on 5 September 2010
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.
on 23 November 2010
I had read the first book by MCN, Nights of Villjamur, which was quite entertaining and enjoyable. City of Ruin is a bit of a backstep. It was unsurprising and unoriginal. It might not help that i could pick out a lot of MCN's influences throughout. To be influenced by great authors is no bad thing, but it lead to the book being pretty predictable and it was as if i'd read it all before. The story is fairly bland despite the regular use of violence and swearing.
The book revolves primarily around five characters in the city of Villiren, which is the second biggest city in the Empire and the biggest trading city. It's a bad place, with the portreeve or warden of the city being corrupt and criminal gangs having a fairly free run of the city. A lot of characters from the first book reappear having all inexorably moved (or moving to Villiren) to escape the fallout of the first novel's plot.
The citizens of Villiren are awaiting the imminent invasion of an alien army and are trapped in the city, while a killer is on the loose snatching bodies off the street. Jeryd, a rumel (a sort of longlived reptile) investigator who after exposing corruption in Villjamur moves to Villiren to escape any backlash, strives to find the killer along with a new sidekick after the one in Villjamur tried to kill him and died. My two main problems with Jeryd were that even though he's a reptile, by all descriptive accounts anyway he has no problem in the cold, which leads me to believe that he must be a warm blooded reptile. Secondly i found his "the good investigator" rhetoric to Nanzi (his sidekick) reminded me weirdly of Professor Layton of the DS games.
The second main character is Randur, again from the first book. He's escaping Villjamur on foot with the last of the surviving members of the Empire, princesses Eir and Rika and are on the run from the new Emperor and the military. His first encounter with enemies lead to the death of a friend, who helped him in the first book, but is never thought of again by Randur after then. Obviously not that great a companion. Randur's chief thought in this book is to keep Eir (the woman he loves) safe and largely the characterisation is pretty consistent, if slightly shallow.
Next is Malum, a half vampyr gang leader and pretty much king of the underworld. Malum is possibly the least convincing character in the book. He's written as a sort of violent, evil screw-up who runs the underworld with a bloody fist. Here's how he thinks
"no doubt she would be overjoyed to have this opportunity to try out some new-fangled evil"
The language during his POVs is so unlikely, so unfitting to what is expected and it makes his character feel very contrived. There is very little difference and times between Malum, Randur and a third not as important character, Lupus. Now these are all of an age and MCN has difficulty throughout the book in making them feel different. They're all dry, less than serious heart throbs really.
Fourthly is Brynd, the homosexual albino commander of the elite Night Guards. Brynd is actually written pretty well. Doing his best to organise his defence of the city against the alien invaders. What i didn't like was the homophobia thread in the book. Malum a great big massive homophobe hates Brynd, which is fine, but it's the repetitiveness of "f****g queer, unnatural, laying with other men" that got on my nerves, his reasoning was quite shallow. I know people would argue that homophobia is shallow, but MCN handles it so clumsily that it never felt real to me.
Lastly is Beami, Malum unhappy lover. She's a powerful cultist (allowing her to use relics, the technology left behind by the previous great civilisation). She's strong, a bit torn between loyalty to Malum and hating him and altogether possibly the best written character. Her motives are solid and understandable and she has exciting moments in the book.
City of Ruin isn't terrible, it is quite fashionable given the rise of "New Weird", but it's so superficial and so unoriginal. There's a scene where Jeryd goes to meet Malum in a brothel of sorts and sees a spliced human animal sex creature, which is highly reminiscent of a scene in Perdido Street Station by China Mieville where there is a brothel for people who enjoy more exotic tastes in women and the whores are Remade, part animal or oddly "enhanced"
There's a lot that's similar to Mieville in this book and Gene Wolfe to the extent that it didn't feel as fresh as Nights of Villjamur. He handles the fight scenes very well though, it's just his characterisations and just general use of language that needs to be improved. There's a moment where a character rolls a cigarette with "an air of androgyny" and it doesn't mean anything. There are lots of moments where the words sound good, but are meaningless. How can an action pertain to androgyny? Who would observe a person and think "he is performing that action without either obvious male or female attributes"? There is another moment where a person snores triumphantly.
There are also real world influences, with Trade Union conflicts and political corruption making a appearance. There are plenty of moments that wouldn't be out of place in a non fantasy novel and i like what MCN is doing here. I've often thought that fantasy/scifi ought to be less of a genre and more of a setting, not pivotal to plot only there to augment it. So there's a plus. There is moment where he (i hope) tongue in cheek suggests that the north of the Empire is less open minded (about homosexuality and race) than the south, which people living in England may see as a wink in our direction, though like i say i hope he isn't being serious.
By the end of the book there is a set up for what could be a very good third book, but MCN needs to address characterisation, credible motivation and use of language first. I would read this again if the third book is better as part of the series, but not as a stand alone.
on 31 January 2014
A really good read with a unique perspective on a fantasy world. Clearly the author knows a lot about taxonomy and evolutionary biology which I thoroughly enjoyed as a Biologist myself however I'm not sure if everyone would understand some of the nomenclature used in this book. Despite this the books storyline is brilliant and a truly twisted plot emerges which captivates you! This book displays a brilliant insight into a world where multiple hominid species co-exist and the problems which arise from that. A brilliant book and I recommend you read it!
on 10 June 2010
For centuries, the traditional greeting between strangers and passing acquaintances across the length and breadth of the Boreal archipelago has been a respectful utterance of "Sele of Jamur," but the time of the Jamur empire has passed, and it did not go quietly into the good night. The Emperor is dead - long live the new Emperor, Urtica, a power-hungry former councilor whose machinations have driven the rightful heirs into exile; a door has opened to another world from which pour countless legions of alien creatures with dark designs on the denizens of a city already on brought to its knees by crime and corruption. Brynd Lathraea, Commander of the Night Guard, arrives in Villiren to organise a last-ditch defense against an impossible force only to find its populace unmoved by their impending extinction, while Inquisitor Rumex Jeryd, another newcomer, finds himself caught up in a disturbing serial murder investigation. But because people don't know what to say to one another, who to trust, no-one's saying anything, and the bodies start to pile up. It is a time of unrest, a time of war... and the end has only just begun.
Nearly a year to the day since Nights of Villjamur, rising star Mark Charan Newton returns to the world he painted so memorably in the first book of The Legends of the Red Sun with a sequel which outdoes that breakthrough fantasy in almost every sense. And that's saying something. We're talking about a book which attracted great acclaim from all comers here; an author whose fledgling efforts have seen him compared with a who's-who of genre greats. An unfortunately contrived last act somewhat dampened my own enthusiasm for Nights of Villjamur: an overabundance of convenient twists and characters acting against the internal logic Newton had established for them meant that I came away from it thinking... good, yes, absolutely - but truly great? Not quite.
Nevertheless, you have to allow for a little awkwardness in the opening acts of such grand sagas as The Legends of the Red Sun promises to be, and whatever its failings, Nights of Villjamur hinted at some incredible things to come. City of Ruin, I'm pleased to say, delivers on near enough every one of its predecessor's promises. Its characters act in character for the duration; their dialogue is snappier and significantly smoother; the action is bigger, better and more satisfying by all accounts; and the grand scheme of this ambitious quintet is revealed at last, to tremendous effect.
The first lesson City of Ruin teaches readers is to expect the unexpected. Though far from its only flourish, the titular setting of Nights of Villjamur was surely its greatest strength: a grand and subversive imperial capital alive with spectacle and intrigue. Having constructed such a fantastic canvas for the epic movements of The Legends of the Red Sun to take place upon, you might presume Newton would return to Villjamur in City of Ruin, yet the action herein takes place in another location entirely: a seething city on the very fringes of the Empire's grasp where gangs rule the roost. In and of itself, Villiren is not quite the equal of Villjamur, but the author broadens his focus still further to take in the larger landscape of the Boreal archipelago, and together with the crumbling city, the world is a more vibrant and fascinating place than before. Indeed, it is a dying earth, a motif only alluded to in Nights of Villjamur which pushes through the crowded irens and bustling frontlines to the fore in book two.
You get the distinct sense, in fact, that Newton has let loose his imagination in City of Ruin. From a cave-monster made of coins to a floating island a la Hayao Miyazaki through a great behemoth on the battlefield amalgamated from fallen bodies, the set-pieces here seem weirder and more wonderful than any in book one of The Legends of the Red Sun. Newton has spoken of how his creative wings were clipped during the composition of Nights of Villjamur, and commercially speaking I suppose the restraint makes a certain amount of sense. Herein, however, having achieved that mainstream success, he spreads them far and wide, and it's a joy to behold. City of Ruin is darker, harder and more dramatic than its predecessor. Those issues Newton had to tiptoe around before he addresses head-on this time, and it's a breath of fresh air to see a genre that so often shies away from the genuinely relevant questions of our age in favour of counterpoints abstracted by imagination deal with the likes of homophobia, domestic abuse, corruption and poverty.
City of Ruin is a big book of big ideas and big issues. It's fun and it's frank, difficult yet easy to swallow. It takes all the good of Nights of Villjamur and makes it great, whilst relegating the majority of that novel's problems to the farthest margins. There's still little clunk from time to time - a "dead corpse" is the worst expository offender, and a few allusions to the work of Jack Vance and China Mieville are so blunt as to take you out of the experience - but overwhelmingly, book two of The Legends of the Red Sun is a roundly more rewarding and polished endeavour than its predecessor. City of Ruin stands as a sterling example of modern epic fantasy with a twist of the new old weird that realises the incredible potential of Mark Charan Newton's earlier work with style, panache and glorious imagination.
on 30 November 2012
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Mark creates some excellent characters and tackles some really interesting topics throughout the book. It is also not your typical "fantasy" book. It is one of the few "fantasy" books I've read recently that felt like it was in an original setting. Well worth the read!
on 23 November 2013
I spend a lot of time browsing Kindle fantasy and scifi in search of worthwhile reading. I haven't had much luck lately and my Kindle seems to be filling up with rubbish. Thank goodness the reviews for N of V were reliable.
I very much enjoyed the first book of what I hope will be a lengthy series and am now about to download the next one, 'City of Ruin'.
Keep 'em coming please, Mr. Newton, and thanks.
on 18 July 2010
This is a great book, a definite improvement on the first, and really enjoyable to read. There is a particular chemistry to Newton's world, and I felt Nights of Viljamur - while great - was a little encumbered by the wealth of ideas and quirks that the author writes into his stories. But with the lore and characters already established, there is a better focus and development on individual storylines. Villiren is a great backdrop for these, and the book doesn't hop between different locations as much as the first; I feel this makes for a stronger sense of place and plot.
There aren't many dull moments in the book and the chapters are quite short. When there isn't any action, Newton pays close attention to inner-workings of each character's psyche and I find them to be very believable, especially inspector Jeryd. I recon everyone knows someone like him, though maybe without quite as bad pyjamas. The book doesn't shy away from real-world issues such as prejudice, war and the environment, keeping it relevant to the world we live in.
All that aside. It's just a damn good story and I'd recommend it to those who like reading, not just speculative fiction.
on 18 October 2010
I won't write a long and involved review of this novel like the other reviewers - I'm just a reader who loved a book and wants people to know about it! I had to read City of Ruin, having got very attached to certain characters in Nights of Villjamur. However, you don't have to read the first in the series to enjoy this one - it could definitely stand alone. City of Ruin definitely didn't disappoint, in fact the writing was much better and more assured than in Nights, with a plot that made it very almost unputdownable, especially as the pace really got going towards the end. I absolutely loved the strong female characters in this book, especially Marysa and the older cultist lady (I forget her name). The scale and ambition of the plot are pretty impressive - you've got full-on war, gangs, corruption, monsters (human and animal), love stories, murder and the fabulous backdrop of the city. I will admit to shedding a few tears at certain parts (I won't say which!) which for me is the sign of an engaging story!
on 3 June 2010
In City of Ruin we are in Viliren, a darker place than Villjamur, effectively run by gangs and is a place of commerce rather than politics.
Jeryd finds himself in a city where people are more suspicious of the Rumel and investigating a number of strange disappearances.
The albino commander Brynd is charged with protecting a city full of gang members who are unlikely to help against an unknown foe. The Commander of the Night Guard also faces his own battles with prejudice, for both his colouring and his lifestyle.
Mark cut loose a little on this book, it's not just a repeat of the excellent Nights of Villjamur, the story has advanced and moved away from the political intrigue to more practical matters like feeding a city with a war coming and ensuring there is an escape route for the civilians. The forthcoming invasion by the Okun has to be prepared for and as always, everyone has their own problems to distract them. To add to all of this things are getting a little weird within the city itself. The characters are delightfully complex, the most repugnant behaviour tempered by some sympathetic moments, these are characters I can fret about and worry between chapters what will happen to them. The story moves along at a good pace and strikes a good level between action, personal and investigations.
I read "Nights of Villjamur" a good while back, at a time when I was only just getting into reading fantasy. It was a revelation, proving that my opinion on fantasy had been based on generalised misconceptions. The novel weirded me out, at times, and I couldn't always relate to the characters, but I was nonetheless impressed with Newton's imagination and prose. "City of Ruin", which I left for far too long on my shelf, is improved in almost every way and I was hooked very early on. This is a truly superb novel.
When I read Newton's first novel, I was put in mind of an amalgam of China Mieville's "Perdido Street Station" and "The Scar" (the atmosphere of the former, but the accessibility and style of the latter). After reading "City of Ruin", I dare say I think Newton's even better than that. His novels may not be for everyone, but there's depth, and captivating prose and plotting, and it's impossible not to be swept up by his writing.
A lot of reviewers have pointed out how, in "Nights of Villjamur", the city Villjamur was as much a `character' as the protagonists and antagonists within it. In "City of Ruin", Villiren is wonderfully rendered: from the shanties and underground fighting clubs, to the more salubrious districts, and the tense atmosphere of the docks, and we get a real sense of the city, its politics and strange customs. However, the novel is foremost a study of how people act and behave under adverse conditions; along with the (corrupt) politics of the city and world, "City of Ruin" discusses discrimination and sexuality, as well as religion and its place in society - all are tied in to the idea of how characters react, and entrenched biases endure, in trying circumstances. Each of the themes Newton touches on have strong resonance for our own world, and they are all handled in an intelligent, nuanced, and interesting way. As events build to the eventual siege, friendships and loyalties are tested, and it is up to each character to either step up and work for the common good, or give in to their own selfish impulses.
There is no one protagonist, no single character who monopolises the novel. Instead, there is an ensemble cast of variously miscreant, devious, proud, and honourable characters; all of whom are interesting and enjoyable to read about.
If I had one tiny criticism, it was that the novel jumps perspectives quite frequently to begin with, as we are reacquainted with characters from the previous novel, and introduced to new ones. I can see why Newton did this, and it wasn't jarring, but I did find myself sometimes wishing he'd remained with this or that character for just a couple more pages. It was for this reason that, for the first handful of chapters, I was wondering when something might actually happen. A minor niggle, and one that quickly disappears, but one you should be aware of.
As I sank into the world, however, my worries dissipated completely, and I just let the story and the author's prose pull me along. The pacing suits the temperament of the novel - perhaps a strange word to use, but there was something calm and measured about the novel; Newton is not in a hurry to get us to the end, rather it seems as though the author wanted us to have as full a picture as possible, before things kicked off. He doesn't overload us with exposition or back-story, but instead the novel unravels at what feels like a very natural pace. Over the course of the first few chapters, the characters fill us in very quickly with brief synopses of the world's politics and some of the events of "Nights of Villjamur". I would say that you don't have to read "Nights of Villjamur" to enjoy this novel, but you will certainly get more out of it, not to mention another interesting read.
The author's prose are, in a word, exceptional. His descriptions are evocative, yet stripped-down. His characters are well drawn, realistic, and nuanced. The plot is gripping and engrossing. Everything works. His world is filled with such weird and wonderful invention, that it's impossible not to be taken by it.
Newton's novels can, at times, be rather unusual. I normally like my fantasy novels a little more `normal' or `conventional', but "City of Ruin" is undeniably excellent, and throws some interesting curveballs at the reader (not to mention its tendency to straddle a good number of genres). The eccentricities of the novels might not make The Legends of the Red Sun the best place to start reading fantasy, but if you're open to something different, highly original, and beautifully written, then they are a must.
City of Ruin is intelligent, thoughtful, and elegantly brutal. Newton doesn't shy away from difficult or uncomfortable subjects. On the strength of this novel, I would say that "The Book of Transformations" (publishing in June 2011) has shot way up on my list of anticipated, must-read novels of 2011, and I won't wait anywhere near as long to read it. This was a difficult review to write, as I enjoyed the book so much. If I had read this last year, it would certainly have featured in the `Best of' lists.
Thoroughly rewarding and a pleasure to read, "City of Ruin" is a huge improvement from an already-gifted author, and is very highly recommended.
For Fans of: China Mieville, Richard Morgan