I usually approach any series of novels with enthusiasm and anxiety. I know that if the opening instalment is good then the chances are I will be a dutiful servant to every sequel that follows. I wasn't sure what to expect with McNally's The Sable City, the first in The Norothian Cycle series. Showered with glowing reviews I was naturally intrigued but as with every book I read I like to form my own opinion.
The novel initially follows the journey of an ageing and stubborn dwarf, Captain Block, and a guilder, Matilda Lanai a.k.a. Tilda who are looking for John Deskata, heir to the House of Deskata, which they belong to back on the Miilark Islands. It is their duty to bring the heir back and save their House from ruin. However, a lot more is afoot in McNally's world, not least the city known as Vod' Adia, the Sable City of the title, that opens its gates once every 100 years for opportunists to loot and pillage the rich treasures within. While the hunt for John Deskata continues, a horde of characters from various lands all descend on the Sable City and let's just say they're not all friends with each other!
The first thing you'll notice about McNally's novel is the impressive level of detail in the world of Noroth and most importantly the characters. In the opening pages we soon get a fabulous image of the ageing Captain Block while the dutiful Tilda may initially seem weak compared to her Captain but she soon proves to be strong, independent and courageous, a brilliant heroine to guide us through McNally's richly realised world. This being the first book in the series there is the need for a lot of background history at times to immerse us in the context of this period. I know from experience that it is hard to find a balance when it comes to world building in a fantasy novel but McNally has no problems here, his writing is completely assured and confident throughout but never arrogant.
Tilda's journey to the Sable City in search of the elusive John Deskata sees her encounter some wonderful characters. The entrancing and beautiful Nesha-Tari is something of a mystery and is accompanied by Amatesu and a samurai with the cool name of Uriako Shikashe. We also have a Duchess, Claudja, a wizard, Phin, and a soldier, Zeb. Oh, did I mention the dragons in here too but not just for the sake it. Each character has a purpose in the novel, no one is wasted. The characters all begin the novel separately save Nesha-Tari and her two companions but gradually everyone comes together in the heart of the Sable City where some pretty nasty creatures are waiting to take out the unsuspecting. You didn't really think you'd be able to walk in, help yourself to treasure and walk out again that easily, did you?
The Sable City is a long novel and may be intimidating for some readers. There are lot of characters and the book does switch perspectives often, even allowing us to drop in on the scheming of the darker forces at work in the novel. The world building is very detailed but it is essential to the overall story. While some of these elements may be off-putting to some people, I found that McNally handled it all like an experienced veteran in this genre. His characters have plenty of life to them, the story is action-packed and the dialogue refreshingly down to earth with some good humour and even flirtation thrown in as Tilda finds herself in what may be the start of a romance but I'm not giving away how it turns out.
The Sable City is an excellent opening to what I am confident will be a great series. Death of a Kingdom and The Wind from Miilark are already on my to-be-read list but in the meantime I am happy to join my fellow critics in a collective round of applause to Mr McNally. As a fantasy writer I like to read the work of others in my field and learn from the better writers. I've certainly learned a thing or two from The Sable City.