The City is ancient, layers upon layers. Once a thriving metropolis, it has sprawled beyond its bounds, inciting endless wars with neighboring tribes and creating a barren wasteland of what was once green and productive.
In the center of the City lives the emperor. Few have ever seen him, but those who have recall a man in his prime, though he should be very old. Some grimly speculate that he is no longer human, if he ever was. A small number have come to the desperate conclusion that the only way to stop the war is to end the emperor’s unnaturally long life.
From the mazelike sewers below the City, where the poor struggle to stay alive in the dark, to the blood-soaked fields of battle, where few heroes manage to endure the never-ending siege, the rebels pin their hopes on one man—Shuskara. The emperor’s former general, he was betrayed long ago and is believed to be dead. But, under different aliases, he has survived, forsaking his City and hiding from his immortal foe. Now the time has come for him to engage in one final battle to free the City from the creature who dwells at its heart, pulling the strings that keep the land drenched in gore.
Simply put, Stella Gemmell’s The City is awash in blood. The story lays out the gory ravages of a centuries old war to both citizens of the city, as well as all those that oppose it. This war has come to a point where there can be no winners. Each side has dehumanized the other and will fight until there is no one left to lift a sword. Which does not seem far off. Generations have been lost and life within the city walls has become so harsh and abhorrent that children have been relegated to a hard life in the underground tunnels, passageways, and sewers, fending for themselves.
is more about the city than any one person and it is very much a good vs. evil tale without moral ambiguity. At least that is how it seems. The Emperor encapsulates the role of ‘Evil’. All though, it is an Evil somewhat unknown because he has been sheltered and isolated from even his own people. He has been ruling since before anyone can remember and appears to have lost all compassion for his people, if he ever had any.
The individuals are a collection of people that help illustrate the current state of discontent, desperation and the desire to know a time of peace, to see an end to the ages old war. Their struggles and conflicts unfold for the reader during this critical time. A plan is formed to overthrow the Emperor to restore peace, the question remains; is the plan trustworthy? And who is really orchestrating it?
There are many things to love about this story. Gemmell’s illustration of the city is just one example. She has created a fascinating city that has grown by building upon itself over the ages. A river that use to run through the city has over time become buried, and part of the passages below, filling and flooding areas creating danger for Dwellers (the people that live underground) and shifting which passages are usable or safe to travel.
It is very much an exciting epic fantasy that just feels good to read. I believe it’s the type of story that holds many fantasy fans within the genre. In fact, up until about 75% of the way through, I had few complaints and much enjoyment. However at this point, there were a number of things that I felt detracted from the story as a whole. Without spoilers, I will just say, that there were some shifts in character that I found jarring as well as convenient coincidences. There were convenient coincidences prior to this as well, but at some point, it seemed to cross the line for what my willing suspension of disbelief could handle. Perhaps I should just view it as the fate of the world within the story and put my complaints of coincidences aside because overall, it was a tale worth reading.
The City is available now in the UK from Bantam Press, and will be available in the US from June 4th 2013, from Ace.