Monday, April 9, 2012

Review: "The Narrows" by M. Craig

Title: The Narrows
M. Craig
Papercut Press
Date Published:
September 10, 2011
How I Heard About It: Author M. Craig (a.k.a. Maggie) reached out to me in February to link up as writers.  She also told me about her first book and the exciting, independent Brooklyn-based Papercut Press. Maggie kindly sent me a copy of The Narrows to read and review.


That's why we come to the Narrows, because we're all a little different.

So says Sim, the book's punkish yet sweet protagonist. Working as a servant to the infamous (shady) Lord Nogron's daughter, Sim finds herself in a confusing and sticky situation, one which means she must flee and start her life alone, elsewhere.

Through a stroke of luck, Sim stumbles into a friendship with charming young quester Cader, who just so happens to have an opening for a roommate. Cader introduces Sim to his gorgeous home (Kailash), his intricate roommates (Prudence and Kai), and the Bikeway Narrows. Cader also finds Sim a day job, working for the eccentric Azzer, a gadget repairman who specializes in magical devices and helps Sim begin to hone her latent magic-weaving talents.

Others have described Sim's favorite neighborhood, the Bikeway Narrows, as a literally-magical Portland. The neighborhood felt a lot like my own: San Francisco's Mission District. (I think this was some clever writing on Maggie's part; she relies on the universality of bike-filled, coffee-shop-loving hip, youthful urban areas to paint a scene that is immediately accessible.)

M. Craig at a launch party for The Narrows. [[via]]
With dashes of steampunk (brass goggles, leather pouches, carriages), some old-school magic (magic dust, wands, the occasional fairy or dragon), and plenty of the difficulties faced by an early-twenties woman in a big new city, Craig's book is already a complex undertaking.The meat of the novel, however, lies in its allegorical social commentary, taking a look at the ramifications of corporate takeover in terms of environmental and political impact. Factories spewing toxic, black magic byproducts are run by an exploited dwarf population, a race whose rights are consistently ignored by the government. There is an aggressive population of soldiers that monitors the Narrows to keep an eye on the myriad things that have become illegal. (Beer-brewing, for instance, has been forbidden and bears a punishment of lifetime in jail.)

Truly on her own, Sim now has an opportunity to grow in an understanding of her own identity. A new friend, known simply as Wood, brings Sim's sexuality to the forefront of her mind and she begins to explore who she is, what she wants, in the context of a world (sadly not unlike our own) in which homosexuality can bear the heavy consequences of discrimination and hate crimes.

She had to figure out who she was and then maybe she could figure out what was right and wrong in the world and what was worth fighting for.

This quote is so at the heart of what The Narrows ultimately does: consider big-picture morality and justice through the lens of an equally tough and vulnerable young woman. Sim's journey is hugely adventurous and always surprising.

There are a plethora of plot elements, fantasy world-modifications, and genres in play, which can sometimes become overwhelming for the reader to track or comprehend. The trick I discovered was to let The Narrows wash over me, carry me along at its own pace, without feeling some sort of academic stress to figure out all of the linkages. The novel ends in a manner that hints at future installments, so perhaps Craig has plans to wrap up any loose ends in book number two?

Maggie has generously agreed to do an interview with me, so stay tuned for future discussions with the author herself! In the meantime, you can read more about (and order your own copy of) The Narrows here, and be sure to check out the website for Papercut Press in Brooklyn.


Hannah said...

Sounds cool!

elledoubleyouu said...

What an intriguing premise! I may add this book to my list of summer fun reading.

♥ LW

Kelsey Mangin said...

Do you have any way to get up with Maggie? I would really like to know if a sequel has been progressed on at all. I saw she was working on a sequel per Facebook in 2014. I don't have a Facebook and have tried to message her via her website but it doesn't seem to be working properly. I would really love to continue the story. My email is If you have any way of reaching out I would so appreciate you passing the message along that a fan needs to know whats in store for the characters.