Saturday, July 16, 2016

The City Stained Red (Bring Down Heaven) by Sam Sykes

The City Stained Red (Bring Down Heaven)
640 Pages
Published by Orbit
Written by Sam Sykes
$16.00/$14.37 at Amazon

I'm a book hoarder. If it goes on sale and I have some extra money, it goes on the shelf. This is especially true of digital books as the digital shelf has a lot more room.

Many moons ago I picked up book one of Bring Down Heaven, The City Stained Red, and thought no more of it.

A mistake I'm rectifying now. I'm still reading it, but it's highly enjoyable and very much fits into a classic Appendix N read fit for roleplaying inspiration.

The tone is highly sarcastic, a touch dark, and not shy. There is more than a little profanity and amusement to be found in Sam Sykes anti-heroes. The world is also not a pleasant one as some of his fantasy race analogs tend to be more than rough around the edges.

So what did I like about the writing? What makes it fit into some role playing modes? Here's a nice bit from the start.

"You're an adventurer." He spat the word. "Too cowardly to be a mercenary, too greedy to be a soldier, too dense to be a thief. Your profession is wedged neatly between whores and grave robbers in terms of respectability, your trade is death and carnage, and your main asset is that you're completely expendable."

There's a lot of things like that.

Now if you're looking for Lord of the Rings, Conan, or even Elric type heroics, then no, The City Stained Red is just not going to do it for you. While there are great battles and numerous factions to watch for, these characters are not necessarily cut from the same cloth as say the Twain or Hawkmoon.

But if you've enjoyed some Parker novels like The Folding Knife or the Hammer, or some Prince of Thorns... it's right up there.

In terms of little seeds you can steal and use in a RPG right away, consider the following:

1. Gang War: Often used in Samurai movies and remakes of those samurai movies, there's nothing quite like walking through town and finding yourself in the middle of a gang war as strange but distinct individuals from two clans are gunning for each other and whoever gets in their way.

2. Access Denied: The quote about adventurers occurs when one of the heroes is trying to get access to "the city" and denied. Often it's assumed that characters have free reign to go where they want. In today's highly political world, in today's highly untrusting world, in today's world looking for easy scapegoats, that might not be the case. Perhaps one of the demi-humans like elves or dwarves are wanted for crimes against the kingdom. Perhaps all Northern Men are distrusted. Whatever the cause, getting to the city in the standard fashion just isn't going to cut it.

3. Media Res: Start the campaign off after the adventure while the characters are looking to get paid. They agreed to take on a job and now their benefactor has wandered off. Was it intentional? Was it a kidnapping? Is he trying to stiff the party on the bill?

4.City Sights: There are two noted things that the reader gets to experience through the characters. One is a statue of "The Hound Mistress", a well loved figure who defeated, at least temporarily, a guild of rogues and assassins known as the Jackals. The other is a massive tower structure that looks like it couldn't have been made by humans because it wasn't. Try to give your cities their own unique personalities, especially in longer term campaigns. 

Same Sykes does a great job of bringing a lot of classic fantasy elements to the table with a modern sarcastic tone and I'm highly enjoying it and may have more to say after I finish off the novel.

Anyone else read The City Stained Red? Any favorite parts?

Is Sam Sykes follow up a solid read? His other works?

Hit me up in the comments with similar recommendations!