The Municipalists is a collection of strangely compelling elements that coalesce beautifully, resulting in one of the more unique novels I’ve read this year. I was surprised to find a novel centered on an uptight civil service worker whose defining feature is an obsession with trains and the transit systems of various cities. Coupled with a hilariously down-to-earth AI named OWEN, the novel sets off on a fun, albeit dangerous, mission in an enormous city named Metropolis. The story has a noir feel to it, coupled with a few absurdities that make the tricky situations lighthearted and fun. You’d be surprised at how fun a work trip can be.
While the story and the setting are done well, the author’s greatest achievement is the creation of two completely different, yet equally fascinating, main characters. On the one hand, we have Henry, the lonely outsider whose life is his job. Coworkers hate him because he’s the worst. He follows every rule to the letter, occasionally stopping dead in his tracks in an extremely deadly situation to point out that a rule is being broken. On the other hand, we have OWEN, the artificial intelligence who acts as Henry’s partner on the mission. OWEN is hilarious, always giving Henry a hard time and forcing him out of his shell. There are no obstacles for an AI who cavorts around in digital form, quick to turn from a man to a woman to a tiny dog to an enormous clown (no joke). As the story progresses, they grow closer to each other and begin to open up. You begin to realize they’re not so different and that camaraderie presents a solid dynamic.
Overall, The Municipalists is an original mix of genres, combining elements of sci-fi, classic movies, and bits of other sub-genres along the way. You never know what trick OWEN has queued up and that element of surprise leads to an extremely entertaining reading experience.
NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.
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