Kim Lakin-Smith’s richly imagined dark fantasy novel Tourniquet turns Nottingham’s rock scene into Renegade City, a futuristic gothic haven for freaks, geeks and outsiders. In this seeming paradise, rock god Druid is led to unravel a mystery and find the worm coiling in Renegade City’s murderous heart…

SF and dark fantasy writer Kim Lakin-Smith took the old adage “write what you know” and turned it into some of the finest sci-fi / fantasy gothic noir around. Aside from the Robin Hood legend, the UK city of Nottingham is famous for two things: Gun crime (so say the tabloids) and its thriving rock scene (so say the residents who love their city). In Nottingham, you can go to a banging rock club every day of the week. Nottingham’s streets are filled with throngs of tattooed fairies in New Rocks and pierced gothic Dark Lords striding through town in leather dusters. The Nottingham rock scene is vast and throbbing, patched together from many counterculture tribes woven together with a great sense of family.

“When I was living in Nottingham with my now husband, we were very active in the city’s rock scene,” explains Kim Lakin-Smith. “We were sitting in our local pub one night and we started talking about how wonderful it would be if a city existed that we felt completely at home in – when you move in certain circles, you can sometimes feel quite isolated from the mainstream.”

It wouldn’t be too hard to turn the Nottingham of today into tomorrow’s Renegade City, a sci-fi haven for all the punks, emos, goths, loligoths, fairies, dreads, metalheads, rivetheads, skaters and greebos. And that’s exactly what Kim Lakin-Smith does with her Renegade City planned series of novels, the first of which is Tourniquet: Tales from the Renegade City. It’s a pioneering idea for a novel: an entire city run according to the dreams of a music subculture.

In a future not so distant from our present, Origin – the most powerful and influential rock band of the century – buy off local government, then revamp Nottingham to become a gothic noir paradise and rename it Renegade City. Renegade City’s dark promise of true freedom draws in sub-culture tribes from all over, hoping that Renegade City will finally give them the freedom to live as they choose. They exist under the umbrella of ‘Belief’, a relion founded by Roses, Origin’s singer and the master of Renegade City. Of course, scratch a paradise and a tenth circle of hell may lie just under its surface.

When Roses dies in mysterious circumstances, Renegade City is left in turmoil. The Gothic messiah is dead, and the tribal factions become a law unto themselves. Roses’ brother Druid – the drummer in Origin – scours the echelons of Renegade society and the streets of punkers, bikers and freaks in his reluctant hunt for the killer. Who holds the answers? And will Druid like the answers he finds? As Druid is dragged into the dark and seedy world of politics, he finds that the only person who shares his cynicism and disgust is a non-believer, a mysterious girl called Jezebel…

His boots entombed in the snow, Druid despised death’s allure. For him, no matter how many fairy lights adorned them, the bones of the dead stayed tangible. At least until they fell into dust.

The attention to detail in characters – and the evocative descriptions of what they wear – could only have come from a writer who has lived the renegade life themselves. It’s an insider’s view of the teeming subcultures that make up the heart of Nottingham / Renegade city. The emerald lace taffeta, the New Rocks, the crucifixes and fairy wings and hair falls and cyber goggles… they’re all there, painting a vivid picture of life under the radar in a richly-imagined dark future.

A sub-zero wind raked through Druid’s red-tipped mohawk. He dipped his nose and strode on. His boots, a pair of cowboy-styled, red-flame New Rocks, smashed into the ice. His leather, long and worn like an old man’s face, billowed out behind him. His shoulders hunched, like the stumps of shorn-off wings. The affection he felt for his brother’s queen, the inimitable Sophia, was a scab on an old wound. Soon it would shrivel up entirely than fall away.

What makes Tourniquet stand out is its fantastic prose. The plot thrusts forward, but Kim Lakin-Smith treats words like punctuated fire from a home-made laser pistol. She’s a craftsman – her words are fired with skill, and there’s a dark weaving poetry to every page. Or perhaps her writing is more like a cocktail whose rich and unnameable ingredients leave you bruised and intoxicated:

He pictured Renegade’s queen in the velvet gloom of Rock Cemetery, the dress she had worn (black, knee-length, corseted and crinolined), her hair, spun-sugar blonde pinned up under a pill-box hat and veil, and her face, gorgeous and awful in silk and shadow. He saw the stem of a cardinal rose, how she had distributed petals over the lid of Roses’s sarcophagus like blood-coloured tears, or sighs she had no capacity to utter.

Sophia, an enigma he’d longed to unfold, only to find his flesh etched with paper cuts when he’d tried.

As a writer, Kim Lakin-Smith is a talent to be reckoned with. Her vision of a kingdom founded on the back of a musical subculture is pioneering and immersive. If you have a love of Nine Inch Nails or HR Geiger, you’re bound to fall in love with at least one character, and wish you could hang out with the others. Or perhaps you already do…

If you’re a reader, and a fan of the dark side of life, immerse yourself in Tourniquet. Kim Lakin-Smith is one to watch.

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