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Sunday, March 7, 2010

"City of Dreams & Nightmare" by Ian Whates (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Ian Whates Website
Order "City of Dreams & Nightmare" HERE
Read an Excerpt from the Novel HERE

INTRODUCTION: "They call it the City of a Hundred Rows. The ancient city of Thaiburley is a vast, multi-tiered metropolis, where the poor live in the City Below and demons are said to dwell in the Upper Heights.

Having witnessed a murder in a part of the city he should never have been in, Tom, a lowly street-nick, has to run for his life through the City Below, Thaiburley’s unsavory basement world. Accused of committing the murder himself, he is pursued by sky-borne assassins, Kite Guards, and agents of a darker force intent on destabilizing the whole city. His only ally is Kat, a renegade like him, but she proves to have secrets of her own…"

The blurb of "City of Dreams & Nightmare" is the perfect hook for me, so I was very surprised when I discovered that I did not include the book in my 2010 Anticipated Novels post since I was not aware of it until recently when I saw it in the Angry Robot catalog.

I got it at the first opportunity and read it almost immediately since it's a very entertaining page turner and a superb novelistic debut by another author to watch.

Actually Mr. Whates has another series starting this year with Solaris this time and which as space opera is also a great fit for me, the first book Noise Within due in April. Based on the style of City of Dreams and Nightmare, that is another asap for me as will be the announced Fall 2010 sequel of the Thaiburley sequence, City of Hope & Despair.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "City of Dreams & Nightmare" stands at about 430 pages and is divided into 18 numbered chapters. The main POV's of the novel are Tom, the "street-nick" with a remarkable talent for hiding and whose expedition from the under-city to the highest level of Thaiburley proved to be dangerous in quite unexpected ways, Tylus, the less than fully self-confident Kite-Guard from the "middle class of the higher levels" that will have to undertake a perilous mission in the City Below, Dewar, a former mercenary/assassin and currently butler and bodyguard of the main villain, assemblyman Magnus and Kat, a strange girl with unexpected connections and talents.

"City of Dreams & Nightmare" combines elements of fantasy and sf in an "enclosed world" setting - though Thaiburley is not strictly speaking isolated, but is connected by the river Thair to the nearby countryside - and the best description is as an adventure tale with quite a lot of things thrown in, so it has lots of sense of wonder, mysteries that give the setting a very "expanded" feel despite the relatively limited geographical location while keeping the expected "urban" motif.

In a sense what "The Bookman" did for steampunk, "City of Dreams & Nightmare" does for the "enclosed city adventure" sub-genre, with all and sundry of its paraphernalia thrown in a superb book. While the main threads of the novel are solved, the hook for the sequel is nicely set at the end.

ANALYSIS: "City of Dreams & Nightmare" has two strengths that make it such an addictive read. Sense of wonder and fast pace with many twists and turns. It is hard to overemphasize how many cool things the author throws in here, but I will give several examples:

-magical cape flying policemen - Tylus the Kite-Guard is one such
-nasty and even monstrous creation like the huge Demon Hounds, spider-like creations that act as spies or parasites that can influence the will of malleable people
-superb weaponry combining classical blades, swords and crossbows with lots of new, inventive ones
-intriguing aliens in the lizard like "Jeradine" and their highly valued "sculptures" made from - read the book to discover what!
-magical powers, including healing, ability to enter minds, ability to hide - or are they just advanced and forgotten science?
-several superb fight scenes, including a (small scale) battle that is for the ages

And that is just a sample of what the novel has to offer, so even if only for that and it is worth reading it.

"City of Dreams & Nightmare" grabs you pretty much from the first page and then you really do not want to put it down since it just twists and turns and the threads following the main characters above are all deftly handled with very smooth jumps and several crucial interludes following the "true movers and shakers" of the novel.

I also liked its style which is very direct and appropriate for its pace, with each of the four characters being a distinctive personality, though it's true that none acquire much more depth than his/her role suggests. But you will root for them, including for the seemingly nasty Dewar who shows some hidden qualities after all and in one of the more touching scenes of the novel, comforts a "working" girl - who used to be an agent of his when he worked in the City Below - and who got badly beaten by a client; I leave to the reader to imagine the fate of said client if Dewar tracks him down.

Since Tom and Kat are quite busy trying to survive for most of the novel, it is not surprising that Dewar and Tylus are developed slightly more, but the respective "mysteries" of both Kat and Tom make up for that.

Highly recommended as a strong A and a fun, page turning sff adventure that will enchant all fans of such


Quill said...

I hope this writer grows a bit. I realise it´s easy to yell this sorta stuff from the sidelines, but...

Ian whates seems no maestro at the art of subtle writings. When astonished, the characters make outright statements saying so. Thus the praise for the main character´s acheivements is easily perceived as cheap and somewhat incredulous.
Though I dare say he realises this himself. It´s hard to miss. Intentional? Meh.

Liviu said...

I kind of like how the author writes and I think it suits the stories he tells.

I do not disagree necessarily with the "unsubtle" part, but sometimes unsubtle is subtler than it seems and a straight-out storytelling mode works better than a seemingly more sophisticated one.

Quill said...

Sure. But it comes at the price of credibility (<-- yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds)

I can't quite get myself to believe an actual person'd talk the way they do in the book. Perhaps I've never met one :)

(I did, however, enjoy the book)

kudos on the review

Liviu said...

Actually you are absolutely right about suspension of disbelief since for me it is the biggest stumbling block in most sff novels - for the latest example on FBC see my take in the Enterprise of Death co-review with Robert.

What triggers breaking it is usually something very personal - for me sometimes naming conventions that do not feel right are enough, just to name something seemingly trivial - so I understand very well when people say "oh, I just do not believe this" whatever my opinion of it

Quill said...

Forgive me but given your insightful reply, I simply have to add one more thought. Namely:

Aren't those breaking points easily avoided spotting and adressing them? (By way of the characters opinion)

Example... A wise man's fear. The conversation between Denna, simm, wilem and kvothe in the eolian, where they talk about the 'pretty' names of their craft and why they aren't simply referred to in leymans terms... About elar if I remember correctly.

It also adds a little cred and depth to the characters. <-- then again, ofcourse this in itself could become a breaking-point if done crudely.


Liviu said...

The thing is that what is one person break of suspension of disbelief is another one's high point of the book so to speak.

I have been participating for many years - long before FBC - on sff forums and newsgroups and I am still occasionally surprised at what makes one love a book or utterly dislike it


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