19th Mar 2012
The Narrows by M. Craig
“Don’t let anyone tell you what a story is about. Decide for yourself.”
So reads the back cover of M. Craig’s The Narrows, but in flagrant violation of this warning, we’re going to try to tell you about the book anyway.
The story opens with the main character, Sim, running away from her life as a servant. Sim is a lovable, self-effacing, Harry Potter-esque character of unknown parentage and exceptional magical ability.
She runs away to the city, where her ignorance of urban life and magic are the perfect means of explaining this mystical world to the reader.
She befriends healers, potion brewers, and questers (magical mercenaries, essentially) who help her along her path of self-discovery.
The Narrows takes place in Terresin, which seems to be a mythological Portland, Oregon; a river separates the commercial and residential neighbourhoods, bicycles are a common form of transportation and source of strife for non-riders, and home brewing is both fetishized and illegal.
People flaunt the prohibition law, tattoos are a standard amongst the inhabitants, there are even warehouse rock concerts.
Also illegal in Terresin is homosexuality, and the issues of queer rights and relationships across religions and classes hangs in the background.
There are openly gay characters and infamous gay bars. In this way, The Narrows is a coming of age story for Sim as she discovers not only magical talents but also comes to grips with the sexuality she never considered.
Craig manages a few suspense-filled, page turning moments, which, more impressively, aren’t relegated to combat scenes. With magical gadgets, grueling training sessions, and forbidden loves, curious scenarios propel the narrative forward amidst the continuous exposition necessary to a novel about a fantasy world.
In all of the vagueness hanging around The Narrows, it’s only in the last 20 pages or so that the reader realises that the book is intended to be the first in a series, or at the very least to have a sequel.
What this does make it difficult to know is how many of the seemingly superfluous details Craig included are actually going to be valuable in future. But the reader is left with a clear idea of where the next book is headed.
As a final note, it is worth mentioning that the design of this book, the first for Papercut Press, is truly beautiful. Something about the soft texture of its cardboard cover gives it the feeling and intimacy of holding a notebook, and is perfectly suited to the punk aesthetic of the setting.
The Narrows is available for $12USD through Etsy.
Rating: 2.5/5. But they may get bumped up when reappraised in the context of the next volume.
Recommended for: Bicycle enthusiasts and everyone who wanted more Hermione Granger.
Other recommended reading: Modern day wizarding and existential crises abound in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.