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The Splendid City

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A genre-blending story of modern witchcraft, a police state and WTF characters, for fans of Alice Hoffman and Madeline Miller. In the state of Liberty, water is rationed at alarming prices, free speech is hardly without a cost, and Texas has just declared itself its own country. In this society, paranoia is well-suited because eyes and ears are all around, and they are A genre-blending story of modern witchcraft, a police state and WTF characters, for fans of Alice Hoffman and Madeline Miller. In the state of Liberty, water is rationed at alarming prices, free speech is hardly without a cost, and Texas has just declared itself its own country. In this society, paranoia is well-suited because eyes and ears are all around, and they are judging. Always judging. This terrifying (and yet somehow vaguely familiar) terrain is explored via Eleanor - a young woman eagerly learning about the gifts of her magic through the support of her coven. But being a white witch is not as easy as they portray it in the books, and she's already been placed under 'house arrest' with a letch named Stan, a co-worker who wronged her in the past and now exists in the form of a cat. A talking cat who loves craft beers, picket lines, and duping and 'shooting' people. Eleanor has no time for Stan and his shenanigans, because she finds herself helping another coven locate a missing witch which she thinks is mysteriously linked to the shortage of water in Liberty.


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A genre-blending story of modern witchcraft, a police state and WTF characters, for fans of Alice Hoffman and Madeline Miller. In the state of Liberty, water is rationed at alarming prices, free speech is hardly without a cost, and Texas has just declared itself its own country. In this society, paranoia is well-suited because eyes and ears are all around, and they are A genre-blending story of modern witchcraft, a police state and WTF characters, for fans of Alice Hoffman and Madeline Miller. In the state of Liberty, water is rationed at alarming prices, free speech is hardly without a cost, and Texas has just declared itself its own country. In this society, paranoia is well-suited because eyes and ears are all around, and they are judging. Always judging. This terrifying (and yet somehow vaguely familiar) terrain is explored via Eleanor - a young woman eagerly learning about the gifts of her magic through the support of her coven. But being a white witch is not as easy as they portray it in the books, and she's already been placed under 'house arrest' with a letch named Stan, a co-worker who wronged her in the past and now exists in the form of a cat. A talking cat who loves craft beers, picket lines, and duping and 'shooting' people. Eleanor has no time for Stan and his shenanigans, because she finds herself helping another coven locate a missing witch which she thinks is mysteriously linked to the shortage of water in Liberty.

30 review for The Splendid City

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nils | nilsreviewsit

    “How was your day?” Eleanor asked the cat when he walked in the door. She could see that he was miffed. He was always miffed. “I shot someone again,” he said, sighing. He had to agree it was becoming a nasty habit. “I do regret it.” Welcome to Liberty, a state free from the constraints of the US government, a state run by its own President. At first glance Liberty looks like a pleasant place to live— regular parades are held, who doesn’t love a parade? Prizes are freely given, and the people walk “How was your day?” Eleanor asked the cat when he walked in the door. She could see that he was miffed. He was always miffed. “I shot someone again,” he said, sighing. He had to agree it was becoming a nasty habit. “I do regret it.” Welcome to Liberty, a state free from the constraints of the US government, a state run by its own President. At first glance Liberty looks like a pleasant place to live— regular parades are held, who doesn’t love a parade? Prizes are freely given, and the people walk around with a sense of contentment. Dig a little deeper, look behind the curtains, and you’ll see a state where water is rationed and charged at alarming rates, free speech could cost you a trip in a van never to be seen again, and automaton heads in the likeness of the President watch your every move. The Splendid City by Karen Heuler, is an offbeat tale of witches, a deranged talking cat, and a thoughtful reflection on social injustices, all told through quick-witted prose. This is perhaps one of the quirkiest books I’ve read in a long time, a clever blend of dystopia, mystery and urban fantasy, which delivered a compelling read. The story follows Eleanor, a witch who is sent to Liberty by her coven leader, Gloria, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Daria, a witch from another coven. Eleanor also must discover if Daria may be linked to the water shortages in Liberty. She isn’t sent alone though—meet Stan, the talking, extremely boastful and oh so darkly humorous cat. Stan used to be a man, but a past unpleasant incident with Eleanor caused her to use her powers to transform him. As punishment to them both, Gloria takes away much of Eleanor’s powers and will not restore them nor help turn Stan back into a man until both of them have learnt their lesson. As despicable as Stan is, I have to admit he made me laugh at every turn. He’s a character who is deluded, he believes himself to be above everyone else, his intelligence is unmatched, he manipulates, lies, and is self-indulgent. Yet he’s also a character who loves spicy fish tacos, cream cakes, beer and can’t resist a box. The contrast between Stan’s inner thoughts, his feline appearance and his outward actions was immensely comical. At first glance he’s charming, but underneath we see how unhinged he truly is! Stan is one of those characters you just love to hate. Our second main protagonist is not without her faults too though. Eleanor lacks empathy, she’s hot tempered, often understandably so but her rashness always leads her to further trouble. As we get further into the book we learn of Eleanor’s backstory and how her discovery of the witches’ coven finally led her to a place where her differences were seen as a gift, not a curse. Under tutelage of the entire coven, Eleanor trains in the art of magic, honing her powers and becoming a true witch in her own right. Gloria provided a home for misfits with extraordinary powers, for females to be as diverse and quirky as they like. The only problem was, Eleanor struggled to stick to the rules. “She could feel the tension rising in the air. Everyone contributed to it, as if they were a massed beating heart. And then the van’s door opened, two arms reached out, grabbed him, and he was gone.” Throughout Heur delivers a slow burn plot which is riddled with philosophical ideas on feminism, the unhealthy side of social media, and those who have innate privilege. Heir’s prose often reads like a stream of consciousness, with a small amount of ’head hopping’ and jumping from one thought to the next. Usually I would find this type of narrative style confusing, but in this case I found Huer’s prose to be cleverly written. Many of her lines are food for thought—she represents social injustices in a stark way, shedding light on American gun crime, prejudice against minorities, misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace. Heur also pokes fun at the government, particularly in the way she portrays the President of Liberty who allows atrocities such as kidnappings to take place, yet is still loved by the people. We clearly see the President keeps a firm hold on the city, his animatronic heads watching the citizens, spreading propaganda, weeding out traitors, all under the pretence that he is helping the people lead better lives. Liberty appears eerie in the way that people never question the oddities that occur there, not even when they are desperate for such a basic need as water. In a frightening way, Heur’s Liberty state could so easily become a state in our world. The Splendid City is not without its whimsical moments too—there are witches flying on brooms, and a cat on a treasure hunt. Heur’s wonderful blend of quirkiness, humour and politics creates such a deliciously witchy read with a twist. “This world of witches was different from anything she’d known. She had stumbled onto them, never having sought them out; they had found her. Little by little she began to yield…” ARC provided by Caroline at Angry Robot Books. Thank you for the copy. All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Schizanthus Nerd

    Eleanor was in the process of learning witchcraft when she turned her coworker into a cat. It doesn’t matter that her reasons were valid; she behaved in a manner most uncovenly and now she’s living with the consequences. This means she’s stuck living with said cat, whose metamorphosis didn’t magically improve his personality. Eleanor and Stan are now in Liberty, which once upon a time was Texas. Before it seceded, that is. Now it has animatronic presidential heads and people are whisked off in v Eleanor was in the process of learning witchcraft when she turned her coworker into a cat. It doesn’t matter that her reasons were valid; she behaved in a manner most uncovenly and now she’s living with the consequences. This means she’s stuck living with said cat, whose metamorphosis didn’t magically improve his personality. Eleanor and Stan are now in Liberty, which once upon a time was Texas. Before it seceded, that is. Now it has animatronic presidential heads and people are whisked off in vans, presumably never to be seen again. There’s nougat, which is nice, but there’s also a water shortage, which isn’t. Eleanor has been tasked with finding a missing witch. Stan, when he’s not scrounging up fish tacos and beer, is on a treasure hunt. I was keen to find out how a story with a witch who turns a detestable coworker into a cat would play out. I’m now wondering if I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this read. I appreciated the political commentary and satire. I was interested in learning how witchcraft worked in this dystopia, but didn’t connect with any of the witches. I thought I’d be amused by insufferable, newly feline Stan as he tried to make his way in the world but I hated him. It wasn’t the fun type of hate, though, where you love to hate someone. I love villains when they’re complex and especially when they’re accidentally good some of the time, but if Stan had any redeeming qualities, I didn’t find them. In the end, I didn’t want to spend any time with him. The story is told in three parts. The second, which addresses how Eleanor became a witch and Stan became a cat, felt like one big info dump. I’d encourage you to read the five star reviews because there are people that absolutely love this book. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the book for me. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the opportunity to read this book. Blog - https://schizanthusnerd.com

  3. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    This book could have been an instant classic, but I couldn't help getting more and more disappointed as I kept reading. Part 1 of The Splendid City does everything a literary masterpiece should and more. It throws you straight into the grotesque world of Liberty (former Texas) and the story told from two different perspectives: a half-witch and a talking cat. As I sped through the first few chapters, I was certain I stumbled upon a brilliant social commentary exposing the faults of our society t This book could have been an instant classic, but I couldn't help getting more and more disappointed as I kept reading. Part 1 of The Splendid City does everything a literary masterpiece should and more. It throws you straight into the grotesque world of Liberty (former Texas) and the story told from two different perspectives: a half-witch and a talking cat. As I sped through the first few chapters, I was certain I stumbled upon a brilliant social commentary exposing the faults of our society through this Orwellian anti-utopia. The satirical writing of that first part is clearly inspired by Bulgakov and very much lives up to his standards as we watch Eleanor and Stan explore Liberty and its bizarre ways. However, Part 2 left me in utter disappointment with it's lengthy throwbacks to the main character's past and an unnecessarily detailed account of how she became a witch. I couldn't believe this was written by the same author, but as I powered through it, I got a glimpse of hope when Heuler shifted focus once again to give us insight into the relationship between the two main characters, which turned out to be full of abuse and casual workplace harassment. Unfortunately, the further we advance into the story, the less interesting it gets. At a certain point, it becomes painfully obvious where the plot is taking us, and that direction is void of any purpose you might have been expecting from earlier chapters. It almost feels as if the author took up the task that turned out to be beyond what she could accomplish. Perhaps, she never wanted to accomplish anything of the sort at all, and it's just me looking too deep into the first part of the novel. I can only say that this could have been the next Master and Margarita, but at the end of the day it's just another witchy novel. I'm sure it will be enjoyed by people expecting exactly that and reading it as an adventure book showing the characters' personal journeys to find themselves. Read this if you like witchy novels, feminist reads and appreciate satire. Thank you to @NetGalley and @AngryRobotBooks for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lezlie The Nerdy Narrative

    THE SPLENDID CITY by Karen Heuler is a standalone novel about modern practices of witchcraft, Texas becoming its own country and a talking cat who came to drink beer, eat fish tacos, shoot people and chew bubblegum. Except he's all out of bubblegum. I must be honest with you, my friends. I saw that one line about the cat in the blurb for this book and it is 100% the reason I requested the ARC. I felt that while it explored some tricky societal topics, I just knew the cat would deliver on the comed THE SPLENDID CITY by Karen Heuler is a standalone novel about modern practices of witchcraft, Texas becoming its own country and a talking cat who came to drink beer, eat fish tacos, shoot people and chew bubblegum. Except he's all out of bubblegum. I must be honest with you, my friends. I saw that one line about the cat in the blurb for this book and it is 100% the reason I requested the ARC. I felt that while it explored some tricky societal topics, I just knew the cat would deliver on the comedic relief. I WAS NOT WRONG! I wasn't even a full page in and the cat (Stan) had already shot someone. I laughed and laughed and laughed reading this novel. Between Stan the Cat, Eleanor the White-Witch-In-Training and the zany way Texas, now known as Liberty, was conducting government practices, I had a great time. So what IS this book about? Eleanor, a young witch...well half-witch, has been sent to Liberty to investigate the disappearance of another witch, Daria. Stan the Cat accompanies Eleanor, not because he wants to, you understand, because he HAS to. Stan is a man whom Eleanor transformed into a cat and they are both to remain together until they've learned their lessons about why what they did to each other was wrong that led to the transformation. Basically, they're 5 year olds being made to hug it out. (I am laughing as I write this - it is too funny!!) Liberty is full of paranoia. The president has taken to rationing water by charging high prices, that keep rising with almost each passing day. There's no such thing as free speech with all the animatronic heads stationed throughout, either. With this paranoia, people would rather judge you than help you, so the landscape is a tricky one for our Eleanor. I am a huge fan of this story, as well as a new fan of Heuler. I was happy to see she has several other pieces available to read, so I look forward to reading more of her work and her easy flowing writing style. I love the way she developed and shaped her characters and crafted their personalities!

  5. 5 out of 5

    C

    Review: https://clife.blog/2022/08/16/book-re... I really wasn’t sure of this, the plot summary on the page was not very clear either. To sum it up: Eleanor is an exiled Witch. Stan is the Cat she has to look after, he is grumpy and limits himself to ‘shooting’ one person per day. It seemed very immature. We don’t know why they are put together and the fact they are bound together in order to find out what had happened to a missing witch. Messed up world charging for extra things is what caught Review: https://clife.blog/2022/08/16/book-re... I really wasn’t sure of this, the plot summary on the page was not very clear either. To sum it up: Eleanor is an exiled Witch. Stan is the Cat she has to look after, he is grumpy and limits himself to ‘shooting’ one person per day. It seemed very immature. We don’t know why they are put together and the fact they are bound together in order to find out what had happened to a missing witch. Messed up world charging for extra things is what caught my attention as it was so relatable however that was about it. This is obviously a dystopian based world however it just didn’t feel right and the characters just annoyed me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bethany Frances

    The Splendid City is without a doubt the most unique fantasy story I have ever read. This is my first read from Angry Robot, which describes itself as “genrefluid” and a publisher of “SF, F, and WTF”. They absolutely weren’t kidding. One part “witchy read”, one part totalitarian dystopian, one part mystery, one part Miyazaki movie, and one part political satire; it feels like the author took a bunch of different stories and quite literally put them in a blender - but I mean that in the best possi The Splendid City is without a doubt the most unique fantasy story I have ever read. This is my first read from Angry Robot, which describes itself as “genrefluid” and a publisher of “SF, F, and WTF”. They absolutely weren’t kidding. One part “witchy read”, one part totalitarian dystopian, one part mystery, one part Miyazaki movie, and one part political satire; it feels like the author took a bunch of different stories and quite literally put them in a blender - but I mean that in the best possible way. This book was a lot of fun and I am so glad I picked it up! I will happily and eagerly read more from author Karen Heuler and this publisher in the future. Divided into three parts, the novel opens in the middle of the action. Then - at a pivotal moment - brings the reader back in time and supplies the backstory before resuming the main plot. Personally, I think that this was a good choice by the author, and it kept me guessing the whole way through. Finally, if a gun-toting, beer-loving, talking cat doesn’t entice you to read this novel, then I don’t know what will.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Holly (The GrimDragon)

    Thanks to Angry Robot for sending me a copy! The Splendid City by Karen Heuler comes out July 12th! It's a dystopian fantasy satire about social injustices, there's a coven of witches, a treasure hunt, a shortage of water, an abundance of begrudgery & a giant talking cat named Stan! Thanks to Angry Robot for sending me a copy! The Splendid City by Karen Heuler comes out July 12th! It's a dystopian fantasy satire about social injustices, there's a coven of witches, a treasure hunt, a shortage of water, an abundance of begrudgery & a giant talking cat named Stan!

  8. 5 out of 5

    bookcaked

    The Splendid City is a satirical, fantastical take on America in the future. Our main characters Stan the cat-man and Eleanor the witch are strange and mysterious, having a less-than-amicable relationship and a muddled past that is only revealed deeper into the story. Water is disappearing in the state of Liberty, and both Eleanor and Stan become wrapped up in conspiracies and politics in pursuit of truth (and possible treasure). I loved the mix of fantasy and hyperreality. Our protagonists are The Splendid City is a satirical, fantastical take on America in the future. Our main characters Stan the cat-man and Eleanor the witch are strange and mysterious, having a less-than-amicable relationship and a muddled past that is only revealed deeper into the story. Water is disappearing in the state of Liberty, and both Eleanor and Stan become wrapped up in conspiracies and politics in pursuit of truth (and possible treasure). I loved the mix of fantasy and hyperreality. Our protagonists are interesting, but the real gem of The Splendid City was the setting. Liberty has consistent surveillance, despite the populace being rather happy. The satire plays the line between the absurdity of a technological world so fine-tuned we receive what we want before we even know it, and people's desire to be content, to live without worry. While Stan is easy-going, Eleanor is wound tight, adding to the layers of humor as they interact with this strange and somewhat familiar version of Western reality. What did not work for me what how our protagonists backgrounds were told. A bulk of it is told late into the story. I had begun to lose interest in their histories, and by that point was more interested in where the mystery was going to end up. The utter strangeness of Liberty and its residents kept me going! The Splendid City was a fun place to visit. If you want to read something a little wacky and a bit fantastical, give this a try. Thank you to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the ARC.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Kaufmann

    Whimsical, satiric, and bursting with imagination, THE SPLENDID CITY is the novel we've all been waiting for from Karen Heuler, one that takes all the ingredients she's honed over decades of publishing quality literary and fantasy fiction and distills it into a perfect nugget of a novel. I've long thought Heuler deserved a larger audience, and this funny, accessible novel should be what finally draws them in. Also, as a cat owner, I felt a lot of this deep in my soul! Whimsical, satiric, and bursting with imagination, THE SPLENDID CITY is the novel we've all been waiting for from Karen Heuler, one that takes all the ingredients she's honed over decades of publishing quality literary and fantasy fiction and distills it into a perfect nugget of a novel. I've long thought Heuler deserved a larger audience, and this funny, accessible novel should be what finally draws them in. Also, as a cat owner, I felt a lot of this deep in my soul!

  10. 4 out of 5

    N0rth3y

    Just finished my eArc for Karen Heuler's new book, the Splendid City and it was *splendid* -- a fun, whimsical, fantastical satire that rips open the absurdity of everything yet still somehow manages to leave the beating heart intact. Just finished my eArc for Karen Heuler's new book, the Splendid City and it was *splendid* -- a fun, whimsical, fantastical satire that rips open the absurdity of everything yet still somehow manages to leave the beating heart intact.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kate Hyde

    My thanks to Netgalley for the ARC of this book. However, I'm only taking the time to review it here in the hopes that I save others from the dismal waning of life-force that I was subjected to whilst trying to finish it: life is too short, people. The very first sentence was mildly amusing - anyone who knows cats knows that if you let them loose with a gun, they're going to shoot humans - but it went rapidly downhill from there. It was neither full-blown fantasy nor serious satire, although this My thanks to Netgalley for the ARC of this book. However, I'm only taking the time to review it here in the hopes that I save others from the dismal waning of life-force that I was subjected to whilst trying to finish it: life is too short, people. The very first sentence was mildly amusing - anyone who knows cats knows that if you let them loose with a gun, they're going to shoot humans - but it went rapidly downhill from there. It was neither full-blown fantasy nor serious satire, although this might have been redeemed with a better writer. Sadly, the characters were flat, and their actions highly illogical (when we find out why Stan has been turned into a cat, well, personally, images of sacks and rivers crossed my mind). The style was also flat, and often pointless - they bought a cake and went into the desert and then came back again to no obvious purpose or advancement of the plot - reading that 40-odd pages is a piece of my life that I'll never get back! The story meandered, and when it eventually resolved, it seemed to be much ado about nothing, and the very last part boggled belief - it was quite clear that the heroine had learned nothing from her travails. Possibly this might appeal to those who are more invested in U.S. politics, but even then, the obvious villain turns out to be reasonably harmless (so was it a subtle vote of confidence for Trump??) which makes a nonsense of all the suffering and aggravation endured by many citizens of the U.S. in the last several years. I found this book tedious in the extreme, and had to be quite harsh with myself to finish it - housework appealed more, quite frankly, and it's difficult to find anything that I like less. So. Hope this review saves some of you, sorry Karen Heuler, but I won't be reading your back catalogue.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I really wanted to love this book, and I'm giving it two stars instead of one only because the ideas started out strong - but then spiraled into nothing. I think the main issue with this book is that it's neither a full political satire nor a full feminist witchy story. It tries to blend both, and while a better edited novel might have made it work, I don't think this one reached that level. And that's not a dig Heuler - I watched a long interview with her about this book before reading it, and s I really wanted to love this book, and I'm giving it two stars instead of one only because the ideas started out strong - but then spiraled into nothing. I think the main issue with this book is that it's neither a full political satire nor a full feminist witchy story. It tries to blend both, and while a better edited novel might have made it work, I don't think this one reached that level. And that's not a dig Heuler - I watched a long interview with her about this book before reading it, and she seems like a thoughtful, precise author. She mentioned how she had gone through and made the story less specifically about the Trump administration and also added the New York flashback, and those two aspects seemed to be the more clumsy ones in the novel. I did love the political commentary in the first part of the book - it captures the absurdity of our political climate and especially how people can be distracted and entertained into not caring or acting on real issues. I particularly loved Stan and his Whispers and Augments (thinly veiled Twitter stand-ins). He only posts ridiculous questions and content to get the most people interacting with them, he lives for inspiring anger and comment wars, he has no moral or ethical standards for himself or what he posts - it's all just so he can get ad revenue and inflate his ridiculous ego. He's so repulsive and it works so well to show the grossest sides of all social media. But, in making the story more general and less about the Trump administration specifically, the story really falls flat by the end. Because we still have the president character, who in many many ways is similar to Trump and other demagogues, but it turns out he's really just a puppet for a bad witch who has been pulling the strings all along. Are all demagogues just enabled by rogue water witches? I'm rambling and getting sick of this review, so I'll just say this book put me in a bad mood, and by the time I got through part two and realized I didn't like it but should just finish it. None of the characters are all that great, the "sisterhood" of the witches isn't very believable because all of the characters feel distant and not very developed, the big bad seems to be hubris but no one learns any lessons about being humble, and everything just feels clumsy. It's trying to be a timeless satire but doesn't have enough teeth to do so.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katya

    [I don't know why this edition is listed as having 400 pages, as my copy only has 261. So it's more like I DNF'd at roughly 48%, not 28%. Anyway, this is for my own records, which definitely exist...] Well, it's an unfortunate addition to the DNF pile. I thought a combination of witches, surreal dystopia, political satire, and trigger-happy sarcastic cats would make for a perfectly silly and enjoyable book, but... nah. Quirky as all heck, but I felt it didn't quite achieve whatever it set out to [I don't know why this edition is listed as having 400 pages, as my copy only has 261. So it's more like I DNF'd at roughly 48%, not 28%. Anyway, this is for my own records, which definitely exist...] Well, it's an unfortunate addition to the DNF pile. I thought a combination of witches, surreal dystopia, political satire, and trigger-happy sarcastic cats would make for a perfectly silly and enjoyable book, but... nah. Quirky as all heck, but I felt it didn't quite achieve whatever it set out to do. It's very easy to race through this book, and the first chapter or so lets you keep up that momentum. You're thrown into the bizarre city of Liberty, with its erratic water shortages, carefully controlled media, vans snatching people off the street, and plenty of distractions for the general public to keep them happy and unconcerned. Where do witches and talking cats fall in all of this? Hm, I didn't get far enough to find out, but I also was ready to accept that this was a parallel world and that was normal. However, the two main characters – Eleanor the witch, and Stan her sarcastic cat (who is the product of an impulsive transfiguration by Eleanor) – quickly started to annoy me. They were two extremes, I think: Eleanor wasn't much of anything, really. With a quote that says "She had pale skin, medium length brown hair, hazel eyes, and a face that gave away everything", it felt like I was just told a whole lot of nothing about her, and after spending a hundred pages or so with her, I didn't care to know more. As for Stan, he started out enjoyably annoying and selfish, but then his self-aggrandizing internal monologues really started to grate. He wasn't a character I enjoyed disliking; I literally did not enjoy any of his parts of the story. The writing style bothered me, too. I think it was going for a simple and surrealist thing, but there were often times where the prose kept spelling out what was already clearly inferred by the dialogue or by the preceding sentence. I felt like I wasn't trusted as a reader to get the nuance or subtext, which I think would have made it more enjoyable to dissect the world and the political landscape, and the psychologies of the characters. I wasn't really in the mood to persist in reading it to the end, I think that would have been too tedious for me.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Annette Jordan

    The Splendid City by Karen Heuler was described as " a genre blending story of modern witchcraft, a police state and unique characters" and it certainly lives up to that description. This quirky little book was a really entertaining read and had some thought provoking themes. It is hard to pigeonhole the book, it is not exactly urban fantasy , and there is definitely a satirical vibe, but the almost dystopian world it is set in feels a little to close to home for comfort. The protagonists are El The Splendid City by Karen Heuler was described as " a genre blending story of modern witchcraft, a police state and unique characters" and it certainly lives up to that description. This quirky little book was a really entertaining read and had some thought provoking themes. It is hard to pigeonhole the book, it is not exactly urban fantasy , and there is definitely a satirical vibe, but the almost dystopian world it is set in feels a little to close to home for comfort. The protagonists are Eleanor, a trainee witch and Stan, who was a co worker before she transformed him into a talking cat as a result of his lecherous and misogynistic behaviour. The setting is Liberty, a version of Texas which has broken away from the United States and declared itself a separate country under the governance of a dictator like President who runs soviet style surveillance of the population so that dissidents are scooped up and never seen again. Liberty is facing a water problem, its supplies have dried up and rationing is in place and Eleanor is wondering if the disappearance of a local water witch might be partly to blame for the problem. As she tries to find the missing witch she runs the risk of uncovering a much bigger conspiracy involving the highest levels of government, There is a lot of humour in the book, mostly courtesy of Stan the cat and his crazy behaviour but also because of the dynamics between himself and Eleanor which often seemed like that of sulky children forced to play together until they learn to share. The book moves at a good pace, with a dramatic beginning , thought the middle section which explores the backstory of Eleanor and Stan did seem a little slower and I am wondering if this might have been better as a series of chapters sprinkled through the main timeline of the book. Definitely one of the most unique and unusual books I have read this year. I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Medhini

    Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC! All thoughts and opinions are my own. Eleanor is a witch accompanied by Stan, who was transformed into a cat, in this fictional world that takes place in a future where Texas has seceded from the United States and become its own nation known as Liberty. The novel itself is a satirical fantasy that attempts to comment on both issues that plague society today and potential issues that could, however far-fetched they may seem, affect society in Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC! All thoughts and opinions are my own. Eleanor is a witch accompanied by Stan, who was transformed into a cat, in this fictional world that takes place in a future where Texas has seceded from the United States and become its own nation known as Liberty. The novel itself is a satirical fantasy that attempts to comment on both issues that plague society today and potential issues that could, however far-fetched they may seem, affect society in the future. While this premise does sound promising, I unfortunately did not enjoy the writing. The story dragged, and I felt that the characters largely lacked development -- in part because the main conflict felt like it was resolved too easily and in an anticlimactic way. I also felt that the author's attempt to combine fantasy, satire, and dystopia almost made it too hard for any of these aspects to be fully delved into. Lastly, the story is split into three parts, but Part I and Part III occur chronologically whereas Part II takes place in the past. I felt that it would have made much more sense if Parts I and II were reversed, because the beginning of the story is admittedly confusing without context. Overall, I would give this a try if you like modern takes on witches and relatively surface-level political satire. Sadly, it just wasn't for me.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    What a cover! An armed & homicidal kitty-cat! Texas secedes! Magic works! Sounds like a hoot. Except, reviews here are all over the map, from 4 stars down to (effectively) zero. So, who know? Given Mt. TBR, if the library bus a copy (just published June 14), and if someone whose opinion I respect says, you should read this -- even then, maybe?

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bengisu Molyer

    What do you get when you mix witches, nougats, talking cats, and liberty? An awesome story! This is the story of Eleanor, a witch whose punishment was to live in Liberty with a talking cat - the coolest new country - after she makes a mistake out of anger. Liberty has messengers! Protests! Nougats! A president that loves them! A water shortage (those damn Easterners!)! Who wouldn't want to live there? I really really enjoyed this book and laughed out loud at a couple of moments. Highly recommend What do you get when you mix witches, nougats, talking cats, and liberty? An awesome story! This is the story of Eleanor, a witch whose punishment was to live in Liberty with a talking cat - the coolest new country - after she makes a mistake out of anger. Liberty has messengers! Protests! Nougats! A president that loves them! A water shortage (those damn Easterners!)! Who wouldn't want to live there? I really really enjoyed this book and laughed out loud at a couple of moments. Highly recommend to everyone who is looking for a fun quick read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kat

    One Sentence Summary: After accidentally turning Stan into a cat, witch-in-training Eleanor is sent to the new country of Liberty with Stan in tow to help find a missing witch, who might have something to do with the strange water shortage in Liberty. Overall The Splendid City presents an interesting social commentary using the backdrop of Liberty, which is the former state of Texas, where misinformation is rife and a witch and a cat are on different hunts, one for a missing witch and one for trea One Sentence Summary: After accidentally turning Stan into a cat, witch-in-training Eleanor is sent to the new country of Liberty with Stan in tow to help find a missing witch, who might have something to do with the strange water shortage in Liberty. Overall The Splendid City presents an interesting social commentary using the backdrop of Liberty, which is the former state of Texas, where misinformation is rife and a witch and a cat are on different hunts, one for a missing witch and one for treasure, that inevitably have them crossing paths. The characters, Eleanor and Stan, were both deeply flawed and not completely redeemable or even very much likable, but Liberty was a fascinatingly strange place. Eleanor’s story felt like it wandered a little too much, but I enjoyed Stan’s story and, especially, how Stan adapted to doing things as a cat instead of as a human. But the entire middle dragged on for entirely too long. Still, the social commentary was interesting despite keeping more to a surface level. Extended Thoughts Texas has seceded and renamed itself Liberty, where the president ostensibly wants to make everyone happy so constantly asks their opinion via strange animatronic heads. But, underneath, there’s a serious water shortage and a missing witch. When New Yorker witch-in-training Eleanor accidentally turns her irritating jerk of a co-worker, Stan, into a cat, her coven leader punishes her by limiting her powers and sending Eleanor and Stan to Liberty to find the witch. But they quickly get more than they bargained for when a treasure hunt piques Stan’s interest and there might be a connection between the missing witch and the water shortage. The Splendid City caught my attention right away when it mentioned there’s a water shortage. Considering I live in California where we’re in various degrees of drought, reading about a water shortage kind of felt up my alley. Then there’s magic and a cat and, really, it’s so hard to resist a book with a cat in it. I had thought it would be a fun social commentary sort of story, but it ended up feeling a little simplistic despite the number of issues it touched on and the whole middle felt dragged out. The Splendid City tells the stories of Eleanor and Stan, covering their relationship before they were sent to Liberty and what happened to them after they reached Liberty. They were both deeply flawed people, and not necessarily people I’d feel sympathetic to. Eleanor felt like she thought she should be more important than everyone else, which quickly grated on my nerves. Her better-than-you attitude carried all through the novel, though I think she learned a few good lessons by the end, so it was easier to soften towards her a little. Stan, on the other hand, was a jerk through and through. He had some strange delusions and ideas and, if I were Eleanor, I’d have a nice collection of restraining orders. I don’t think he was meant to be likable, but he was certainly amusing as a cat. All in all, though, both of them felt generally flat with little else to describe them. I did enjoy just how deeply flawed they were and how well it worked with the story, but they were also equal degrees annoying. As for the story, both Eleanor and Stan are given story lines that nicely intersected, though, by the end I couldn’t figure out if it felt more contrived or more a happy accident that just happened to work out. Eleanor’s story felt a little slow and involved what almost felt like pointless traveling around the area. For half the story, she felt like she was just wandering around, meeting the lone witch left in the area, in her search for the missing witch. If it was meant to be a mystery, it didn’t work very well. The second half was a little more interesting, but it also felt like it wouldn’t have happened without an event that might very well not have happened under different circumstances. It also, overall, seemed to not be the major story line of the book. That honor felt like it belonged to Stan with his treasure hunt. I enjoyed how doggedly Stan pursued it. He got himself involved in quite some interesting things and always seemed to have some forward progress, even when it felt like he was just making things up. Overall, I felt Stan told more of the actual story than Eleanor did. I do feel the social commentary was there, but I don’t think it really went into anything beyond a surface level. We see the effects of people speaking their minds, the effects of people being allowed to carry around guns (one of the interesting points in the description is that Stan has a penchant for shooting people, but this rarely actually happened), and the effects of misinformation. I was quite amused that it was Texas that decided to secede, and I liked that this version of it felt at least somewhat plausible. It was interesting to see certain consequences of behavior and how the terror of it was twisted into a more positive light. Liberty is riddled with misinformation and manipulation. It was interesting, but the ending left me with no sense of what was going to happen next as things felt a little too convenient. But the author touched on many, many topics, mostly in a more passing way. In the second part, the reader is taken back in time to before Eleanor turned Stan into a cat and we get a long interlude about her training and her relationship with Stan and this thing Stan introduces her where the point is to ask and write inflammatory things. It was amusing to see so many things mentioned, but there’s nothing beyond that, and definitely little rumination on any of it by the characters. Liberty itself was interesting, and probably the strongest part of the book. Texas has seceded and renamed itself with its own president who lives in a castle. I didn’t get a strong sense of place, but the workings of the city Eleanor and Stan are in was well-thought out. The animatronic heads that regularly interacted with the citizens was a nice touch. It was both strange and interesting, and they clearly had consequences, though they were buried under amusing frequent parades to make the populace happy. I wish there had been more digging into how Liberty operates and a little more from what the people think, but I did enjoy how much Liberty was fleshed out and just how incredulous it all was. Overall, I felt The Splendid City was a little simplistic in terms of the story. Eleanor’s hunt relied on a key event that could have been hit or miss. Stan’s story was only possible with Stan being Stan. There weren’t too many layers to this, making it a relatively quick read that required little thought. The whole second part did drag for me, though. It felt overly long and stretched out. It detailed Eleanor’s training, which wasn’t as interesting as other witchy trainings I’ve read, as well as her working relationship with Stan, which ended up feeling more creepy than anything else. While I enjoyed the first and last parts, the second part felt like a miss to me and I wish it had either been taken out or removed as it just went on too long. The Splendid City was a fun social commentary, but it lacked depth. The characters were not entirely likable, though the minor characters were fun, sweet, and caring, for the most part. I very much enjoyed Eleanor’s coven. But Eleanor and Stan kind of felt made for each other, and the fact that Stan was a cat trying to do human things was just a lot of fun. The story, though, felt a little lean and the whole middle part dragged. But it was still an amusing read and I did find myself a little tickled by the social commentary. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Siavahda

    That was my fasted DNF...possibly ever??? I didn't make it through three chapters, so bear that in mind; even if you agree with my critiques, it's very possible the book improves enormously further in. But this didn't work for me from the very first page, unfortunately. Like, VIOLENTLY did-not-work. The vibe was much more surreal than the urban fantasy I was expecting, and the flavour of the humour is very much Not For Me. It's one thing for your ex-boyfriend-turned-cat to be a horrible jerk, and That was my fasted DNF...possibly ever??? I didn't make it through three chapters, so bear that in mind; even if you agree with my critiques, it's very possible the book improves enormously further in. But this didn't work for me from the very first page, unfortunately. Like, VIOLENTLY did-not-work. The vibe was much more surreal than the urban fantasy I was expecting, and the flavour of the humour is very much Not For Me. It's one thing for your ex-boyfriend-turned-cat to be a horrible jerk, and another for him to be shooting people. Also, without the blurb, I would have been completely lost - The Splendid City opens in what feels like the middle of the story; there's very much a sense of Much Has Happened before you opened the book. That can be a really good thing, but here it made me feel disorientated and confused, the way you feel when you accidentally skip a chapter on your e-reader and wonder what the hell is going on now. I don't think it's great when the blurb is needed to give the reader context. That being said, I did massively appreciate the outside-the-box-ness of Heuler's imagination and creativity. But the mix of whimsy and terrible (I mean terrible as in, shooting people/totalitarian governments/etc, not terrible as in bad-writing) is an automatic DNF from me. It's not a combination I enjoy, or can emotionally handle.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Serena

    Thanks to the publisher for an ARC. The Splendid City had all the potential to be a new favourite book of mine but sadly that was not to be. The setting and characters intrigued me initially - after all, there's nothing like a gun-toting, fanny-pack-wearing cat - but with certain plot revelations about Stan in the book's middle section I struggled to enjoy reading about him. The setting was interesting, as was the system of witchcraft used. The plot was resolved too easily and left me unsatisfied. Thanks to the publisher for an ARC. The Splendid City had all the potential to be a new favourite book of mine but sadly that was not to be. The setting and characters intrigued me initially - after all, there's nothing like a gun-toting, fanny-pack-wearing cat - but with certain plot revelations about Stan in the book's middle section I struggled to enjoy reading about him. The setting was interesting, as was the system of witchcraft used. The plot was resolved too easily and left me unsatisfied. Overall I feel I would have enjoyed this book more if I hadn't gotten my hopes up when reading the first two or three chapters, so I accept that it's still a decent book, but it won't be the first book I recommend.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aja! (The Overall Showman)

    Rating: 2.5 stars, rounded down. Verdict: This city is, in fact, not splendid. Review: — find more reviews like this on my blog 🎩 The Splendid City started with a bang. No, I mean an actual bang where a talking cat—Stan—shot someone just because they annoyed him. We were informed later on that he did this daily; he even insisted on how good he was for limiting his victims to one each day. However vile, this opening sequence completely sets up the satirical vibe of the book and who Stan would be Rating: 2.5 stars, rounded down. Verdict: This city is, in fact, not splendid. Review: — find more reviews like this on my blog 🎩 The Splendid City started with a bang. No, I mean an actual bang where a talking cat—Stan—shot someone just because they annoyed him. We were informed later on that he did this daily; he even insisted on how good he was for limiting his victims to one each day. However vile, this opening sequence completely sets up the satirical vibe of the book and who Stan would be as a character for the rest of the novel. Then, we were introduced to the second main character, Eleanor, an exiled witch who had to put up with Stan and who may or may not be the reason he was turned into a cat. The world presented to us is, in fact, not splendid at all. It talked about issues of politics, drought, missing people, government drones that watch you, etc. I enjoyed the social commentary and even the over-the-top discussions about their state of living during the first act. It had all the elements that I always look for in a novel like this, though I must admit that it did drag quite a bit. The second act is a flashback from Eleanor's perspective, one that I believe could have been executed better. Instead of it being a bridging act for the readers to connect with her and the witches, it rather felt like a textbook read where their history (and how their abilities work) are dumped upon us. Lastly, the third act is too anticlimactic for my tastes. It's where everything that has been building up should explode and I should have been very thrilled indeed to know what happens next, but I found myself struggling to keep reading. I did get quite bored with the prose and how the story is told altogether, but perhaps this is a personal preference; I still saw some positive feedback regarding this. Also, it doesn't help that neither of these main characters is likable. Stan is meant to be annoying and is not a good person, but even I, as a lover of this archetype, didn't find him amusing at all (he was only annoying!). Eleanor, on the other hand, just lacks motivation. We had ⅓ of this book dedicated to her past, and yet it seemed as though we still knew nothing of her history or who she truly is in the end. The latter, at least, had a little bit of character development while the former didn't have any. I also had to remind myself that he's a grown-ass man and not a teenager who whines all the time. Overall, I saw the potential this book had to offer. In fact, during the first few pages, it felt as though it should have been right up my alley but it ended up being quite the lackluster. Although this may seem like a harsh review, I believe that perhaps it just ended up not being for me. Objectively, I would give this a 3-star rating but the lack of enjoyment I experienced while reading warrants it one less star. Still, check this out to see for yourself what you'd think if you like satirical and dystopian-ish science fiction, as well as witches in modern settings. Thanks to NetGalley and Angry Robot Press for the ARC. (Sorry for the late post! This book got published last June 14.) Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Ko-fi | Carrd

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amy Burt

    The Splendid City is a relatively short book but, for me, it wasn’t a quick read because I just couldn’t get into it. The cover, the synopsis, it gives you the idea that this book is quirky, fun and from the opening pages, where a talking cat has a gun, you think that is where this book is heading. Unfortunately this was not the case, the book is scattered, I didn’t really what it was trying to say or it’s purpose. The story follows Eleanor, a witch, and Stan, a talking cat, both living in Liber The Splendid City is a relatively short book but, for me, it wasn’t a quick read because I just couldn’t get into it. The cover, the synopsis, it gives you the idea that this book is quirky, fun and from the opening pages, where a talking cat has a gun, you think that is where this book is heading. Unfortunately this was not the case, the book is scattered, I didn’t really what it was trying to say or it’s purpose. The story follows Eleanor, a witch, and Stan, a talking cat, both living in Liberty, the state of Texas now turned into it’s own country, where free speech is controlled, water is rationed and the mysterious vans capture people on the street never to be seen again under the orders of the president. Eleanor is being punished for transforming Stan into a cat, and while Stan is content to eat, drink beer and follow clues looking for treasure, Eleanor is tasked with looking for a missing witch. The book is in 3 parts: in the first part we get to learn about Liberty, the political control, the water shortage and Stan, being careful, eating fish tacos, shooting people he disagrees with. Part 2 we randomly go back to the Stan (pre-cat) and Eleanor before they move to Liberty, we follow Eleanor as she discovers she’s a witch and joins a coven and how Stan is turned into a cat, before Part 3, back to Liberty and the conclusion. The order and pacing of the book feels scattered, the jump in the middle to the beginning of the story doesn’t feel like additional information that adds to the story but a diversion of it. Throwing you into an usual situation with unexplained characters, the first part of the book is a little confusing so just swapping the order around would have been a help. The witchcraft sections are interesting but overly long while the ending is rushed. Then there’s the message of the book. The sisterhood of the coven reads very feminist, however the sexual harassment, stalking and misogyny in the book is actually quite glibly covered (I suspect these sections of the book is what earned the synopsis the ‘for fans of Madeline Miller’ suggestion however it is not nearly addressed the same as Miller) and then, even worse, dismissed. These scenes in the middle section aren’t easy to get through because it’s so insufferable and while part of me realises that’s possibly the intent, especially added with the politics in the book (and real life), but it doesn’t feel like it’s addressed enough, it’s simply accepted. Eleanor grows on you once you learn more about her, Stan however is insufferable, the fun novelty of him being a cat doesn’t last and yet that, and him being a jerk, is really all he is about. Eleanor grows throughout out the pages, she learns her craft, she becomes recognises her flaws and works on them, but there really is no depth or developmental. Overall this book has potential but it’s just not for me. Thank you NetGalley for the opportunity to review this.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Angry Robot for an advanced copy of this magical view of the future. The problem with being a speculative fiction writer trying to stay ahead of an America with it's pedal to the metal rush to being a full blown Idiocracy, have to be to numerous to count. How do you write a satire about a future America when you have protesters today driving huge fuel consuming vehicles in a circle, in traffic wasting huge amounts of the product they are protesting i My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Angry Robot for an advanced copy of this magical view of the future. The problem with being a speculative fiction writer trying to stay ahead of an America with it's pedal to the metal rush to being a full blown Idiocracy, have to be to numerous to count. How do you write a satire about a future America when you have protesters today driving huge fuel consuming vehicles in a circle, in traffic wasting huge amounts of the product they are protesting is just to high, and how can they possibly afford it. Or a political dinner celebrating a political party's cosy relationship with the press where half the people get sick from COVID just days after lifting the same COVID restrictions that got them sick. To be a writer has to be draining, even more than just living this. In Karen Heuler's case you just go for it, and in the novel The Splendid City the story is kept smart and hopeful, even while all around is dumb and grim. Eleanor is a witch who has recently arrived in the state of Liberty, one of the many new states that have broke off of America, sometime in the near future. Liberty is a highly surveilled, paranoid, failing state, with protests, droughts, and problems below and above the surface. Eleanor is not alone in Liberty, her companion is a newly transformed into a cat lecherous co-worker by the name of Stan. Stan, has an itchy trigger finger, loves craft beer, fish tacos and scamming people, and causing chaos as much as he can. Eleanor wants to find a witch who has gone missing, who might be the reason why the water rationing program is not working. However Stan is not to be trusted and she is under house arrest, among other things. Liberty is every city and state, or FOX news blaming everything on Northerners, outsiders, for stealing, cheating, lying and not being nice to them, basically snowflake nation. The book has a lot of great ideas, and the characters are interesting, thought Stan is a tad grosser than he seems, and Eleanor allows quite a bit, but I am sure that is commentary on the misogyny that is rampant in the society they live in. The idea of the witches was different and played fairly straight. There is humor, but a lot of it is oh wow, that Stan is a jerk. However the story moves well and except for a few sudden stops to explain things, moves well and stays together. A different look at witches in a future that seems to be racing to find a cliff to careen off of. Not an urban fantasy that some might expect it to be, more a mirror to the sad world that we have allowed this country to become, with a bit of Russian novel tossed in, especially a talking cat. Recommended for people who like their science fiction thoughtful and not easy to categorize, Less Jim Butcher, more Norman Spinrad. A interesting story, full of a lot of thoughtful moments.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    4.5 stars Working in a museum gift shop, Eleanor is well aware that her boss and her lecherous co-worker, Stan, see her as a meek and pliable target for their advances. What they don’t know is that she has a gift: she can often think things into being, whether it be injuring others who have wronged her or stopping rain from falling. With her talents, Eleanor finds community through a local coven who offer to help her hone her skills, so long as she adheres to their most sacred rule: do no harm. N 4.5 stars Working in a museum gift shop, Eleanor is well aware that her boss and her lecherous co-worker, Stan, see her as a meek and pliable target for their advances. What they don’t know is that she has a gift: she can often think things into being, whether it be injuring others who have wronged her or stopping rain from falling. With her talents, Eleanor finds community through a local coven who offer to help her hone her skills, so long as she adheres to their most sacred rule: do no harm. New to the craft, she is eager to prove herself and make new friends, all of which seems promised until she impulsively and inadvertently transforms Stan into a cat. As a result, the two are sent out to Liberty, a “country” seceded from the greater United States. Liberty is lauded as a paradise, at least by its residents and benevolent-presenting leader. The streets are decorated with animatronic presidential heads ensuring its citizens are living their best lives, parades are thrown every day, and a group of messengers roam the streets, either abducting citizens arbitrarily or else surprising them with gifts. The only recognized flaw is the water shortage, although they are assured the Easterners are to blame. While a punishment of sorts, Eleanor acknowledges her rehabitation to Liberty is also meant for her to keep an eye on another coven who seem to have dissolved shortly after one of their own went missing, an incident which may be linked to the water shortage… The Splendid City was a really fun and eccentric novel to pore over for the last few days. It’s equal parts fantasy, humor, and political and social commentary all while remaining light and whimsical. Many of my favourite characters were very well established and filled with personality. As slimy as Stan’s character is portrayed (exceedingly arrogant and chauvinistic), the way he comes across both internally and in dialogue with others pulls so cleverly from real life in a way that makes it difficult to take his egotism seriously. Counterposed to Stan’s amusingly one-dimensional character is Eleanor’s authentic interest in bettering herself and becoming part of a greater purpose, something she grows towards despite her prior impetuous and self-interested motives. I’m also always interested in how novels philosophize magic within their own narrative and thought this was a very balanced and thoughtful approach to practical magic use in a somewhat current world. The Splendid City draws attention to the absurdity of everyday life while keeping its distance through the urban fantasy genre. This was such a fun, singular read that surprises you with moments of profound insight. I highly recommend it for fantasy readers who enjoy a comical lean (think: Drew Magary or A. Lee Martinez). Thanks to Angry Robot and NetGalley for this quirky read!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Theresa Derwin

    The Splendid City Author: Karen Heuler Published: 14th June 2022 Angry Robot Stan has a habit of getting annoyed with people who disagree with him, then shooting them. If he was your average every-day mobster or the Michael Douglas character from 'Falling Down' it would be understandable. But Stan is in fact, a rather large, talking bi-pedal black cat. And Stan the cat was bound to Eleanor until the powers that be decided that they’d both learned their lessons. * We don't know at the beginning exactly The Splendid City Author: Karen Heuler Published: 14th June 2022 Angry Robot Stan has a habit of getting annoyed with people who disagree with him, then shooting them. If he was your average every-day mobster or the Michael Douglas character from 'Falling Down' it would be understandable. But Stan is in fact, a rather large, talking bi-pedal black cat. And Stan the cat was bound to Eleanor until the powers that be decided that they’d both learned their lessons. * We don't know at the beginning exactly what they're supposed to learn * Luckily, in the meantime, to keep her busy and to stop her from killing Stan, Eleanor has a missing witch to find. Liberty, the town in which they find themselves, is a strange, faux-bright dystopia. For starters, the sound of a bell would precede the arrival of a van bearing gifts, or a van followed by the disappearance of random strangers; Latinx people, more often than not. Much like a bizzaro 'Childcatcher' from 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' someone is throwing random nougats around the streets for anyone who wants them. Distraction rather than action to fix the ills of the city. The residents of Splendid City face a similar cost of living crisis as we face right now (2022); everything is extortionate and there's also a black market for water. And speaking of water, Gloria, Eleanor's boss, isn't buying the president's excuses for the water shortages. And she wants to know why the Liberty coven is so small, and where the missing witch is. And it's telling that Daria, the witch in question, is a water-witch. All problems for Eleanor to solve. Thank goodness she has Stan who trawls through Whispers, a kind of Twitter thread for info. Yes, there are plenty of jokes in here, but we also have social commentary, adventure and a mystery to solve. The inherent racism in some residents along with other forms of prejudice is pretty clear; as is the fact that 'Liberty' is anything but what it is named for. Stan the cat - formerly human - is kind of oblivious, selfish and narcissistic, but that is where a lot of the humour comes from. The whole novel has a wonderfully absurdist humour to it, amidst it all, the painful truth about their 'benevolent' preident, government control, abuse and poverty. It reminded me a little of the Philip K Dick story, 'We Can Remember it For You Wholesale' filmed twice as 'Total Recall'. It's a really well written book, with great characters and the frenemy games between Stan and Eleanor bring an extra dose of fun. It's definitely one to remember.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cailean McBride

    If you pick up a book by Angry Robot, you’re more or less guaranteed a read that’s packed full of interesting ideas and will take you places that few other publishers are bothering to at the moment. Karen Heuler’s The Splendid City is no exception. It’s part dystopian, allegory, part social satire and part supernatural/fantasy thriller. It’s compulsively readable and every few pages you do smile and nod at some of the conceits of Heuler’s well-drawn world. But there is, I can’t help but feel, a p If you pick up a book by Angry Robot, you’re more or less guaranteed a read that’s packed full of interesting ideas and will take you places that few other publishers are bothering to at the moment. Karen Heuler’s The Splendid City is no exception. It’s part dystopian, allegory, part social satire and part supernatural/fantasy thriller. It’s compulsively readable and every few pages you do smile and nod at some of the conceits of Heuler’s well-drawn world. But there is, I can’t help but feel, a problem with the balance of those elements. The dystopia is never examined too much depth, the satire isn’t quite as sharp as it could be, the fantasy is forgotten for long stretches of the narrative. Take the character of Stan, for example. He’s a cynical and narcissistic store clerk who falls foul of the main protagonist Eleanor’s magic and finds himself, appropriately, turned into a cat. Much of the Stan portions of the book are enormous fun but not as much fun as I think they could be. He’s reminiscent in many ways of a Saki creation and if Heuler had instilled Stan with that level sophisticated savagery then I think he would have been a bit more memorable as a character. As it stands, I was left feeling rather indifferent to his machinations and neither particularly wanted him to succeed nor fail in his endeavours Another slight flaw in the narrative, I felt, was the lack of a compelling antagonist. There are a couple of characters who nicely fit the bill — the distinctly Trumpian president of the city and the water witch who is a nicely malevolent presence but unfortunately is little more than a name for most of the novel. A few confrontations or some kind of personal connection, between her and Eleanor would, I think, have made all the difference. But the book is very readable. It feels like it would most appeal to a YA audience but the ideas are such that readers of most ages would find something worthwhile within it. The ending seems to be set up for a sequel or series or some kind and perhaps I’m being a little unfair on and that the undoubtedly interesting ideas and characters will reach their full potential in any subsequent books.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Vivienne

    My thanks to Angry Robot for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘The Splendid City’ by Karen Heuler. I did a combined read/listen as its audiobook was available. I was initially drawn to this genre-bending little novel by its playing card style cover showing a cat with gun and a witch with a wand. It proved a fun read. It opens with a quote about witchcraft from The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. For those unfamiliar with this modern classic, it features a large talking black cat. So does this My thanks to Angry Robot for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘The Splendid City’ by Karen Heuler. I did a combined read/listen as its audiobook was available. I was initially drawn to this genre-bending little novel by its playing card style cover showing a cat with gun and a witch with a wand. It proved a fun read. It opens with a quote about witchcraft from The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. For those unfamiliar with this modern classic, it features a large talking black cat. So does this novel. Eleanor is a rebellious young witch currently on a mission set by her coven’s High Priestess to investigate the disappearance of Dana, a water witch, that may be linked to the water shortages in Liberty, formerly the state of Texas. In Liberty, water is rationed, free speech comes at a price, and paranoia runs deep. In a surreal touch animatronic heads of its president are scattered throughout the city, eager to talk to passing pedestrians. Eleanor’s feline companion, Stan, used to be her co-worker whose obnoxious ways had led to her turning him into a cat: a talking cat that loves fish tacos, craft beer, wise-cracking, and guns (though he limits himself to shooting one person a day and only wounding them). Stan has recently caught the scent of a treasure hunt adding to Eleanor’s troubles. ‘The Splendid City’ is set in an alternative USA in which Texas has seceded and been renamed Liberty. Karen Heuler uses this as an opportunity for some wry political satire along with the novel’s other delights. There was a great deal for me to enjoy, including how well she portrayed Eleanor’s introduction to witchcraft and the coven. I always appreciate it when an author takes the time to understand the Craft. I was also pleased that Stan, who was a truly awful human, remained so after his transition though on occasion he is tempted to roll over and offer his belly. Still, I expect he would be the kind of cat to attack a stroking hand with bunny kicks. Overall, a quirky blend of alternative history, urban fantasy, science fiction, politics, satire, feminism and witchcraft that I enjoyed very much.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bailey

    The Splendid City is the story of Eleanor, a young witch who, along with an unfortunate man she'd recently turned into a cat, is exiled to Liberty. Liberty encompasses the territory that was once Texas. The government of Liberty is vaguely reminiscent of recent administrations - that is, doing whatever they can to make a spectacle of things to distract from the fact that water has gone missing. During her exile, Eleanor is tasked with searching for Daria, a missing witch with the ability to loca The Splendid City is the story of Eleanor, a young witch who, along with an unfortunate man she'd recently turned into a cat, is exiled to Liberty. Liberty encompasses the territory that was once Texas. The government of Liberty is vaguely reminiscent of recent administrations - that is, doing whatever they can to make a spectacle of things to distract from the fact that water has gone missing. During her exile, Eleanor is tasked with searching for Daria, a missing witch with the ability to locate water. I enjoyed reading The Splendid City. Eleanor's banter with Stan was funny. Stan's exploits were cringeworthy in the best way possible. Additionally, I think Heuler did an excellent job of showing how incompetent people can be taken advantage of by bad actors. Eleanor was incredibly relatable. I'm sure every woman who reads this will commiserate with Eleanor's experience with her boss at the gift shop and her infuriating struggles with Stan. I didn't like the narrative structure of this book. I was incredibly confused during the first third. I spent more time trying to parse out what was going on than actually getting to know the characters. In fact, I almost DNF'd this book several times during the first third because I was so confused, but I made myself push further. I really didn't care about Eleanor until the end of the book, after we had her backstory. I found myself rooting for Stan's demise after I got his backstory. I would've given this book 4-stars if the story was chronological - otherwise, this creative choice is just jarring for the reader. All in all, I think this was an interesting book, and certainly a fun reaction to recent political times. It's giving vague notes of Kafka and Orwell, and I will certainly recommend this to fans of dystopian novels and political satire. ***Thank you to NetGalley and Angry Robot for this complimentary copy of The Splendid City in exchange for an honest review***

  29. 5 out of 5

    Seriesbooklover

    I received a copy of this book for a free and unbiased opinion. This book was not what I expected but in a fun and interesting way. I thought this would be straightforward urban fantasy featuring an underlying mystery that would be solved by the end of the book by the protagonist. But this book was so much more. My own perhaps inaccurate description would be a blend of urban fantasy, satire with feminist slant but with a dose of surreal humour. The world-building is a fascinating mix of dystopia an I received a copy of this book for a free and unbiased opinion. This book was not what I expected but in a fun and interesting way. I thought this would be straightforward urban fantasy featuring an underlying mystery that would be solved by the end of the book by the protagonist. But this book was so much more. My own perhaps inaccurate description would be a blend of urban fantasy, satire with feminist slant but with a dose of surreal humour. The world-building is a fascinating mix of dystopia and quirky magic- with all-knowing disembodied heads and nougat that fly on butterfly wings. The book is set in an alternative ( or future, depending on how pessimistic you feel ) USA, where some cities have declared independence and have their own rules. Liberty is one such city with a President who is at the same hated and loved at the same and massive shortage of water. The book is told from Eleanor, a white witch and Stan, a talking cat, points of view. Both the characters are difficult to like at the start. Eleanor has an interesting arc and I found myself rooting for her by the end. Unfortunately, Stan who was an awful person before he was transformed into a cat by Eleanor ( I thought a completely reasonable action) continues to be a completely awful cat-person. The author has written a thought-provoking satire about several current socio-political issues but I did enjoy the conclusion of the main plot of the missing witch and her connection to the water shortage. Perfect for fans of I get a strong Terry Pratchett vibe when reading this book Content warning Sexual harassment, stalking, misogyny, racism

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kerry https://likeherdingcatsblog.wordpress.com Robinson

    Rounded up from 3.5 as 3 was too harsh. The Splendid City is very unlike my usual reads however when I read the blurb I was intrigued and any book with a talking cat has to be good right? The main thing I need to say about this book is it’s all about the fun! I have a strong image of the author sitting writing and chuckling to themselves as they come up with more and more interesting things to ad into the city of Liberty. Liberty is introduced and explored in part one and I loved how the world wa Rounded up from 3.5 as 3 was too harsh. The Splendid City is very unlike my usual reads however when I read the blurb I was intrigued and any book with a talking cat has to be good right? The main thing I need to say about this book is it’s all about the fun! I have a strong image of the author sitting writing and chuckling to themselves as they come up with more and more interesting things to ad into the city of Liberty. Liberty is introduced and explored in part one and I loved how the world was built. It’s recognizable – but it isn’t. There are so many little tweaks to the world as we know it (and some very big ones) but they all provide satire linked to current situations across the world e.g. the water shortages and the rising cost. There are a lot of zany touches too e.g. nougat, the vans delivering news etc. They just work tougher to create this world that is so much fun to escape to for a while. In part 2 we learn about the history between the two characters and how they got into the position they were in. Eleanor is a with in training and after being pushed too far by Stan, an unbearable colleague, she turns him into a cat. As a consequence of both their actions, they are forced to stay together whilst they redeem themselves and solve the mystery of a missing witch. Stan really is awful however I couldn’t help but chuckle at him at times. They are like a part of unruly children at times, squabbling away and annoying each other. This novel will not be everyone’s cup of tea but it was so much fun to completely escape into for a while. A really enjoyable read.

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