Review: City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton (Tor UK)

Life has moved on in the second book of the Legends of the Red Sun, which in itself is quite rare in a fantasy series. I don’t mean actually moving things on but picking up the story and not worrying about the gap in the narrative. We find some of the main protagonists, resettled or at least trying to resettle and we get introduced to some new rogues and heroes.

For me this was a book of two halves. The first half was definitely a set-up with the second half being the pay off. In the pay off stakes it delivers so don’t worry you’ll get a kick of it but for me it took a little while to get going.

That’s because I got a little distracted. You see I know that Mark is a man with issues. Lots of in fact. This is a good thing as it does give his writing a depth and quality that can lack in others. He is trying to address real world concerns through fiction and mostly he does it well. But I did feel like I was playing ‘issue’ bingo.

I think what was missing was a bit of regularity. I was waiting the next ‘issued’ individual to turn up. That’s a little harsh as it isn’t that obvious and most readers will accept it as texture I think and it doesn’t spoil anything it just distracted me. I guess it just needed to feel more subtle or perhaps ordinary.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way I can focus on the more important bits: how he uses his diverse characters and bleak setting to surprise and explore as you read. Outsiders play a big role in this story and most people in the real world are outsiders due to some level of difference from everyone else, which makes them a good focus for stories.

I know I’m saying that outsiders are a good thing and sounding like ‘issued’ people are a problem at the same time. But he’s made a good choice of characters and the ‘issues’ they have. Everything ends up gelled.

Anyway, as the story moves along and the characters start to bed in and become one with the City in some cases or stuck in their quest in others Mark changes gears and throws in what he’s been holding back but hinting at in the build up.

Mark does a good job of giving all his characters a roundedness – there are no goodies and baddies there are just people trying to make the best of their lot. A couple more misguided than others definitely, which you could label as the baddies of the book, but even those are endearing in their own ways.

Mark is also brutal, he killed off a few of my favourite characters in a unspectacular way but it more heart-wrenching because of it. He’s also imaginative. I’ll tease you a bit by saying he adds teleportation, a new spin of suicide bombing, mystery meats, and reveals a more dangerous external danger to the inhabitants of the City of Ruin than just the cold.

After a slow build I really enjoyed the bang at the end. And you know what I’ll take a writer that takes risks and surprises over one that places too much attention on joining the dots and not exploring their creation and fuelling their readers imagination any day.

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