The City is Stella Gemmell’s debut solo book. It is an epic fantasy set in a decaying empire ruled over by almost immortal aliens. We see very little of this from the top down though, almost all the protagonists inhabit the sewers, dungeons and front-lines of this world. That viewpoint provides a gritty realism that sets Gemmell’s novel apart from many others in the fantasy genre.
What doesn’t set it apart is that after 500 pages it comes to a conclusion that leaves threads for a sequel hanging all over the place. I wouldn’t have minded that so much if the first half of the book hadn’t involved a confusing set of shifts between a wide cast of characters who seemed to have no connection to each other. I found myself struggling to discern where the story was going and then suddenly it was all worked out and left positioned for the sequel.
It’s sadly impossible to read Stella Gemmell’s work without at least some comparison to David Gemmell’s wonderful fantasy novels. One of the great things about David Gemmell’s writing was that the story lines followed a relatively straightforward arc. You tended to know who you were dealing with from the start. There’s no reason that Stella Gemmell should follow her late husband’s approach, but given that many people will try her book based on her involvement with David Gemmell’s writing they may find themselves as disappointed as I did by the relative complexity of the story and the breadth that means never really get attached to individual characters.
That said, Stella Gemmell’s book is extremely well-written. The City is so well thought through as a backdrop and some of the characterisation is just brilliant. It’s a world that feels rich, authentic and elaborate and at its heart there is a mystery and a problem that give structure to everything else.
This is a good book. It’s not a great book – and not one that will necessarily appeal to fans of David Gemmell’s work – but it’s a very good debut novel and absolutely worth reading if you are looking for a new epic fantasy author.
The City is available on Amazon and in bookshops.
I read a review copy of The City.