Tuesday, September 6, 2011
City of Ruin
Earlier this year when recovering from surgery I had a bit of time on my hands and read a few books. One of those books was Mark Charan Newton’s Nights of Villjamur. I had actually wanted to read Nights of Villjamur for a while before getting my hands on it, but found it difficult to obtain down here. After having read it I kind of resented the book’s scarcity as I thought it was a cracking great read.
It took me a while to get a copy of the sequel; City of Ruin, but I did and it lived up to the heights reached by it’s predecessor, in some cases superceded them.
I liked the world Newton built in Nights of Villjamur, but felt that it needed more to make it truly come to life and in City of Ruin he adds some flesh to the bones. The world still has the people, the rumels and the garudas, but the mysteries of the dawnir and the okun are better explained in City of Ruin. I was able to make much greater sense of the cultists as well. I never really understood them in Nights of Villjamur. In City of Ruin they’re presented as a combination of priest, magician and scientist, and they appear to have much greater function in the lawless frontier city of Villiren than they did in the capital; Villjamur.
City of Ruin reacquaints readers not only with the strange, and often terrifying world of the Boreal Archipelago, but also with some of the main characters from Nights of Villjamur. After the events in that book; the albino Night Guard Commander Brynd Lathraea, and the rumel Investigator Jeryd have relocated to Villiren. Lathraea has orders to hold that city at all costs against the advancing okun. The theory being that if Villiren is lost then so is the Empire. Jeryd had to leave Villjamur, and having mended his relationship with his beloved Marysa, is trying to establish himself in Villiren. The other principals from Nights of Villjamur: smooth talking swordsman Randur, rightful heir to the throne; Rika, and her naïve younger sister Eir, are elsewhere, trying to get to Villiren so Rika can attempt to take her birthright back from the usurper Urtica. City of Ruin also introduces Malum; a brutal gang leader making a play for control of Villiren.
I felt Villiren was better drawn and had greater depth than Villjamur. Villiren is outwardly controlled by the Portreeve and forces loyal to him. The reality is that the criminal gangs, like the one Malum has working for him, are the real rulers of Villiren, they also control the most powerful of the cultists, and often use them and their creations to exert their control over the general, mostly down trodden, populace.
The story is, strangely enough, split into three parts. One is the investigation undertaken by Jeryd at Brynd’s behest to track down exactly what is making members of his guard disappear. Another story is the journey taken by Randur and the two royal ladies to Villiren. The third story, which brings everyone together, is the desperate battle for Villiren.
I was about a third of the way through the book before I realised that not an awful lot was happening, but I truly didn’t care. I had been so caught up in the world building and the characters themselves that the inertia didn’t matter, about then it also picked up considerably. In Nights of Villjamur I liked Randur, and I still do, but with City of Ruin Jeryd became my favourite character. Throughout most of the book he insisted he was on a diet, yet every time readers saw him he seemed to be either eating or thinking about food. His slightly unusual hit and miss method of investigation reminded me of 70’s TV detective Columbo.
One criticism I have relates to Mark Newton’s habit of giving characters modern speech patterns, leaving out certain key words (such as ‘the’) at the start of sentences. It’s not enough to ruin the book, but it does alter the flow and pull me out of it from time to time.
Whilst I know the author has written a 3rd book in the series and I believe that there is a 4th due out in 2012, City of Ruin would work quite well as the final book in a duology. There’s more story, but it does wrap some storylines up quite neatly.
This is a series that has it’s hooks into me and City of Ruin is, in some ways, even better than Nights of Villjamur, which was already one of my favourite reads in 2011.