Tuesday, 22 September 2009

‘The Drowning City’ – Amanda Downum (Orbit)


I don’t know about you but every so often a book comes out and I know that I just have to find myself a copy. It might be the cover art, the blurb or an intriguing title that works its magic on me. In the case of ‘The Drowning City’ it was a mixture of all three. I’ve been a fan of ‘wretched hives of scum and villainy’ ever since I saw Luke Skywalker pull into Mos Eisley, for the first time, so mention of a ‘Home to exiles and expatriates, pirates and smugglers’ sounded like just my kind of thing. And just what is a ‘drowning city’ anyway? What is it drowning in? There was only one way that I was going to find out and that was to dive straight in!
There’s a lot that’s good here but, at the same time, there was also a lot that left me cold. The cover suggests that there will be more books to follow and I’ll certainly give them a go but I don’t think that I’ll be racing to pick them up with the same speed that I went for this one...

The expansionist Assari Empire has its eyes on the northern kingdom of Selafai; plans are in motion to halt this threat and necromancer Isyllt Iskaldur is the lady tasked with using her necromantic skills to this aim.
The flashpoint is the monsoon drenched city of Symir where pirates and smugglers rub shoulders with revolutionary’s intent on overthrowing Imperial rule in their city. Iskaldur has the backing to finance these groups; all she has to do is find them. Are things really that simple though when the alternative to Imperial rule is a rebel group that will go to any lengths to achieve their aims? Iskaldur has made friends in Symir and now she must choose between them and the job that she was sent to do.
Or can she do both...?

I’m a big fan of cities in fantasy literature and Downum has got it spot on with her depictions of the Asian influenced Symir and the surrounding countryside. The rain soaked streets of Symir are never anything but dangerous and the canals are even more so (I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the Nahk in future books). You can feel the tension rising on the streets and the constant humidity makes this worse. Outside the city itself is a jungle that’s full of the ghosts of Imperial injustice, these ghosts bite... Symir is a city where you need to have your wits about you even if you’re just there for a short visit. I certainly wouldn’t want to live there! If there are more books to come, in this setting, then I’m hoping for more cities that are as alive and vibrant as this one.

It’s a shame then that the rest of the story didn’t quite match up to the high expectations that the world building had inspired in me...

I had real trouble engaging with the characters in this book, possibly because any character development came across as pre-determined rather than as a result of reacting to the situations they were facing. It was almost like they were each given a role and then set on their course. As a result, I found that I was sitting back and watching them go rather than living their adventures with them. A barrier like this can really get in the way of the story and this was definitely the case here. It also robbed some particularly dramatic scenes of their potential to move the reader, if you can see it coming then it’s not such a big deal... This was a shame as, on the surface, characters such as Iskaldur, Asheris and Zhirin looked like they could be fun to get to know.

The plot was as fast moving as a storyline involving plenty of intrigue would demand and some of the ‘set piece attacks’ were spectacular, letting all the tension out in the best possible way. However, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d seen all this before. I don’t know about you but sometimes it feels like I could pull any book off my shelf and read about layers of intrigue and a mission that must be resolved. A book has to be pretty special to pull that trick off these days and ‘The Drowning City’ didn’t quite cut it. The original setting saved the book but only to a certain extent as I felt that the characters weren’t pulling their weight and carrying the plot in the way it needed...

‘The Drowning City’ ended up being a little disappointing but there was enough there to suggest that any further books could be worth a look. I’ll see how it goes...

Seven out of Ten

5 comments:

robertsinferno said...

That's sad that it turned out to be a bit disappointing.

However, I'm a huge fan of the cover art on this book...looks amazing.

Mardel said...

I love the cover. I would probably pick it up for the cover. It does sound interesting.

Simon said...

Yeah I'm paid this week (god I hope I am) and may pick this up, then again perhaps I should badger the library to get it...

Graeme Flory said...

It's not a bad read, just one that I felt I'd read before. It did enough to persuade me to give the sequel a try which has got to be good :o)

Maybe get it out of the library though...

Graeme Flory said...

D'oh! Forgot to say... The cover art is gorgeous isn't it?