Tuesday 4 February 2014

The City by Stella Gemmell

Yes, Gemmell as in David’s wife. She worked with him on some of his books and completed his Fall of Troy series after his death. This is her first solo novel and by heck, it’s a cracker. This is, for me, the equivalent for fantasy of what Hawk Quest was for historical fiction. I don’t think she put a foot wrong in this one – it’s so well written, inventive and plotted that it was a joy to read.

What’s it about?  Well, it describes the efforts of a motley assortment of characters to bring down an apparently immortal and thoroughly decadent emperor who rules over the eponymous City. Some of them are fighting in an incredibly long war between the City and its enemies, others are inhabitants of the gloriously intricate under-City which is like some kind of mega-dungeon, slowly flooding and causing the city above it to sink. They are tied together by some truly brilliant plotting that is immensely satisfying when you finally realise how it all falls together.

The prose is realistic, particularly the combat scenes, gritty without being nihilistic or bleak in any way, with characters that you really come to like and want to see succeed. One of the main characters, in my mind at least is the City itself. There’s no map but by the end of the book you feel you could probably draw one. It’s a huge, sprawling place, amazingly real, and – as I mentioned before – built on so many levels, it’s a bit like Gormenghast. The world-building is sans pareil, and could give many DMs a lesson in how to make something at the same time familiar and yet strikingly new in its exoticism.

It’s 560 pages long, so as fantasy epics go, it’s rather mid-length. I could have done with more pages, to be honest as at no point did I feel that the pace was flagging. I’d recommend it if you like David Gemmell’s work but I think Stella should be read on her own merits – of which, if this is anything to go by, she has plenty.

1 comment:

  1. Loved most of Gemmell's books and this sure sounds like a good one in it's own right. Need to get this on my list :)