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City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton Foxhead Send a noteboard - 23/11/2010 02:53:34 PM
I had read the first book by MCN, Nights of Villjamur, which was quite entertaining and enjoyable. City of Ruin is a bit of a backstep. It was unsurprising and unoriginal. It might not help that i could pick out a lot of MCN's influences throughout. To be influenced by great authors is no bad thing, but it lead to the book being pretty predictable and it was as if i'd read it all before.

The book revolves primarily around five characters in the city of Villiren, which is the second biggest city in the Empire and the biggest trading city. It's a bad place, with the portreeve or warden of the city being corrupt and criminal gangs having a fairly free run of the city. A lot of characters from the first book reappear having all inexorably moved (or moving to Villiren) to escape the fallout of the first novel's plot.

The citizens of Villiren are awaiting the imminent invasion of an alien army and are trapped in the city, while a killer is on the loose snatching bodies off the street. Jeryd, a rumel (a sort of longlived reptile) investigator who after exposing corruption in Villjamur moves to Villiren to escape any backlash, strives to find the killer along with a new sidekick after the one in Villjamur tried to kill him and died. My two main problems with Jeryd were that even though he's a reptile, by all descriptive accounts anyway he has no problem in the cold, which leads me to believe that he must be a warm blooded reptile. Secondly i found his "the good investigator" rhetoric to Nanzi (his sidekick) reminded me weirdly of Professor Layton of the DS games.

The second main character is Randur, again from the first book. He's escaping Villjamur on foot with the last of the surviving members of the Empire, princesses Eir and Rika and are on the run from the new Emperor and the military. His first encounter with enemies lead to the death of a friend, who helped him in the first book, but is never thought of again by Randur after then. Obviously not that great a companion. Randur's chief thought in this book is to keep Eir (the woman he loves) safe and largely the characterisation is pretty consistent, if slightly shallow.

Next is Malum, a half vampyr gang leader and pretty much king of the underworld. Malum is possibly the least convincing character in the book. He's written as a sort of violent, evil screw-up who runs the underworld with a bloody fist. Here's how he thinks

"no doubt she would be overjoyed to have this opportunity to try out some new-fangled evil"

The language during his POVsis so unlikely, so unfitting to what is expected and it makes his character feel very contrived. There is very little difference and times between Malum, Randur and a third not as important character, Lupus. Now these are all of an age and MCN has difficulty throughout the book in making them feel different. They're all dry, less than serious heart throbs really.

Fourthly is Brynd, the homosexual albino commander of the elite Night Guards. Brynd is actually written pretty well. Doing his best to organise his defence of the city against the alien invaders. What i didn't like was the homophobia thread in the book. Malum a great big massive homophobe hates Brynd, which is fine, but it's the repetitiveness of "fucking queer, unnatural, laying with other men" that got on my nerves, his reasoning was quite shallow. I know people would argue that homophobia is shallow, but MCN handles it so clumsily that it never felt real to me.

Lastly is Beami, Malum unhappy lover. She's a powerful cultist (allowing her to use relics, the technology left behind by the previous great civilisation). She's strong, a bit torn between loyalty to Malum and hating him and altogether possibly the best written character. Her motives are solid and understandable and she has exciting moments in the book.

City of Ruin isn't terrible, it is quite fashionable given the rise of "New Weird", but it's so superficial and so unoriginal. There's a scene where Jeryd goes to meet Malum in a brothel of sorts and sees a spliced human animal sex creature, which is highly reminiscent of a scene in Perdido Street Station by China Mieville where there is a brothel for people who enjoy more exotic tastes in women and the whores are Remade, part animal or oddly "enhanced"

There's a lot that's similar to Mieville in this book and Gene Wolfe to the extent that it didn't feel as fresh as Nights of Villjamur. He handles the fight scenes very well though, it's just his characterisations and just general use of language that needs to be improved. There's a moment where a character rolls a cigarette with "an air of androgyny" and it doesn't mean anything. There are lots of moments where the words sound good, but are meaningless. How can an action pertain to androgyny? Who would observe a person and think "he is performing that action without either obvious male or female attributes"? There is another moment where a person snores triumphantly.

There are also real world influences, with Trade Union conflicts and political corruption making a appearance. There are plenty of moments that wouldn't be out of place in a non fantasy novel and i like what MCN is doing here. I've often thought that fantasy/scifi ought to be less of a genre and more of a setting, not pivotal to plot only there to augment it. So there's a plus. There is moment where he (i hope) tongue in cheek suggests that the north of the Empire is less open minded (about homosexuality and race) than the south, which people living in England may see as a wink in our direction, though like i say i hope he isn't being serious.

By the end of the book there is a set up for what could be a very good third book, but MCN needs to address characterisation, credible motivation and use of language first.
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City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton - 23/11/2010 02:53:34 PM 4810 Views

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