The City On The Other Side is a fairly standard urban fantasy, albeit one with an historical milieu. I had been hoping to find something more original – a spark or reason for the story other than a rather tenuous tie to the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The historical aspects are nearly non existent (though there are some middle-grade aimed factoids at the end) and I really wanted to see 1906 San Francisco rather than the alternate fairy world.
Plot: Isabel is fairly forgotten in her world – her San Francisco socialite mother binding her to the harsh mores of the era while her father lives in Carmel carving stone. One day while visiting her father, she chances upon a dying fairy. Before passing, he gives her a necklace and begs her to find the queen of the seelies and give her the necklace. Isabel soon finds herself in the middle of the cold iron war between the seelie and unseelie courts. With the help of a human boy hiding in the fairy world and stealing in order to survive, they will free the imprisoned queen and bring balance back to the fairy world.
Most of The City On The Other Side is a road quest; our heroine spends a chunk of the book looking for a seelie general and then the queen herself in fairyland. Perhaps because of this, there was little to no flavor of historic San Francisco. This takes place a bit (months maybe?) after the earthquake so there is no dwelling on that event. It’s just randomly explained in the story that it was caused by the unseelies as part of their war. And it’s more of an afterthought at that.
Our character Isabel is plucky but I have to admit that she feels just as disaffected as her parents. I never got much of a flavor of her personality or spirit other than that she wishes her parents noticed her more. Oddly, there is a reconciliation with one of them while the other remains completely disenfranchised from her daughter. Similarly, her friend Benjie is fairly cardboard and mushroom shaped seelie companion Button has an odd mix of flavors so that he is hard to pin down.
Readers may be surprised at some of the seeming anachronisms. Isabel’s mother’s use of the word ‘smog’ feels off since it was a word only just coined that year. Similarly, a museum night watchman using an electric flashlight (also recently invented at the turn of the century) also feels off. Both are possible but not plausible So, too, is it glaring that Isabel is confined by social mores and not by her gender as was custom in that era.
Admittedly, I didn’t find much to interest me in this title. The lack of historic San Francisco really felt like a miss and I’d have enjoyed this more had the author/illustrator researched the locale/time and then put our hero/heroine through a San Francisco streets chase rather than situating so much in the fairie world. Since research was done on different types of fairies by the author, that clearly is where the focus went on the story. But younger, less sophisticated audiences may find this entertaining, if a bit bland. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.