I rather like the way that this book is split into a number of sections, each one focusing on a different level of society. The story begins at the very bottom with those poor souls who can descend no further. They barely survive in the ancient ruined sewers, living in the darkness and filth. Next the action moves to the ranks of the Immortal's armies. Finally we get to learn what is going on with the walls of the City itself. In each location we find numerous people who want to see an end to the current regime.
Often when I'm reading epic fantasy fiction, there tends to be a standout character, not so in the case of The City. This novel really works because it's an ensemble piece. There are a plethora of well-defined, superbly-executed characters that inhabit this novel. From Bartellus, the grizzled old man, who finds himself responsible for a child he never wanted, to Fell Aron Lee, the highly decorated soldier who has to face a growing realisation that the war he is fighting isn't the just cause he thought it was. The author breathes real life into these individuals making it impossible not to get caught up in their lives.
My only real criticism is that I don't think that I could recommend this to anyone with a short attention span, there is so much going on here. This novel demands you pay attention to everything that is going on in every single scene. For example there are a couple of characters who, for plot related reasons which I'll not divulge here, change their names. If you're going to get put off by things like that then you would be wise to give this a miss. Personally though, I loved it. Like the City itself, there are a myriad of layers in this story to discover.
The individual journeys that each of the various characters take all turn out to be important. The author takes the opportunity to play around with the novel's timeline. Things aren't always linear and there are a couple of occasions when scenes are repeated but from a differing perspectives. These multiple viewpoints help to very effectively establish the whole story rather than just one character's take on it.
I'll be honest, it did take me a while to get into The City, but once I did I really found that I enjoyed it. Things start at quite a slow pace but gradually they build and the solid writing drew me in. There was a wonderful moment about half way through where everything just suddenly clicked and I found myself absolutely hooked. By following the various factions attempting to realise their plans, there is an ever-growing sense of tension. Even before the final, inevitable, showdown you get the feeling that things are going to get bloody and not everyone is going to make it out of this alive.
Gemmell manages to pull off a rather impressive sleight of hand. She keeps the reader focused on one strand of the story while scattering the plot with subtle clues about what is actually going on elsewhere. It's only in the final chapters that all the individual story elements are brought together and you realise the true depth of excellent fiction you've just read. This is engrossing stuff that's expertly executed.
For a long time now the name Gemmell has been associated with first-rate fantasy that truly resonates, fantasy that quickly falls into the category of classic. Based on the evidence on display here I don't see that changing anytime soon.
on 8 May 2013
I am sure almost every copy of The City has been sold to fans of the late, great D.G, hoping beyond hope that the magic he created was still, somehow, alive & well. I know that's exactly why I purchased it. I read the synopsis & it seemed good enough for me to buy into, so I did. The book is a traditional weighty tome & upon opening & seeing the large GEMMELL name inscribed on the cover I must say I was excited! I tried my best to give Mrs David Gemmell some leeway & told myself over & over that this would not be another Legend or Waylander. It really isnt.
However...much to my delight the book is well written, clever & in all honesty a more grown up novel than the majority of D.G's. I dont mean that at all disrespectfully but The City has to have your full attention as the story lines merge & blur constantly ensuring a good mix of fantasy, thriller & good old Gemmell magic! The start is definitely slow & any Gemmell fans will be thinking at around page 50 "this is average at best" but there was definitely something there, a sense that just around the corner it would jump into action, and to be fair it did. Somewhere between pages 50- 100 I found myself enjoying it immensely & from that point on I was totally & completely hooked.
As some of the other reviews have touched upon, The City is not the story of a Druss, or Skilgannon, rather the combined stories of multiple people attempting to change their lives. It works brilliantly & as a debut novel this has to be deemed a huge success. Personally I cant help but think that a main hero would have made it more mainstream in terms of critical acclaim & keeping her husbands fans onside but maybe Stella Gemmell will be a huge success in her own right with an audience made up from old Gemmell fans to many new ones. I certainly hope so on the basis of this book.
Overall then I loved this book & its complexities but can see that it would not sit well with all David Gemmell fans who were used to very simple plots with outstanding characters, this is the opposite with an outstanding storyline & merely good characters.
If you are a fantasy fan you will enjoy this, if you are a Gemmell fan you will probably enjoy this, if you are over 25 with a triple digit i.q you will love this.
Buy it, 8/10 & a fantastic 1st effort, I cant wait for the next one!
on 8 June 2014
Another Netgalley find. I actually received this book as an arc at the time, unfortunately this review is coming to you after the release. Not my usual genre, thought I would try something different.
This was a big read. I must admit it took me a while to get through. I found it easier to get into some scenes more than I did others. This is probably what took me so long. But even still, the book kept drawing me back, I wanted to see what else was going to happen. I really thought this book was great. But, there was just something about it that can't make me give it more than 3 cupcakes. Some parts I would find myself reading in bigger chunks, I just needed to know what was going to happen next. Other parts just didn't hold my attention so well, I found myself really just reading through these parts in hope that I was going to get back to the story and characters of who I really wanted to read more about.
There are many different timelines and different views from various characters. Most are very skillfully woven together, some however could have done with that little bit more attention. The world building and storytelling was well done and I found myself quickly interested in a few of the characters and their storyline.
I do feel though that it is worth a read. If you do decide to read it and find yourself in the same situation as I did, persevere.
Congratulations to Stella Gemmell, may you have many future successes!
<a href="http://firstname.lastname@example.org">Opinionated Cupcakes</a>
on 14 July 2014
Stella Gemmell’s The City is a strange book. It’s difficult to say why it’s strange without going into spoiler territory, but suffice to say that it is strange but the strangeness is a good thing — you never quite understand exactly what the book’s about until you get to the end, and that’s what keeps you reading.
On the face of it, the plot is simple enough. There’s an ancient city — only ever referred to as ‘The City’, even in dialogue — that has been at war with its many enemies, collectively known as ‘The Blues’, for years. The City has started to fall into ruin and its enemies have devised a plot to take down the emperor, Araeon ‘The Immortal’.
The plot involves a huge cast of characters, with suitably Heroic-Fantasy genre names like Bartellus, Fell Aron Lee, Marcellus Vincerus, Indaro, and Archange. Some characters even take second names, just in case the existing cast wasn’t comprehensive enough for you, and some even take second, and third, bodies (dum dum dummmmmm).
If the thought of so many characters concerns you, worry not, for as quickly as Gemmell introduces them, she often just as quickly dispatches them. Her writing may not be as brutal as George R.R. Martin’s, but she’s certainly as efficient in trimming down her cast. A fact the book benefits from as you get the feeling any peril in which the characters find themselves is real, which keeps things interesting.
There is a magic element to The City, but it’s fairly understated. We’re not talking about mages running around shooting fireballs from their fingers, lightning from their eyes, or… bees from their mouths (is that one? I’m not convinced that is one), but rather it focuses on just a few characters — a race known as The Serafim — who have peculiar abilities to do… what, exactly? It’s actually quite difficult to tell (I did say it was understated) but the basics appear to be an outrageously long lifespan (there’s a reason the emperor is known as The Immortal) and emitting a humming sound that makes people just explode.
One of the things I found most interesting in The City was the number, and importance, of female characters. It seems rare in this genre to find an abundance of dangerous, powerful women, and the inclusion of many female characters makes for a much more balanced, authentic world. The women of The City aren’t just politicians, administrators, carers, or young girls in need of rescuing (although they are those things too), they’re soldiers — they’re killers.
Gemmell obviously felt compelled to explain how that came about and puts in several sections of back story on bringing women into The City’s army, as well as constantly reiterating throughout the book that it was A Big Thing that there are female soldiers — but to me this felt superfluous.
This is a novel set in a fantasy world with its own history, traditions, and rules (people can be made to EXPLODE at will, for crying out loud), and we, as readers, just accept this without having to have it rationalised. We accept the reality with which we are presented, so if we are shown a world where women are every bit as deadly, every bit as vital to an army, as men, then we shouldn’t need someone to justify how or why that could be plausible. What hope is there if an author has to pander to someone saying, “Oh, now look here — I was absolutely on board with this fellow making someone combust just by humming, but a lady with a sword — that really is too much!”
There’s a lot of back story in The City. It’s a book that starts off about Emly and Elija, two children living in the sewers, looked after by an aging ex-soldier named Bartellus, before jumping forward nearly a decade to tell us the story of Indaro — one of those pesky sword-wielding women — and her commanding officer Fell Aron Lee. There are several chapters dedicated to the back story of Fell, jumping back and forth between his present day situation and his life as a youngster brought into The City. This hopping back and forth along the timeline happens throughout the book but manages to avoid being a distraction and reveals much about the central narrative.
Some people have a real problem with back story. Literary agent Jonny Geller tweeted in May, ‘“Back story” is called “back story” for a reason. Keep it back. #writetip’ to which one Twitter user responded, quite brilliantly, ‘Please could you let Star Wars know.’
In any case, I happen to disagree with Geller. I think, provided it is well-handled, then back story can be an enjoyable part of any book and, in the case of The City, it all feels like it should be there.
With so many characters and multiple storylines spanning various timelines, the ending was always going to be difficult to pull off, but for the most part I think it was well done. Everyone comes together for the final scenes and the key story elements reach a fairly solid conclusion.
That said, it does leave one or two questions unanswered and there were a couple of plotlines hinted at early on that were never realised, while the character Archange’s explanation of certain actions by Marcellus right at the end felt a little thin.
In keeping with the book overall, the ending was somewhat strange and left an odd taste. It becomes blurred as to whose side we should really be on and it’s hard to tell if the ending is a happy one. I suppose, really, this is a story about four characters in particular, Emly and Elija, Indaro and Fell — and their stories all reach a satisfying conclusion.
I’m keen to read more by Stella Gemmell. Given the amount of back story she has put into The City, I’d be surprised if more novels set in this world didn’t materialise, though I wouldn’t expect them to follow any of the same characters or storyline. That story has been sufficiently told.