Sunday, February 12, 2017

The City by Stella Gemmell

The City
Written by Stella Gemmell
Paperback $16.00
Kindle $9.99

Stella Gemmell may be known to some as the co-author of Troy: Fall of Kings, but most people who have read fantasy will recognize her as the wife of David Gemmell, an author known for his action packed sequences.

The good news is that Stella Gemmell is a solid writer in her own right. I had not read Troy. I had no interest in the story. I was always more of a fan of David's other series, the Drenai.

I didn't know what to expect from the City. The description makes it sound intriguing, however.  An immortal lord, the emperor, has ruled the city forever. The City is engaged in wars against all comers, and the lands around have suffered from it. Where forests used to be, now it is barren. Where grass grew, now rock.

So several factions seek to bring down this immortal emperor. In some ways, it reminds me of a cross between a fantasy version of Warhammer 40K and the Elric series as we have these rare beings who mingled with humans and their descendants have vast psychic powers that can destroy any opposition in the blink of an eye.

Stella brings out the rare natural events. "There had never been a storm like it, in all the City's ten-thousand-year history. It swept in from the north-east one bright sunny morning, and by the evening, when the deluge mercifully stopped, thousands had been drowned by the waters, and tens of thousands were homeless."

These powerful events propel the action forward in ways that might not have otherwise occurred. It may sound forced to some, but history is littered with such events including a molasses deluge in 1919.

Stella also brings out little details that make the city come alive.  "The white cats of Lindo did not like to get their paws wet and had migrated to the upper levels - the roofs and upper stories, the bridges and buttresses which supported the crumbling buildings. They abandoned the damp streets and waterlogged cellars to the black rats, only coming down at night to feet.

"Many of the cats were still pure white. Over the centuries they had often mated with lower feline orders but their bloodline was strong, and when a deviation occurred - brown paws or a ginger mask - it would disappear again in later generations. They mated often amongst themselves, and raised their kits in the nooks and crevices of the crumbling chimney stacks and rotting leaves of the north side of Blue Duck Alley."

In between the ancient city and the vast events happening, we are introduced to numerous characters including Shuskara, a former general, as well as those Shuskara comes to care for and raise as his own, such as Emly. We see those who struggle against the emperor, as well as those who fight for him. It's a vast tale and takes over 500 pages in hardcover to tell.

The City doesn't dabble in high fantasy. There are no battles where wizards riding dragons come in to save the day. There are tough tattooed soldiers fighting on the front lines. There are odds and ends of a chaotic battlefield. There are a few strange beasts in the land, such as the gulon, a feline creature.

It's not the same as David's work. We don't see the same type of indestructible soldiers we do in say, Legend, but we do have heroism and heroics aplenty.