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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

City Of Scars by Steven Montano (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Blood Skies 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Black Scars 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Soulrazor
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Crown Of Ash
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Witch's Eye
Read Steven Montano's guest post on Cross-genre writing
Read the prologue HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Steven Montano is the author of the Blood Skies series. Steven attended college at University of Colorado wherein he graduated with a degree in creative writing. He currently works as a certified public accountant. He’s also addicted to caffeine, movies, and NBA basketball. He lives with his wife, two kids, and a dog of dubious intellect in south of Seattle, Washington. Blood Skies was his debut. 

OFFICIAL BLURB: It’s been three decades since the Blood Queen led her legions on a brutal campaign of conquest and destruction, and the Empires are still struggling to rebuild. Now, in the distant aftermath of the war, the real battle is about to begin. 

Haunted by the crimes of his past, fallen dawn knight Azander Dane ekes out a mercenary existence as he drifts from one city to the next. His latest job is to hunt down Ijanna Taivorkan, a powerful outlaw witch desperate to escape her destiny. 

Dane and Ijanna find themselves in Ebonmark, the City of Scars, where deadly crime guilds and shadowy agents of the White Dragon Empire prepare for a brutal confrontation. Pursued by apocalypse cults, mad alchemists, exiled giants and werewolf gangs, Dane and Ijanna soon learn a deadly lesson – in Ebonmark, only the cruelest and most cunning can survive. 

CLASSIFICATION: The Skullborn trilogy is an epic fantasy trilogy that has dark and gritty overtones. Think The Wire meets The Lord Of The Rings as written by Glen Cook

FORMAT/INFO: City Of Scars is 328 pages long divided over seventy-six numbered chapters with a prologue. Narration is in third-person by Azander Dane, Ijanna Taivorkan, Vellexa, Mezias Crinn the Iron Count, Kol, Kruge the Voss prince, Colonel Aaric Blackhall, Marros Slayne, Harrick the Phage lord, Kath Cardrezhej, Aram Keyes, Jorias Targo, Sammeus, Cronak , and Bordrec Kleiderhorn. City Of Scars is the opening volume of the Skullborn trilogy

June 24, 2013 marked the e-book and paperback publication of City Of Scars and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is provided by Barry Currey

ANALYSIS: Steven Montano has made me a fan of his with eclectic genre mixed storyline that is his debut series, the Bloodskies volumes. I’ve read all of his previous books with various degrees of enjoyment however one thing is clear; Steven Montano is a man with a plan when it comes to his plots. When he announced his new series The Skullborn trilogy, I was very excited for the books after I read all about the series setting as well as the characters and the magic system. Steven was very kind to send over a review copy and so with high expectations I dove into this dark, war & magic ravaged world. 

The story opens in the prologue with a group of warriors making a slog through a wasteland to launch an attack on the Blood Queen’s forces. Things though never go as expected but surprisingly the events that follow change the course of the war and affect all parties and sides involved. Next the actual story begins with Azander Dane, a former Dawn knight who is now a mercenary and ekes out an existence that slowly erodes his self worth and conscience. He arrives in Ebonmark looking for a new job and finds himself in cahoots with Vellexa a bloodspeaker and a lackey to the Iron Count. His job as assigned by the Iron Count is to locate Ijanna Taivorkan. Ijanna is a bloodspeaker, a practioner of a rare form of veil magic and central to the plans of almost all factions. She’s driven by events beyond her control but she wants to be the driver of her destiny even though her destiny portends to many big calamitous events.

Colonel Aaric Blackhall is the head of the White Dragon army sent to do his empress’ bidding and locate a vital artifact in Ebonmark. He not only has to contend with the general populace’s animosity but also has to factor in the rivalrly between the Phage and Guild, two rival crime cartels seeking to establish their total supremacy in Ebonmark. Lastly there’s Kruge, a Vossian prince who is hated by all humans for who he is and is held as a slave by a particularly odious crime boss. There are many more characters and angles to main plot but that’s for the reader to RAFO. This story is basically about multiple events happening as various factions and individuals plot and act to further their own plans. The readers will have to keep track of the character list so they can remember who’s who and related to whom. 

What I loved about this story was how the author showcased a gritty world, which is still reeling after a war that has ravaged the continent. Imagine Europe after World War II and how all the empires and countries were shaken up. A similar situation is present here and the various cities that were previously under the yoke of the two dominant empires have now become their own rulers via the form of city-states. The theater of action for this opening volume is Ebonmark, the titular city and it is one that is ruled by crime cartels and ganglords who are all jockeying for power and further weakening the city. The world-building is truly massive as the author immerses the reader in an alien world with different types of races and magic however tying it to human sensibilities conveniently so as to make it seem inviting. With this volume, the author barely scratches the magic system and history of the world and so for worldbuilding geeks, this series should definitely be on your shelves for its ingenuity. There’s also the wide character cast, which is interesting to follow as each of them have their own lives and plans to destroy others. There’s a very strong LOTR vibe going on in this book as characters are introduced and we get an idea about the journey they might be taking in the sequel volumes. 

Then there’s the characterization and as readers of Steven Montano books will know that he can be trusted to write compelling characters. A similar case presides over here and with the change of genre; he particularly excels in providing several terrific ones and with the caveat of all of them being grey. That’s the juicy part of the story as all of the POV characters are mostly grey or black with degrees of good nestled within. All of them are tortured souls due to their own actions or those of the world. I think the author drives home the point that war affects everyone and I mean *everyone*! Lastly there’s the plot itself, which is twisted and completely unpredictable. I was left bewildered as most of my  plot predictions went awry and kudos to the author for making the plot complex and multi-layered.  It was heartening to see the author paint this grey crumbling world in complex shades wherein any action could have several interpretations depending on whose perspective you look from. There are no heroes only survivors and as the blurb states only the cunning & cruel can survive in the end.

This book while being quite good has some drawbacks to it. Firstly in certain sections the book’s pace drops down to a slightly languid level and that can be a turnoff. Also this book while a big, complex one also feels like a lengthy prologue to the events that are to come. There are also a lot of events and characters that are referred to but no further clarification is given. As a reader I felt intrigued by this book’s twists and turns but also a bit irritated by all that is hinted at and never revealed entirely. 

CONCLUSION: City Of Scars is the beginning of the Skullborn trilogy and is also an epic start to what promises to be a dark, fantastic story. I happen to be a fan of Steven Montano and yet was blown away with his dark, epic fantasy genre debut. Don’t take my word for it though, grab a copy and start reading to see why Steven is considered as a gem of an author who will go to further heights and brighter accolades.


Melissa (My words and pages) said...

You are hitting me with some amazing sounding new fantasies here. Thank you!

The Reader said...

No problem, let me know how you find this one :)



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