City of Ruin review

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Legends of the Red Sun series started last year with the brilliant fantasy debut Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton (the epithet debut could be debated since Newton wrote The Reef before Nights...). Let's see if the 'noir fantasy' young author came up with another success.

Villiren. The city is the new home of Rumex Jeryd, the rumel investigator who had to disappear from Villjamur. Among its walls, the city also shelter Brynd Lathraea, the captain who is in command of the Jamur Empire. The commander will have to prepare the defences against an invasion from the Okun, beasts from another dimension pouring through a portal. Beneath the city, some strangle people will have to decide if they take part in protecting the city. Meanwhile, Randur is trying to reach Lathraea to see if he could help with the renegade princesses.

I read City of Ruin as soon as it was available in store. Thus, since I had not read any reviews (even though I know some were already out for a while), I could only guess what awaited me aside from a direct continuation of the story in the same type of “noir fantasy”. As of the first moments of the action, we are dipped back in the same atmosphere as Nights. Moreover, I believe that it is really the strongest point of Newton writing, i.e. his skill to create an atmosphere lugubrious but vibrating, dark, vivid, mysterious and especially an environment which wraps us completely. I could feel pretty easily the dread of a city close to being assaulted. Mark has real talent for this and I hope he will continue to exploit it in force.

Then, when reaching approximately the middle of the book, the storyline of Randur Estevu resumes. At this point, what was called by several bloggers “the new weird” appears in profusion. I have to acknowledge that I was disconcerted at first. Yes it is a fantasy novel but Newton decided to completely batter the barriers in the second opus. In spite of some signs of this in the first book, like the strange aliens coming from the portal, I was surprised. The "meta" tale quite simply exploded in astronomical proportions in some strange kind of way. I read afterward that Newton was restricted in his "weirdness" in the first book and so this was fully intended. In the end, I admit that I liked that aspect.

When I criticized Nights, I mentioned that the author had really succeeded in creating a world similar to our own in term of reality for the inhabitants but in a fantastic groundwork. If one does not take account of the “new weird” aspect of the novel, this applies once again in the sequel. The subjects tackled by Newton are always of topicality and it pushes still a little further his “satire” of our society. Some topics such as homosexuality are even more obviously present and are very well handled by the author. Racism, politicians, relationships, religion, you name it.

Again, a little comparison with Nights. For the first book, I had some reserves about the changes and choices of PoV. Hopefully, I must admit that I can't reproach anything to Mark this time. This aspect proves very smoothly balanced in City of Ruin. The rhythm is better and always gives us a hunger to read another chapter to know the outcome of almost all the storyline. Despite everything, some of them are less palpitating (in my taste), like those of Beami, a new character, and her lover Lupus. I never grew to be interested in their idyll. Another small detail that goes in the plus side is the "up to speed conversations". Instead of explaining everything again, the author mentions that the character reveals what he knows to his interlocutor. Doing that, we get to read less repetitions of the same account.

Randur is relegated to the second plan but this is probably temporary. It is difficult to judge for the moment if Newton seems to slightly give up this character full of potential or if he will return under the main spotlight. Moreover, besides being the first protagonist to go through those strange situations, he eventually meets with a character way too typical compared to what the author had shown until now, an old alcoholic mentor who wants repentance. Not the kind of protagonist I expected.

However, plenty of new compelling characters are integrated in the sequel. Among those, Malum, an underground vampyr gang lord struggling with his fate, a mysterious Doctor seeking to help the populace and participate in the war effort in his own way, Jeryd's new aide Nanzi and some new beasties flowing with imaginativeness. It's not always easy to create that much good secondary characters around the well known protagonists but in this case, I can only admire the work. And also, the use of some curious cultists adds an amusing side to the narrative.

As for these well known heroes, let's simply state that they shine. Brynd is developed much further and his sexuality is now interfering with his action. His role is more considerable and he gets to take part in some very exiting action scenes. Jeryd is still the taciturn, honest hardworking detective that I grew to love so much. His storyline is full of surprises and he gets to be part of the action way more than he intended to. His reactions to all this are a delight to read.

City of Ruin is a nice improvement in almost every aspect for Mark. This bodes well for the future books in the series. The mix of weirdness, noir atmosphere and perspectives of our society examined through mature characters creates something quite unique and compelling.

I almost forgot to talk about magic and the cultists devices. They are an inherent part of the world and used quite frequently and skilfully. They are still hidden behind a good layer of mystery but there's not an overly significant evolution from Nights.

Technically, my feelings for the Tor UK cover of City of Ruin are mixed. The city background looks great but as I mentioned when the art was unveiled, I can't understand why they chose to draw Brynd in a cartoonish style... There is a map of a portion of the city and I hope that with the following books we will eventually get a glimpse of the whole archipelago. The book stands at 466 pages.

City of Ruin review score :

Characterization............. 9 /10
World building............... 9 / 10
Magic system................. 8 / 10
Story.............................. 8.5 / 10
Writing........................... 9 / 10

Overall (not an average) 9 / 10


Mark Charan Newton page


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