Author: Mark Charan Newton
Publisher: Tor UK
Publication Date: 4 Jun 2010
Hardcover: 400 pages
Villiren: a city of sin that is being torn apart from the inside. Hybrid creatures shamble through shadows and barely human gangs fight turf wars for control of the streets.
Amidst this chaos, Commander Brynd Lathraea, commander of the Night Guard, must plan the defence of Viliren against a race that has broken through from some other realm and already slaughtered hundreds of thousands of the Empire’s people.
When a Night Guard soldier goes missing, Brynd requests help from the recently arrived Inqusitor Jeryd. He discovers this is not the only disapearance the streets of Villiren. It seems that a serial killer of the most horrific kind is on the loose, taking hundreds of people from their own homes. A killer that cannot possibly be human.
The entire population of Villiren must unite to face an impossible surge of violent and unnatural enemies or the city will fall. But how can anyone save a city that is already a ruin?
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Legend of the Red Sun series but can be read as a stand alone (I did)
How did I get this book: The author offered a copy for review
Why did I read this book: I’ve had my eyes on this series for a while now. I follow the author on Twitter and recently read an excellent post on his blog about writing sex scenes and about writing his homosexual character. I was immediately sold.
Villiren. Part of the Empire of Jamur, in a crumbling world, doomed by an approaching Ice Age. A city where the wealthy and the poor cohabit, where crime exists in all spheres of society. This is where Night Guard Commander Brynd Lathraea has been dispatched to from the city of Villjamur to investigate a recent genocide in the nearby town of Tineag’l. Meanwhile in Villiren itself, a series of disappearances catches Brynd’s attention and he tasks Investigator Jeryd, recently stationed in Villiren, to get to the bottom of it. Brynd and Jeryd are only but two out of a cast of characters whose plot threads web and flow to form a cohesive picture.
And what a picture this is: a blend of Fantasy, Horror and Mystery (with even a dash of Romance), the story catapults the reader in this strange, strange world filled with weird creatures ranging from Vampyrs and Banshees to Hybrids and Giant Spiders. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. City of Ruin is the sequel to Nights of Villjamur and even though I did not read the first book I was never lost and that is due to Newton’s clever writing with no info dump to speak of, instead visiting the world via the eyes of its characters. As both Brynd and Jeryd navigate the streets of the city we get glimpses not only of Villiren and its denizens but also of the world in which the city is located.
It is certainly a world that seems to be dying, collapsing under the threat of ice and of invading forces which present a twofold problem that the characters must face. This is perfectly addressed by Brynd’s and Jeryd’s storylines as the first deals with the military aspect of defending the city even when its inhabitants couldn’t care less, whereas the latter finds himself involved in a more immediate issue: how does this City, a city in ruins, which for all intents and purposes should be dying, get its food supply? The need to survive at any imaginable cost is what I feel, propels many of the characters in this book.
Villiren doesn’t stand on its own though: it is part of an Empire ripe with political intrigue as a new Emperor has usurped the throne. Three characters which I assume were major players in the previous book are slowly making their way to Villiren and one of them, a woman, seems to be the rightful Heir. On their way, they come across a new being who might have the answer for why they are being invaded; political intrigue aside, organised Religion is also part of the Empire’s life and its tentacles spread all over as are Cultists, who search for and use remnants of ancient technology as sources of power. There are also several mentions of parallel world, other dimensions whose doors are open from which some of these creatures came from.
What is this world then? Is this OUR world, perhaps thousands (or more) of years in the future, when the sun is dying? Do Cultists look back at artefacts from our past? Or is this world something else altogether, perhaps another dimension who looks INTO our world? My working theory is that yes, it is our dying world. The use of known language points to it but also some of the artefacts. In one very small sequence, you blink you miss it, there is the allusion to this painting, hanging from the walls of a BanHe’s house (seriously. A BanHe, one of my favourite characters in the book, the only known male Banshee who feels the deaths but who is unfortunately, incapable of releasing the grief like his female counterparts). How ironic yet fitting then that he has this painting:
Although I feel I could have done with more details of the world building (of the “Why” and “How” variety) I understand that these might be slowly revealed over the course of the series. And ultimately, atmosphere, writing and characterisation trump everything else. And I can’t stress this enough. City of Ruin is violent, dark, bloody, with a noir feel to it but the writer infuses this story with enough hope and love to make it just shy from being hopelessly Grim and Gritty. And it is in the depth of his characters that I found the connection I am always and forever expecting to have with the books I read. All of them, to one extent or another have a measure of complexity and even what I perceive as the villains have something to make them more. This is especially true of those who Jeryd are looking for, or for example, Malum, a semi-vampyr, the leader of an underground gang. He is a violent, bigot, wife-beater
who ideally will die a horrible death one day but who is also a man grasping to keep his humanity.
My favourite character though is Brynd, the Albino (he is the guy in the cover) leader of the Night Guard, the elite guard who are chemically enhanced and nearly invincible, the testosterone fuelled armed hand of the Empire. He is effective, intelligent, powerful. He is also gay in a world that sees gay men as sissies, homosexuality as a perversity, an aberration. Brynd lives with this secret (although he seems to have somewhat accepted who he is) always on the brink of losing it, because should anyone ever finds out, he is likely to be killed and all of his work with the Night Guard lost. The bigotry he finds amongst some of his friends or coming from members of the church is enough to make me want to burst into a ball of fury
and step into the pages of this book and dispatch these people to hell. I loved Brynd’s portrayal because it never veers into exploitative and he is far from being the token effeminate gay character I tend to find in Fantasy (Lev Grossman, I am looking at you). Brynd just is – in fact I would go as far as to say that the author managed what very few can: who he is, is NATURAL. The bigotry is what is hateful and unnatural. There is this one scene where he goes in search of a male-prostitute in the underground that just about broke my heart when he thinks:
this was now a body at least, another man, more than he’d known in a while
Here is to Brynd: may he, one day, find freedom to touch whomever he likes.
I do have a few minor issues with the book. As much as I liked the characters it was with some of their arcs that I found problems with. Two characters undergo huge changes too quickly, one of them overcoming a life-long phobia in a matter of minutes. Two other get over the death of close friends far too easily – after a first wave of grief. I think that it takes away depth from these characters that are otherwise, perfectly drawn.
One last word. I cannot finish this review without mentioning the female characters. After the recent fiasco with Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding where females characters were basically walking talking vaginas at the beck and call of the protagonist, it is great to see an author who gets it. The female characters here are women on their own right, never in relation to other characters. They are distinctive, diverse and interesting. From Beami, to Eir, Rika and Artemisia all of them play a huge rule in the book (although they have less scenes than I wished them to have) and in fact, I would go as far as to say that when the time comes (OMG huge awesome battle in the end), the women totally saved the day and look: without having to use their vaginas. Kudos to Mark Charan Newton.
Now bring me the next one please. WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE IS NO SET DATE YET?
Notable Quotes/Parts: A Couple of quotes that I loved:
Few people were blessed or cursed enough to have their own moment in life, a window of time in which they were the centre of the world and everything revolded around them. Tonight Brynd had a whole city waiting on his every word and, no matter what he said, there would be bodies littering the streets on a scale no one would comprehend.
She sighed and focused on him with those big black eyes – so much was happening in that gaze, so many conversations from the past returning. He kissed her fondly, smelled her hair. It was funny that these would be the things he missed the most, the details he barely remembered in everyday life. He was more afraid of being without Marysa than he was of dying.
A painful goodbye.
Marysa went off first, leaving an overwhelming sense of emptiness, and the hotel room seemed to pause in time
The first book in the series Nights of Villjamur just came out in the US (and as paperback in the UK) and the author has a series of interesting articles at Omnivoracious to celebrate it.
Verdict: If you can’t tell, I loved City of Ruin, it is definitely one of the best Fantasy novels I read this year: it is creative but also weird, violent yet hopeful. It has sex and love, tears and bloodshed plus strong characters to root for. Recommended.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading next: Irredeemable Vol.3 by Mark Waid