The Splendid City
by Karen Heuler
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Pub Date 14 Jun 2022 | Archive Date 31 May 2022
A genre-blending story of modern witchcraft, a police state and unique characters, for fans of Alice Hoffman and Madeline Miller.
In the state of Liberty, water is rationed, free speech comes at a price, and paranoia runs deep. Eleanor, a rebellious young witch, has been put under house arrest with her lecherous co-worker Stan, who loves craft beer, fish tacos, and… shooting people.
Eleanor has little time for Stan. That's why she turned him into a talking cat. Besides, she's got a job to do: locate a missing witch who seems to be mysteriously linked to the water shortages. But she might want to keep an eye on Stan – he's caught the scent of a treasure hunt, and won't hesitate to give up Eleanor to get his paws on the prize.
Karen Heuler is a literary sci-fi/fantasy author, whose stories have appeared in hundreds of magazines. She has received an O. Henry award, been a finalist for the Iowa short fiction award, the Bellwether award, and the Shirley Jackson award for short fiction, among others. She has published four novels, four story collections and a novella. She also teaches fiction writing at NYU’s School of Professional Studies.
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“Heuler continues to delight with her thoughtful brand of modern surrealism / magic realism – a criminally underrated writer.”
– Jeff VanderMeer
“A daring, challenging, intelligent novel that skewers gender stereotypes and expectations as it blasts society’s lazy complicity in its everyday misogyny. And it’s a novel that you should read. Like now.”
– Paul Tremblay
"Karen Heuler’s The Splendid City is a wonderful fabulation, both humorous and contemplative, about the desperate state of US politics and society. In this world without a moral center, Eleanor, a witch, and her black cat familiar, Stan, who walks on two legs and packs a gun, much like Behemoth from Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, are called to solve a mystery. The writing is engaging and smooth, with excellent banter, as the communal power of women works to find a purpose in a crazy world."
—Jeffrey Ford, author of Big Dark Hole
"A thoroughly original and quirky novel. You'll find witches, cats, animatronic politicians and much more besides - plus sinister undertones combined with laugh-out-loud surrealism."
—Liz Williams, author of Comet Weather
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 65 members
This was a really surreal but fun read. It was well written with well developed characters and an intriguing storyline and good worldbuilding.
I really liked the dual narrative that was half from a witch and half from a talking cat.
A very strange but enjoyable read.
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
Sexual harassment, stalking, misogyny, racism
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.
What a fun exciting read. I loved this book. It was long but I finished in 2 days. I couldn't put it down. It had everything I want in a story. Loved the main characters. This is also a scary story of what very well could happen in our world. A
The most surreal fantasy book I didn't know I needed! The Splendid City captures the bizarre vibe of 2020-2022, adds a deranged talking cat and some witches, and cranks it up to 11. Oddly soothing.
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!
DEVOURED this book in a day. As soon as I read about Stan, a cat, pulling out a gun on someone and shooting them for disagreeing with him I was sold. The story is complex and winding and I loved every minute. Eleanor and Stan's dynamic was hilarious and the concept so unique. One of my favourite reads this year. I will be preordering this book as a birthday gift so I can annotate it in person. Anyway 5/5 stars, I want more.
A fun, quirky, mash-up of fantasy, humour and dystopia - there's witches, a talking cat, a corrupt government, talking mechanical heads and lots of intrigue.
There's so much to love about this book, it starts slap bang in the middle of the action and had me completely hooked.
I loved the dynamic between Eleanor and Stan, he really was wonderfully obnoxious, and the world building was amazing, as was the magic. It had some moments of sheer brilliance and I loved the whole aesthetic. The cover is one of my all time favourites, it's a work of art!
Unfortunately, the way it's split into three parts was frustrating, the second part was an overly lengthy explanation of the back story which killed off some of the tension and excitement. I still really enjoyed the third part although it was lacking the magnetism of the first part.
Eleanor as a character was engaging and intriguing to follow along. This feels like it could go to The big screen as an indie film, that’s the way it read to me. Very quick and to the point.
Thank you to NetGalley, Karen Heuler, and Angry Robot for an arc of this book!
I really actually loved this book! It was strange and surreal but didn't let itself get overwhelmed by this. Urban surrealism with a bit of fantasy and politics and feminism and crime/thriller this book has it all. The characters were enjoyable even if Stan is a terrible cat-person and I never knew what was coming next! The book definitely keeps you on your toes throughout and nothing is as it seems.
My only issue with it was at times it felt a bit slow (part one in particular I thought was guilty of this) but apart from that it was a brilliant read! I highly recommend it !
A madcap romp, I really enjoyed this book! Heuler opens the book with a quote from The Master and Margarita, and she emulates Bulgakov's satirical, madcap energy throughout. Not least of all with a sentient talking cat. This book bubbles along, a funny and gripping adventure that makes you nearly forget the systems, structures, and inequalities therein that Heuler interrogates in the disorienting desert city beset by political rallying and propaganda on all sides. It's a worthy title in the tradition of Bulgakov's satirical tale, with the frantic energy and adventure and comedy of A Confederacy of Dunces. With the added bonus of witches.
🔲 mary-sue party
🔲 mostly 2D
🔲 great main cast, forgottable side characters
✅ complex and fascinating
🔲 hard to believe they are fictional
🔲 you've already heard this exact story a thousand times
🔲 nothing memorable
🔲 takes place in our world
✅ nicely detailed
🔲 even the last tree in the forest has its own story
✅ you forget you are reading a book
🔲 picks up with time
🔲 impossible to put down
This book was so absurd but I ended up really enjoying it!
Okay, so I have to be honest, after reading the first chapter of this book I actually thought I'm gonna DNF it. It was just so chaotic, I couldn't wrap my head around it, but I'm so happy I read on.
Let's start with the setting because I feel like that's the weirdest part. It's basically an Orwellian themed Miyazaki movie, and yes, it's as absurd as that sounds. We have this weird nation with it's weird government with it's absolutely weird ways of setting up what's basically is very much an authoritarian regime but everything is just so whimsical at the same time that at first it's easy to not realize what's going on. But once you start to figure things out it just gets so fascinating and as with every dystopia-like books, so scary at the same time.
The other strong point of the book was the characters in my opinion. We have two main POVs and their narration and feel are very different. Let me just say that one of them is a modern day witch while the other one is a man turned into a giant cat. Yup, you heard that right. Also if you need likable characters to enjoy a story, this is definitely not for you because they are just so so awful and annoying people both, sometimes I just wanted to tear my face off while reading. But that doesn't take away from how complex and well fleshed out they are, I really enjoyed following their journey.
The plot wasn't anything mindblowing in my opinion, but the pacing was great so after getting into the story I had a hard time putting it down.
So yeah, this was a chaotic experience for me and I can see that this book is definitely not for everyone but I ended up loving it with all its nonsensicalness 😊
I loved the first few chapters of The Splendid City. Stan, a talking cat, has no patience for fools; he shoots them. But wait! Things get even crazier. Stan is living with Eleanor, a hasty witch, and they loathe each other.
And the world around them? It sucks. Water shortages, poor job prospects, and political machinations make life hard and prosperity difficult. The president of the dystopia tries to distract the inhabitants with parades and, more recently, a treasure hunt.
Stan is excited by the idea of finding the treasure and sets out to get it, attracting the attention of the influential players. On the other hand, Eleanor is on the lookout for the missing water witch Daria, who may have played a role in shaping the world around them.
I enjoyed the satirical, often a deliciously absurd tone of The Splendid City, which should appeal to fans of whimsy. The first part of the story had me laughing aloud and delighted by Heuler's dialog and ideas. But unfortunately, parts two and three soured the experience a bit. Part two shows how Eleanor became a witch, who Stan was, and why they ended up living together.
Part three concludes both storylines. While Heuler's observations and humor remain astute and quotable, the structure feels unbalanced. The ending was somewhat predictable, and the characters remained relatively shallow though fun.
A few words about them: Stan is a cat. He's delusional, comically self-absorbed, and arrogant. And yet, it's impossible not to like his narration. He's unpredictable, self-absorbed, but always funny. Eleanor, on the other hand, is likable but less intense. Still, it's easy to like her and understand her motivations. Their tense relationship leads to entertaining dialog and good scenes with lots of dark(ish) humor.
All in all, I enjoyed the book and read it in two sittings. I don't feel like it didn't quite meet my expectations after the excellent part 1, but that doesn't change anything. It's fun and quirky in a good way.
A hilarious book about witchcraft and a talking cat! This book is an interesting social commentary that will have you laughing out loud,
i was interested in this book as a lover of cats and urban fantasy and it gets both and enjoyed reading the dynamic between Eleanor and stan although humour can be a bit questionable a times depending on your taste and i thought ending came rather suddenly i would've liked more on how it all resolves overall its a very readable magical dystopia reminded me a bit of the Studio Ghibli film the cat returns but its a bit more rude than that
The start of this story seemed absurd, and I felt a little lost, but I also wanted to know what was going on. A cat who can talk, and this is taken for granted by humans around it. Very strange. A Witch and cat forced to live with each other. Why? Keep reading and all will be explained, in an engaging humorous story. The second part is a little darker, and made me pause and think about societal norms. But the story becomes clear. Then the narrative returns, to a satisfying conclusion. A book of different parts but as a whole is a good read that will make you smile but also think about responsibility and place in society. Thank you to NetGalley and Angry Robot for letting me read an ARC. The views expressed are all mine, freely given.
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.
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.
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