The City of Dusk - Book Review
by Tara Sim
I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. Thank you, Orbit for the e-arc!
The City of Dusk is a diversity-fronted fantasy with multiple main characters, a plot that weaves as much as it diverts, and a thrilling conclusion; it’s worth the rather slow start!
The Four Realms—Life, Death, Light, and Darkness—all converge on the city of dusk. For each realm there is a god, and for each god there is an heir.
But the gods have withdrawn their favor from the once vibrant and thriving city. And without it, all the realms are dying.
Unwilling to stand by and watch the destruction, the four heirs—Risha, a necromancer struggling to keep the peace; Angelica, an elementalist with her eyes set on the throne; Taesia, a shadow-wielding rogue with rebellion in her heart; and Nik, a soldier who struggles to see the light— will sacrifice everything to save the city.
But their defiance will cost them dearly.
Like an old car on a cold winter’s morning, this book takes a while to heat up, but when it does, it goes full-on Grand National.
To get the critique out of the way, yes, the book starts off really slow. Around 30% I was looking at the percentage left and I confess I was a bit bored and debated setting it aside. But, I am very glad I powered through because the second half is completely enthralling and I couldn’t put the last 40% down.
The reason for the slow start is because there are five main characters and several supporting ones, as well as a new world, magic, and political system to explain. Because I was reading an e-book I couldn’t easily flip to the character list at the start, so I found I couldn’t remember everyone’s name/house/magic power, etc. Eventually, I started to retain the information and by that point, the action picked up. In the end, it wasn’t too many characters at all, as each of them has a distinct yet interwoven story to tell.
Unfortunately, I also had trouble with the world-building itself. We aren’t really shown the day-to-day workings of the city. The four main characters just seem to run around all day, but given their ages (early to mid-twenties), I would assume they would do more governing or learning to govern or … something? I just wasn’t sure how the government functioned. I also didn’t understand the climate they were in or how this one city was still thriving when the rest of the world is supposedly breaking down?
This might also be why I had trouble getting into the novel in the first place, though these details mattered less the more I read.
The book also had some weird similes that didn’t really work that could have been trimmed.
This is a political fantasy novel without the politics (if that makes any sense), but what it lacks in political intricacy it, in turn, throws away all the annoying backstabbing that often takes place in books with a heavy focus on rule. In this novel, the older generation is involved in maneuvering, but the younger people are friends. They don’t want to backstab one another and most of them aren’t really interested in becoming ruler. This gave the story an interesting dynamic that also helped make the characters more relatable and likeable. The motivations for each character felt personal on a deeper level than “I want to rule,” so the stakes were adequately high.
All the characters were interesting albeit I felt they acted a bit young for their ages at times. We have Nic, the emotionally abused and grieving boy who isn’t good enough for his dad; Risha, the competent and loyal necromancer; Angelica, who can’t control her powers and feels like a failure; and Taesia, the badass. There’s also a hunter/cop named Julien who is the classic tough guy with the heart of gold and ailing mother, but I liked him. I liked all the characters, actually. They had enough depth I understood their motivations and served their purpose in the story.
All of them have magic derived from their Gods. There are creatures in this book, but not dragons or anything, and there are horn-headed people taking refuge in the city, though they exist more on the periphery. Magic, while it is a major part of the story, isn’t the main focus (we aren’t really told how it functions or what the rules are for using it - this didn’t really bug me as I never really care how magic works in fantasy).
I will say, I didn’t realize going into this that it was part 1 of a trilogy, so it ends in a way that doesn’t feel entirely satisfactory. While the main conflict was resolved, it clearly sets up for more. I don't know why I always assume fantasy is a one-off when it rarely is.
Overall, The City of Dusk was a dark but not grisly fantasy that started off as a bit of an arduous uphill race, but the second half was a thrilling rush to the finish line. Though, I guess it’s more of a triathlon.
It gets bonus points for:
- Taesia’s humour
- A sexy sword fight with great sexual tension.
- The normalized LBGTQ+ rep and casual diversity. I loved that these things are as they should be: just a normal thing that has no bearing on how we’re treated in society.
- This line (which, because it's an ARC may be subject to change or removal):
“Nicolas didn’t want glory or prowess. He didn’t want to lead, or be considered an expert in anything. He had never been ambitious or even particularly determined. He wanted quiet, and solitude, and maybe a dog.” I feel ya, Nick.