The third volume (and possibly last) in the City of a Hundred Rows series neither breaks particularly new ground nor squanders that which has been put in place in the previous installments of the series; whilst this might make it sound simply workmanlike and adequate, Whates' closing volume is neither, and sheds new light on areas previously in shadow, both of the city itself and the series.

City of Light and Shadow picks up right where City of Hope and Despair left off, and this review will contain spoilers, so the majority of the review will be under a cut.

Read more... )

In the end, City of Light and Shadow is an excellent conclusion to one of the best series to come out of the still-young Angry Robot Books; although, especially given the nature of the setting, if Whates chose to continue with another book, he could easily do so, since enough ends are left loose to allow it without too much shoehorning.  Brilliant work, and I highly recommend the entire City of a Hundred Rows trilogy to you.
Following on from The City of Dreams and Nightmare, Whates' second novel in the series has an equally dualistic title, mirroring the first novel; but also more abstracted.  Oddly, this story is much less focused on the city, and the title doesn't have the same degree of resonance to the plot as that of the former - though it does sum up the various strands better.

The characters of City of... are mixed in a way reminiscent of the first book, in part because many of them are the same - Dewar, Kat, Tom, Mildra; Dewar's new role allows for a good deal of further character development with his background being revealed, brilliant as it is; and Kat becomes a more interesting figure as well, as she developes and her relationship with the Tattooed Men and her sister Chavver comes more to the fore.  Equally, Tom, a bit of a plain-Messiah in the first novel, with an innocent naivete, is much more fully rounded here; he's much less innocent and much more human.  The new characters introduced, or fleshed out and brought to the foreground, are also better than in the first novel, presumably because the background needs less establishment; the Prime Master and Seth are both brilliant characters, really individual and well drawn.

The two (three?) plots of the novel, which seem utterly unrelated in virtually every way, are really well done; Kat's plot, with the Soul Thief, an interesting figure and idea with some brilliant mixed motivations on the part of Kat and the Tattooed Men, has the sort of twists which really take one's breath away.  However, there is also an extent to which too many of them are foreshadowed and telescoped; not much comes as a surprise - although that's not to say that none does, especially towards the end.  Tom's plot, the standard adventure-quest, is also a little formulaic and straightforward; though the complex role of Seth adds a brilliant element, and the really well done Mud Slinger episode is wonderful, humourous, and absolutely brilliant, with two fantastic characters appearing and disappearing rapidly but forming a wonderful little part of the book.

Overall, then, this novel is one I would heartily recommend; City of Hope and Despair is a fantastic book, full of emotional ups and downs, turmoil and adventure, drawn with a steady, deft hand by Whates, whose authorial control is magnificent. I really want to see where this series is going.

Out in March in the UK and Australia, April elsewhere in the world. Review based on an eARC provided by Angry Robot Press.
Ian Whates' novel is a mixture of impressive and less-so, depending on the aspects one looks at, what one values in a novel, and where one is in the story.  That's not to say he's a bad author, just something of a mixed one; the world-building is certainly amazing, and creative, and the characters generally good, but the plot is (to say the least) choppy and predictable, whilst the writing itself is... problematic.

The characters, then, include 4 to 6 main foci; Tom, Kat, Dewar, and Tylus, with the prime master (whose name we never hear) and Magnus also playing important but mostly off-screen roles.  Tom and Kat are very much fleshed out and well-drawn characters, with pasts, histories, and emotions (although some of those emotions are rather... boring and expected; oh look, the boy and girl have feelings for each other!).  They're interesting and engaging, although at times a touch too perfect and messianic (Whates, at one or two moments, seems to have been drawing too directly and heavily on The Matrix).  The others, however, are rather less well-drawn characters; they're simpler, more basic people without the emotional depth or the individuality of Tom and Kat.

The plot suffers from many of the same problems - it isn't unexpected, with even the "twists" being foreshadowed oh-so-heavily, and supposedly surprising revelations telegraphed.  If you want a book you're surprised by, this isn't the one to get; the strands of plot are all tied up neatly at the end, but for one, left utterly open, but the drawing together of the strings is clumsy and obvious, not to mention downright wish-fulfillment in parts.  Everyone gets their just desserts, and happiness and light prevail.

What redeems the book is the worldbuilding; the City of a Hundred Rows is as much a character as any of the people, and it's a far better character than most of them.  It's original and well-drawn, incorporating all kinds of interesting ideas; drawing on Minas Tirith and Petra (or seeming to), it also reminds me of the city at the centre of Alan Campbell's Scar Night.  Unlike that city, however, this one is more stratified, more interesting, and more creatively invented - the concepts that are combined to make it what it is are fun, and one gets the feeling that there's so much more to explore than we are told.  It's a real, living breathing city, and it's the thing that makes this book a joy to read.

So, if you'll accept a wonderful setting as an adequate substitute for a plot anything more than decent and characters more than choppy and a little bland, this is a good read; I'd not recommend it, but I can't say it's not good either.


Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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