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Review – City of Ruin

POSTED ON June 22nd, 2010  - POSTED IN Book Reviews, Reading

I’d enjoyed Nights of Villjamur but had issues with it. A very good debut novel and a book I’m happy to recommend to people despite my slight issues with dialogue. I was looking forward to City of Ruin. If Newton could build and improve on Nights, then City of Ruin could prove to be a very good book. At Eastercon, there was a group of us chatting about various novels and giving our honest opinion on them, outside the earshot of writers (although to be honest, no-one said anything there, that hasn’t been repeated in their reviews). It was there I enquired about City of Ruin to those who had seen early copies.

“It’s very good,” I was told with a look that said this was a book to get excited about.

And for the last few months I’ve been eagerly awaiting it. The problem with hype though, is that more often than not it can lead to disappointment. I’m a passionate person, and I try not to let it get ahead of me, but I have to be honest and say I was expecting a lot from City of Ruin.

City of Ruin didn’t just meet my already high expectations, it blew them away. This was a novel, I couldn’t put down, that ruined my weekend plans, simply because I kept saying “just one more chapter, I have to know what happens next”

The issues from Nights of Villjamur have been addressed, and as a result you have a novel that is not only a fine sequel but a much better book. In fact, such a good book, that within 50 pages it was one of my favourite novels of the year, and then it proceeded to get better and better

Now, I accept that a book can’t be for everyone, that one person’s favourite is another person’s least. I think good books do that because they don’t play safe. They take big bold steps that risk alienating the readership. This is why reviews are so subjective. And this book doesn’t just throw ideas out there, it incessantly bombards you with them becoming bigger and bigger as it does so.

Many familiar faces return from nights of Villjamur. Brynd is now in charge of the defence of the city of Villiren against the anticipated onslaught of the alien Okun, yet faces another challenge when his homosexuality is uncovered. Jeryd is now an inquisitor in Villiren and is tasked by Brynd to look into a mystery surrounding missing persons. And Randur is still on the run with the Empress and her sister, trying to get to Villiren to enlist the support of Brynd and his Night Guard.

There are also a few new characters, the most stand out being Melum, a half-vampire leader of the most feared gang in Villiren. He’s a delightful ‘bad guy’ who is really nuanced and detailed, and an absolute joy to read.

What I liked was that each of the story seemed to have it’s own pace, meaning that some stories didn’t even start until well into the novel, some left hanging for what felt like hundreds of pages. This made the book seem much larger, as if you were reading a 1000+ page trilogy rather than a 466 page single novel.

For me, Jeryd’s arc was my favourite and in some ways reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s guards series – no not when Pratchett is being silly and humorous, but those rare moments of climax when things get serious and the humour drops away to reveal a great story about characters you love. What I especially love about this arc, is the way the reader is one step ahead of Jeryd, you’re feeling pretty smug with yourself, waiting for the big reveal, and then a revelation comes out of nowhere and blindsides you. Brilliant, just brilliant.

My least favourite arc was Randur’s. My big problem was that it felt, not like a story twisting and turning to conclusion, but a story where it wasn’t sure where it was going. That didn’t mean it didn’t have it’s moments, just that compared to the other character arcs, it felt a little lacking.

The result was an overall pace that was morish. “Just one more chapter,” you’d say and then get lost for another four. And when things result in a big battle in the end, there was an epicness to it that I’ve felt Epic Fantasy has been missing for quite a while.

It was a novel that started well and just kept building. On page 300, with approximately 150 pages to go, I decided to do something evil. This was already now one of my favourite fantasy novels of recent years, so I said to myself “forget how much you’ve enjoyed this so far, let it prove itself again.” And it did with a brilliant defining moment of Melum that had them doing something that made you cheer without destroying what had made this character great.

Just when I thought I had reached the pinnacle of enjoyment with the novel, it would throw something new in. And it kept doing that for 460 pages, an unrelenting barrage of ideas and twists and turns, from big epic battles that would not seem out of place in a war movie, to giant monsters made of coins or corpses to giant spiders and mad scientists. This novel doesn’t just grab your attention, it assaults you.

There’s every chance this may not become one of your favourite fantasy novels of all time but this pushed all my buttons, created some new ones I never knew about and pressed them as well.

Without a doubt my favourite novel of recent years and one of my favourite fantasy novels of all time.