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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"City of Ruin" by Mark Newton (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Mark C. Newton Website
Read an Extract from City of Ruin
Order City of Ruin
Read FBC Review of Nights of Villjamur
Read FBC Interview with Mark Newton

INTRODUCTION: City of Ruin is the second novel in the Legends of the Red Sun series - currently projected at four volumes - and it follows Nights of Villjamur which I reviewed last year. In that review linked above, I talked at length about the setting of the novel, the essential characteristics of the world created by the author - old, multiple disappeared civilizations, forgotten science as magic, incoming ice age, island based imperial setting so less centralization and homogeneity, several extant races including the main two: humans and the longer lived rumel - as well as about the principal characters, some of whom lead City of Ruin too.

While City of Ruin shifts the action to Villiren which is another important city of the Empire that stands directly into the path of the alien invaders from the first novel, the essential characteristics above remain true, so I will refer everyone to the review above for more details.

As I mentioned in the review of Nights of Villjamur, I had the honor of corresponding with the author for a while and I have received and read a final draft of City of Ruin twice - typos and all, which did not diminish my enjoyment one bit - as well as the final version which I reread at leisure. Also and not really deserving it, I have been honored to be included into the acknowledgments page of the novel, so as usual the objectivity disclaimers apply.

However knowing the author even only through email conversations as here, is always a two-edged-sword. While I expected to really enjoy the highly awaited City of Ruin, I was also apprehensive since there have been enough instances of anticipated books that worked less well for me. Happily City of Ruin exceeded the already high expectations I had mainly because the author started going quite deeply into sense of wonder and new weird territory, while keeping enough of the traditional fantasy modes to ground the novel too.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "City of Ruin" stands at about 470 pages divided into 55 numbered chapters. There is a map of Villiren and a Prologue that starts things on a very intriguing note. Several of the main POV's like Brynd, Jerryd and Randur carry over from Nights of Villjamur, while in Villiren we also meet gang leader Malum, his estranged wife Beami and her former childhood friend Lupus, currently a soldier in the Night Guard detached to defend Villiren under Brynd's command.

There is also an assorted cast of secondary characters like Lutto the Portreeve of Villiren - mayor or governor if you wish, though he is independent of Villjamur to a large extent - assistant investigator Nanzi, Jurro the Dawnir, Villjamur "scientist" Doctor Voland and of course Maryssa, Rika and Eir, with several more that I leave the reader to discover.

Starting essentially where "Nights of Villjamur" ends and with the main thread being the defense of Villiren, "City of Ruin" is in many ways a standalone novel with a clear ending, while of course building more towards the big picture. At the boundary between epic and new weird fantasy, "City of Ruin" (A++) is stranger and with more surprises and twists than "Nights of Villjamur" making me quite eager to see where the author will go next.

ANALYSIS:

"City of Ruin" continued the interlinked multi-pov style of Nights of Villjamur and the transition between characters and threads was smooth and I felt the author got the balance quite well, spending the right amount time in each fragment.

Though I missed a little Randur - and of course Rika and Eir who accompany him in their desperate flight from the usurper - since he was quite a favorite character for me and City of Ruin takes a while to get to him setting the main Villiren story first. But when we get to the travel narrative of the three which is the only part of the novel set outside the city, the wait pays off and that part became another favorite of the novel with twists, turns and sense of wonder galore.

In Villiren proper, the sense of decay, the quiet desperation and the tense wait for the seemingly imminent attack by implacable enemies is presented almost flawlessly and constitutes an amazing piece of world building. While there is a tendency towards extremes in portraying characters like Malum - a sadic bully with an excuse - or the Portreeve - a corrupt, stop-at-nothing and the author really means it, for preserving his personal power and fortune - Brynd, Jeryd and especially Beami counterbalance that well and who knows, as desperate war comes to Villiren there may even be redemption for some.

The novel delves more into the mysteries of the world with more amazing artifacts of power and quite a lot of strangeness. We also get to see the reasons Brynd's Night Guard is the elite military of the Empire. Since total war comes to Villiren and casual brutality is a fact of life in the Empire, do not get overtly fond of anyone since any character, from the main ones to secondary but interesting ones, may die.

City of Ruin also has a rich and diverse content, from romance, including as befits the new weird sub-genre, one of the strangest such, to intrigue, mysteries and of course brutal battles since the title is apt for sure. The novel builds up relentlessly and then in the last hundred pages or so it becomes all "heart-stopping" action, so much so that even after knowing how it ends and I was still enthralled by that sequence. The last chapter has one of the most poignant endings I've read recently while the previous two chapters set up the next installment in the series.

With this novel Mr. Newton shows that Nights of Villjamur was no fluke and he is entering the rank of premier fantasists working today.

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