may not see in more commercially driven, larger houses. The Splendid City is probably one of the least dark novels we’ve covered here, but there is no less appeal for you to pick it up. After all, cats are probably the most grimdark animals out there. Bloody bastards, living after their chaotic evil moral compass. And witches… Well, Eleanor does say she is looking to be powerful. She’s not quite sure what she wants to do with that power when she gets it, but she is sure she wants it.