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