This is the second book in the Legends of the Red Sun series and although it takes place chronologically after the first, it is very much a standalone novel. The major characters from the first book are picked up in City of Ruin and you are introduced to some new ones that are interesting and original creations. A minor point worth mentioning is that although plot threads from Nights of Villjamur are touched on, the majority of the focus is on current events. Previous events are nudged along but not resolved and in some ways they are replaced by more pressing concerns or put to one side and they might be explored later in subsequent novels.
The story moves from Villjamur to Villiren, a decaying and desperate city which is directly in the path of the approaching alien army. Commander Brynd has been sent there to save the Empire and Investigator Jeryd has fled to the city to start a new life, free from the corruption and political schemes that riddled Villjamur. Unfortunately they have both jumped from the proverbial frying pan into the fire as the city is in many ways much worse.
The main focus of the story is around Jeryd's investigation of strange disappearances in the city, and Brynd's attempt to fortify and defend the city from an invading army of creatures they don't understand and can't communicate with. Randur and the ousted Jamur sisters also feature but their story is less prominent in the first half the book. The other new main character is Malum, a gang leader who is incredibly tough and physically commanding, but is in many ways emotionally crippled and unable to relate to anyone. He is also a subversion of a familiar horror archetype, and this is just one of the many ingredients from other genres that Newton introduces to create a new kind of fantasy. He also subverts his own creations, taking something from Nights of Villjamur and turning it on its head, so this book is not one for those who don't like surprises or atypical fantasy.
More space in City of Ruin is given to Commander Brynd, the albino Commander, and there is an in depth exploration of his lifestyle and the effects it can have on his job. In the story many people cannot tolerate his sexuality, from a moral and religious standpoint, and this issue comes to a head with some unexpected results.
Like Nights of Villjamur, City of Ruin is as much a story about the city and the people living there as it is about the war and the coming Ice Age. Both of these are pressing concerns on the minds of everyone, and major events in the book are shaped around these issues, but a lot of space is given to explore relationships as they affect the characters' ability to do their job. Inspector Jeryd is a favourite character of mine, despite the fact that he is not the best investigator in the world, but he does have this dogged approach that made me think of Peter Faulk's Columbo, only he isn't quite as sharp. In some ways I think this allows Newton to hide some clues in plain sight and it's almost as if he uses Jeryd's bumbling nature as a distraction. Because we amble along with Jeryd, stumbling into dead bodies and coming across new evidence by chance, we're not looking really paying attention to what's there.
There are some strong female characters in the book and they stand shoulder to shoulder with the men when events go from bad to worse. I was pleased to see they were not painted as emotionally retarded figures, because as tough as any of the characters are amidst the slaughter, we also see their frailties, and the women in the story are not immune either. I can't say too much more without spoilers, but I will say by the end of the book I was very attached to a minor character that had irritated me for the most part, which was a surprising turnaround.
As I mentioned earlier this fantasy series is not typical and sprinkled throughout are ideas and concepts from other genres, art, history and possibly what I interpreted as coming from the real world. Even in the first book we knew that the current society was built on the ruins of a much older and advanced civilisation and this is explored in more detail in the latter part of the book. New weird elements creep into the book and at one point something happens which almost strays into science fiction, which for me personally felt out of place, but other readers might not mind it at all.
Although the story is brutal, violent and bloody at times it also explores a number of real world issues such as discrimination, sexuality, corruption and politics, and it touches on religion. None of it is overt and forced, and characters do not suddenly break the fourth wall to stop and point out the issues. With the city on the brink of destruction, both from the ice and the invaders, the story is also about how different people react in their final days. For those who want to lose themselves and forget the world exists beyond their pleasure, places exist where they can indulge in as many fantasies as their coin allows. Others find they can't stand idly by and when faced with oblivion they spit in the eye of fate and brace themselves for a fight. All of the events and characters give the city of Villiren a very unique feel and Newton has done a great job of making it very distinct and different to Villjamur.
There are a lot of ideas packed into this book and it's very inventive. On the whole I didn't mind most of what was introduced as it enriched the world and added more texture and layers. However, I felt that the focus of the book was not as tight as the first in some ways and a couple of the minor events seemed contrived to manoeuvre characters into place rather than something that developed organically.
Overall it was a very entertaining and enjoyable read and I believe Newton has a vivid imagination which he puts to good use. He also doesn't strike me as someone who will write the same kind of book twice and this novel was more challenging than the first, in terms of scope and because it very surprising on more than one occasion. I suspect he will continue to push boundaries and stretch himself as a writer, so if you are looking for a new breed of fantasy book containing a wide variety of unusual elements, pick up Nights of Villjamur and City of Ruin.