Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"City of Hope and Despair" by Ian Whates (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Ian Whates Website
Order City of Hope and Despair
Read FBC Review of City of Dreams and Nightmare

INTRODUCTION: City of Hope & Despair is the second book in the series about Thaiburley, the famed City of a Hundred Rows that has started last year in City of Dreams and Nightmares.

I was a little surprised by some aspects of it; most notably the fact that it is a *middle book* in a trilogy - not a 2nd part of a duology as I expected, so it has the typical structure of such where things advance, some threads get solved but nothing essentially stands on its own.

The blurb below provided the other new aspect, namely the expansion of the story beyond Thaiburley though the city features strongly in the second main thread of the novel.

Dark forces are gathering in the shadowy depths, and the whole city is under threat. The former street-nick, Tom, embarks on a journey to discover the source of the great river Thair, said to be the ultimate power behind all of Thaiburley. Accompanying him are the assassin Dewar and the young Thaistess Mildra. It soon becomes evident that their journey has more significance than any of them realize, as past secrets catch up with them and unknown adversaries hunt them... to the death! "

According to the information inside the copy I have, the concluding series book will be called City of Lights and Shadows and there is an excerpt that gives a hint where it goes.

ANALYSIS: City of Hope & Despair essentially starts where City Dreams and Nightmare ends, though it takes a little to get there since the first pages of the book are a sort of extended prologue that seems disconnected from what came before.

Inside Thaiburley nasty things stir and bad things happen, most notably a creature called The Soul Thief - who does precisely what its name says and steals the souls especially of the people with a little "talent" - is on one of its occasional rampages. To add to uncertainty, the city's underground is in flux after the events of the first book and new gangs appear to take place of the decimated older ones

Kat whom we last have seen locked into mortal duel with her sister for the mastery of the Tattooed Men and the Arena is the main protagonist here with her sister - their battle gets postponed due to the Soul Thief of course - and a various cast, mostly familiar from the first book; this part is a little weaker than the first book mostly because it brings little new and reads not unlike typical UF stuff, but Kat makes it worth reading.

In the second thread we get to see the world outside Thaiburley and learn some backstory and some of the big picture issues, when Tom is sent by the First Minister on a crucial mission with DeWar as a "bodyguard" as well as two other companions. Of course there are people/entities that do not want the mission to succeed and they command a skilled assassin with a personal grudge against DeWar to stop them at any cost. This part alternates the expected - fights, ambushes,...- with a lot of world building expansion and it is pretty good.

So the content of the book is comparable with book one with the large advantage in originality City of Dreams and Nightmares had by simply being the first book in the milieu, being only partly compensated by the expansion of the universe here.

In execution, I would say the books are also comparable so City of Hope & Despair moves fast and is a page turner with everything that made City Dreams and Nightmare entertaining. The action takes place in a fairly limited amount of time so the main characters do not change much, but we find out crucial information about their background and that adds to their depth as well as offering a better understanding of their motivations and actions from the first book. These "back story nuggets" scattered throughout City of Hope & Despair were very well done and I found them a major new strength of the series.

City of Hope & Despair (A) ends like the first one with a semi-cliffhanger in one of the two main storylines and with a clear to be continued in the other, so the trilogy ending which I plan to read asap of course will determine how the series stands for me.

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