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Thursday, August 2, 2018

City Of Kings by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Pre-order City Of  Kings over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Where Loyalties Lie
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Fifth Empire Of Man
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Start A Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic trilogy completion interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Best Laid Plans Series Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's SPFBO Aftermath Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey. Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.

OFFICIAL BLURB: War makes monsters and corpses of us all.

For generations the blooded have ruled the Wilds, cultivating a lawless frontier and bleeding the good folk dry. The Black Thorn, once the most wanted outlaw the world has ever seen, is set on stopping them, and bringing an end to the great game that oppresses them all.

Crucible is the only blooded fortress left, but not for nothing is it called the City of Kings. Its defenses are unbreakable, its walls unassailable, all built so one hundred can hold back a thousand. Worse yet, the Black Thorn is running out of time and there are darker things hiding underground, looking to turn the city into a tomb.

FORMAT/INFO: City Of Kings is 355  pages long divided into six titled sections and further spread out over fifty-one character titled chapters and an prologue. The narration is in third person omniscient via Betrim “The Black Thorn” Thorne, Henry, Anders Brekovich, Pern Suzku & Rose. This book is a standalone title in the First Earth saga.

August 6 2018 will mark the US and UK e-book publication of City Of Kings and will be self-published by the author. Cover art & design is provided by Shawn King.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: City Of Kings is Rob J. Hayes' next spectacular fantasy title after his SPFBO win early this year. This book is a standalone title focusing on the Black Thorn, his queen Rose and their gang as they try to conquer a city. This book while being a standalone entry is part of the author's grand plan for his world called the First Earth Saga. Simply put The Ties That Bind trilogy was the first foray. The Best Laid Plans duology was the next wave which illuminated another aspect of the world (the high seas and the pirates). City Of Kings is the next chapter in this dark world and while it is a standalone, the overall story line and characters would be better appreciated if one reads The Colour Of Vengeance (book II of the Ties That Bind trilogy) or the entire Ties That Bind trilogy beforehand. Also in terms of chronology this book is set alongside the Best Laid Plans duology. The epilogue of Where loyalties Lie & the first couple of chapters of The Fifth Empire Of Man (Elaina Black’s POV) serve as a prequel to this story and its ending is set just before the main climatic events of The Fifth Empire Of Man.

The story begins with a prologue wherein both the would-be conquerors and the Blooded clans attempt an unsuccessful parley. The peace attempts foiled, lead to the preparation of the siege of the city-fort called Crucible by Black Thorn and his army. Crucible is the home of the Brekovich clan and their head Niles Brekovich (think a Tywin Lannister like figure). However the Wilds have been now claimed under the leadership of The Black Thorn. What most folks don't know, is that the real brains & steel behind his rule is his wife Rose. Betrim "Black Thorn" Thorne is extremely happy with this arrangement as it leaves all the mental heavy-lifting, scheming and planning to Rose while he gets to fight which is more his sort of stuff. We meet again with the rest of his crew and since this is also set after the events of “Pre-emptive Revenge” [the short story featured in the GrimDark Magazine# 9], there have been some big personnel changes.

Henry is always present as Betrim's right dagger, still sharp and murderous as ever with even more scars. But her partnership with Pern has given a stable edge to her sharpness and she's even more deadly for it. Pern Suzku has been declared a Honin (after the events seen in The Colour Of Vengeance) and he can't seem to escape his fate from his Haarin clan. They will do everything to make sure Pern finishes what he couldn’t do before. There's also Anders who serves more than one master but is finally about to get to one up on his dad (the aforementioned Niles Brekovich) and the rest of his family. There are a few other new faces who have come aboard Rose's campaign to unite the wilds and this will be the final push to unite the wilds.

The story is set over a period of a week and it's a bloody one at that. Infact I would say that this book has outdone all of Rob's preceding titles in terms of action, blood, plot twists, and resolution. City Of Kings is the last book for a while in the First Earth saga and this standalone title has a solid finality to its ending. Talking about why I enjoyed this book, starting with the characters: Betrim, Rose, Anders, Henry, Pern are all fascinating personalities and even after two-three books featuring the aforementioned characters. Rob  J. Hayes manages to keep them multi-faceted and it's still refreshing to read about them. There are newer personality dimensions to be discovered and older problems surface. This is brought refreshingly to the fore as we get to see characters arcs play out (beginning from The Colour Of Vengeance) and there’s a finality to all of their  personal arcs.

There's also the plot pace and twists which keep this story from appearing as a staid one or even a stereotypical siege storyline. What I mean is that most readers expect certain tropes in a siege story and the author conveniently sidesteps them. Things get very, very intriguing and even bloodier than I ever expected (this after the savage climaxes of both The Ties That Bind trilogy and The Best Laid Plans duology). But to even hint at them lie spoilers so I will be silent... Safe to say while this is a siege storyline, events that occur are far, far more complex. Beginning with the underlying question that has been lurking throughout the previous five books, why are the dead returning as zombies all over the place?

Rob's world is a dark one and it's safe to say that it isn't a fair one. However because of his incredible writing, it's a world that I want to read more and more about. The mysteries which are present get revealed in small increments and there are bigger questions arising. Each of the previous books have revealed at the mystical background about the world and the players into the mix. We get another solid indication of one side in this book. It becomes apparent how big of a game the author is playing with his readers as the First Earth saga unfolds. The next series will be a trilogy set within the kingdom of Acanthia and is most likely set a few years after the events of The Fifth Empire Of Man and City Of Kings.

What didn’t quite work for me, possibly next to nothing! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it brings to close a lot of events that have been in motion from the author’s debut. To a certain degree, I think while this is a standalone story that can be enjoyed by readers completely unfamiliar to Rob’s work. I honestly feel readers will enjoy it the most if they read it after the Ties That Bind trilogy. So this IMHO isn’t a through & through standalone and that’s my only negative about this incredible read.

CONCLUSION: City Of Kings is a brutal story for its characters, the readers and for all the people mentioned within. It spares no punches (emotional, or literal) and truly showcases what happens before a regime change. How brutal it can be and how much of an iron will is needed to bring this about. In this regard there's one character who truly shocks and this is in spite of knowing their past deeds. Credit to the author for pushing the envelope even when he knew that the readers might not agree with his characters actions. City Of Kings truly cements Rob J. Hayes as a writer that combines epic and grimdark fantasy in the best possible way.



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