#SPFBO Review: City of Burning Shadows by Barbara J. Webb

It's time to play catch-up this week on my reading for Mark Lawrence's Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. I actually read 3 of the finalists over the holidays, but with so much else going on at the office and at home, I'm just finding time to draft the reviews now. First up . . .

Something of an urban fantasy, science fiction, noir detective novel crossover, City of Burning Shadows makes the fatal mistake of trying to do too many things. I got the sense in reading it that Barbara J. Webb was stretched a bit too thin, with a better book lurking beneath the pile of genres and idea.

There are several concepts at play here, any one of which could carry a story on its own. We have a world that gods have abandoned and a desert city that is dying, slowly robbed of its water by that abandonment. We have a city that is home to over a dozen different races, including shapeshifters and aliens. What's more, we have a city divided in two, with the technologically superior Crescent (a city in the sky) above, and the shadowy shanty town Web below. Linking it all together, we have an ex-priest, now working for a law firm, who is seeking out a new technology that could save the city from its god-stricken drought.

While this mix of genres and concepts seems to have worked for some readers, I felt as if they were in conflict, preventing one another from being full realized. There's just so much potential here left unexplored. For me, the science fiction elements overwhelmed the story, and kept the more interesting elements from being explore. The mythology and world building were intriguing, but there wasn't nearly enough history or backstory to pull it all together and have it make sense.

The writing is solid, and the characters are well-defined, but the dialogue didn't always flow naturally for me. With the exception of the book's middle portion, which felt like one of those clip montages from an adventure movie, the pacing was decent and did help to keep the story moving. It was an interesting book, but I can't say it's one I was anxious to pick up again after stopping for the night.

Paperback, 344 pages
Published March 13th 2014 by Frontiers


  1. Perhaps she'll be more focused for the next book. Sometimes throwing in everything but the kitchen sink just doesn't work.

  2. I found it exhausting just reading about this one, never mind actually picking it up. I can kind of relate to the author though. I am currently working on a story that had a lot of ideas and thoughts whirling through it. Too many, so I have now decided to break it up into three separate but interconnected stories. I think it's much better to put in the extra work and hold back the release than to release it when in my heart I just know it's not ready. Still every writer is on a learning Journey and we all have to learn somehow, even if it's the hard way lol

  3. I hate it when dialogue doesn't flow naturally. This one looked promising, but not sure if it's for me now I read your review.

    Majanka @ I Heart Reading

  4. I found the world-building made up for dialogue issues, but I know I'm a gigantic culture-geek, so the way Webb threw together such a diverse cast and world was likely to cover a multitude of sins for me anyway. :p


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