Title: The City
Author: Stella Gemmell
Publisher: Transworld Publishers, 2013
Troy: Fall of Kings, after his death. The City is her first solo effort, and this tome is a big book in more ways than one.
The City, ruled by a supposedly immortal emperor, has been at war with neighbouring nations for so long no one truly remembers a time when there was peace. The City has stood for eons, with each age building on the ruins of the past. An air of decay and dissolution permeates everything, with the sense of a golden age that has passed.
The Reds try their utmost to defend the City from the invading Blues, and there are those on both sides who realise that this constant warfare must come to an end. But no only does no one really know who the emperor is, he is also ably defended by his guards and protected by the ruling families who lord it over the common folk.
The story unfolds over years, as we follow in the footsteps of a large, varied cast that includes sewer dwellers, disgraced soldiers and an exiled general – all who are fighting for survival and for a way to end the conflict.
Gemmell’s ability to hold together so many narrative threads is masterful. Not only that, but her attention to detail paints a vivid picture of the setting and its people, that unfolds gradually to create a magnificent tapestry of a saga. Even the tiniest detail is important, and Gemmell shows that she can hop from a tension-filled battle to a tender moment between lovers without faltering.
Mostly, The City is a story about those who are called to heroic acts, that on their own might seem like they don’t amount to much. When considered in their combined effect, these acts illustrate that these sacrifices do make a difference.
The only downside that I can think of is that readers don’t get enough time to deeply identify with any particular character, as there is so much going on. That being said, this novel is, as its title suggests, more about the war for a city’s heart rather than the individuals who bleed for it.
Lovers of epic military fantasy will be right at home with The City, which will toy with readers’ loyalties as characters’ allegiances shift, and battles are lost and won. The ending itself brings with it mingling disappointment. I asked myself, “Is this all?” but then I thought about the turn of events, and the fates of those who lived, and felt satisfied by the outcome.