The novel is driven by two residents of Birmingham. There is Andy who lives in the everyday side of the city and there is Bex, one of the Narrowfolk, who can negotiate the magical alleyways. Their friendship brings the two sides of the city together and they form an alliance to stop the villainous Barber, who intends to exploit the power of the Narrows for his own dark purposes.
The Narrows is urban fantasy at its best, combining the surreal with the everyday. This is a novel where Narrowfolk can cut across the city in minutes, evading the monstrous skavags and living in an invisible shelter at the end of a cul-de-sac. However, this is also a world where people play X-boxes, watch Deal or No Deal and own Spongebob Squarepants DVDs. Brogden relates the fantastical to the everyday, with similes that reference pop culture such as Hogwarts, Reading Festival and Jeff Goldblum's The Fly, all of which ensures the magic remains grounded and believable.
Even better, this is more than just urban fantasy, this is Birmingham urban fantasy. England's second city is packed with potential for a fantasy novel and Brogden clearly enjoys himself weaving Brummie landmarks into his story. The German Christmas Market makes an appearance, lovingly described as "a child's jewellery box crammed to overflowing." The Rotunda, "a visionary landmark and a concrete toilet roll," features in a climatic battle scene. Even the famous Number Eleven bus route plays an important part in the plot. All of this makes The Narrows essential reading for Birmingham residents.
Aside from his witty description and crackling dialogue, Brogden also knows how to keep a story moving. He is a writer that knows when to introduce a curveball. The novel switches from the everyday life of Andy to the fantastical shelter of Moon Grove, so far so routine, but then readers will find themselves taken back to the fifties, or swept away into another world entirely with a nomadic desert clan. With Brogden, you can never tell what will lie waiting on the next page.
I would recommend The Narrows to fans of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint, and, of course, anyone living in Birmingham with a taste for the fantastical. This is funny, exciting, terrifying dynamite. Enjoy.
The Narrows is available on Amazon.