Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

The City The City
by Stella Gemmell

Supplied for review by Random HouseNew Zealand

Reviewed By: Jacqui Smith

I haven’t read any of James Barclay’s books, and frankly, if he thinks this is the "the best fantasy novel… in the last decade" I doubt that I’ll bother. I was not impressed to see his name in the acknowledgements at the end of the book either—his comment on the front is not likely to be unbiased. There’s no doubt that Stella Gemmell is a fine writer in parts, giving us evocative descriptions and strong characters. It’s when it comes to stringing the pats into a novel that things fall apart. Very literally.

There’s little continuity here, events occur randomly in space and time, so that the whole thing simply doesn’t make sense. It might have helped if there was a time and place header at the beginning of each chapter. Or a map. Or even a listing of dramatis personae . But there are none of these aids to the reader. And so the book is crippled.

The other issue I have is the logistical problem of maintaining a city under siege for centuries. There’s a reason why sieges worked in history—it’s because people starve when their city runs out of food. Battlefields do not make good farmland. Now, in a high magic environment where mages can turn any organic matter into food you might get away with it, but this is a low magic fantasy with the only sorcerous effects being the longevity and psychic powers of the Emperor and the other Serafiim.

While an editor might have been able to fix the novel’s other problems, the background of the City at endless war with its neighbours is too central to the book. I was curious enough to finish it, and I have to admit that it did become more coherent towards the end, but….

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