Sweet Silver Blues - Glen Cook

~~Moved from GR~~

Sweet Silver Blues (Garrett Files #1)

by Glen Cook


Recommended for: Dresden Files/ Nightside fans

In any reasonably thorough exploration of the space of Urban Fantasy, the bizarre combination of hardboiled noir detective stories and fantasy[1], Glen Cook's Garrett, PI series is definitely a necessary read. It certainly is a landmark in the genre.

One of the things I loved most about the story was the world. Garrett's world is significantly more creative than the UF norm: a low-fantasy merging of our world with a secret society of individuals with special powers. Garrett lives on a totally original, fully-fledged fantasy realm where magic is the norm and dark elves, ratmen, ogres, and more coexist with humans in noisy, busy, and overcrowded cities. The atmosphere of cities themselves, especially TunFaire, where Garrett lives, feels a bit like Anhk Morpork: a cheerful, amoral chaos where mythical creatures rub shoulders with practical magical inventions. The world also has a complex history: there is an ongoing war between two of the human-inhabited countries over an area of silver mines, since silver is a necessary ingredient used by wizards in their spells. Cook does a fantastic job twisting common mythical creatures into new, creative, and realistic-feeling versions. For example, unicorns are vicious creatures that travel in packs and hunt humans.

The front blurb of my book called compared Garrett to Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, and while I do think that Garrett is a prime example of a famous hardboiled detective, I don't think that detective is Marlowe. To me, Garrett feels more like a reincarnation of Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon. Unlike Marlowe, Garrett tends not to engage in the obligatory private detective snarkfest and even in his narration, he avoids the colorful metaphors that characterize Marlowe's narration. Marlowe is the quintessential tarnished knight on the mean streets: outwardly cynical, he is actually a chivalrous (read chauvanistic) softhearted idealist. He speaks joshingly and disrespectfully to women and constantly objectifies them physically, but internally puts them on a pedestal. Marlowe's tragedy is that he wants to see all women as pure and beautiful damsels to be protected and sheltered, but the femme fatales he encounters constantly disappoint him. Garrett, like Sam Spade, has none of Marlowe's idealism. Both Garrett and Spade tend to treat women as "a bit of tail" to be used and discarded. Granted, the women that Garrett encounters are completely obnoxious, but I was still shocked by Garrett's total disregard for their safety. In one scene, women he is familiar with are captured by enemy agents and threatened by vampires. Garrett is unfazed and doesn't rescue them, even though he has the opportunity. Marlowe would have been incapable of such an action. However, this attitude does track with Spade's, who was much more competent than Marlowe at coolly judging a situation and taking the most logical and safety.

Garrett also captures Spade's enigmatic personality. Like Spade, he appears to be very comfortable with death and murder, to the point that he does exhibit any outward reactions of regret or sadness when a character he knows is killed. To me, this made for a very interesting read, since even though Garrett acts as a first-person narrator, I was often left unable to interpret his true feelings. Garrett tends strip events of emotion during his narration, and I often found his few comments about his feelings to be cryptic. He also tends to skip over the details of his journeys or battles, summarizing them in a single sentence and spending much more effort on the minutiae and inconveniences of travel. Although perhaps less engaging to read, I thought this wasn't necessarily a problem, as it gave Garrett a unique phlegmatic voice: that of someone who avoids remembering or repeating unpleasant events. The duality and differences between the narrator's presentation of himself and his true emotions is one of my favorite aspects of first-person. The book definitely captures the hardboiled detective vibe. Garrett himself must do dubious deals with individuals even more brutal than himself. He must make questionable decisions that have fatal consequences. Yet despite all this, the book is coloured in humour and creativity.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book, but not for the characters, or even, really, the plot; the world was so engaging that it captured my interest and imagination. I'll be picking up the next book; I hope, but don't particularly expect, to like the characters more, but I'm fairly sure that the fantastic and creative world that Garrett inhabits won't disappoint.


[1]Well, my definition of urban fantasy, which is essentially urban + fantasy, with a few additional constraints.