City of Burning Shadows by Barbara J Webb #SPFBO
City of Burning Shadows is my third read for the SPFBO and I can say that it was an enjoyable one.
Hiding from the past, from the horror of his life as a priest after the gods disappeared.
Hiding from his emotions, denying the nightmares that haunt his sleep and the anger that fuels his days.
Most of all, hiding from the truth—that no matter how much he keeps his head down, no matter how he clings to the echoes of everyday life, his city—his world—is dying.
When a new technology offers salvation to his desperate city, Ash must reach out to people he left behind and step back into the world that almost killed him. But coming out of hiding now could be the worst mistake Ash has ever made.
Because there are monsters in the darkness, feeding the chaos, watching the city burn. And once those monsters know his name, Ash will never be able to hide again.
City of Burning Shadows was a very intriguing story. We begin the story and are introduced to Ash. We gradually learn that Ash was a priest – until the Gods upped and left one day, seemingly without reason and apparently causing hysteria and panic in their absence.
Ash now has a job, working for a firm called Price and Breckenridge, for which he counts himself lucky, he’s just about making ends meet. He suffers nightmares about the past and has tried to hide from his former life. He can’t hide forever though and the slow decline of the City is about to provide the impetus to shake up his life once again.
So, what made this read enjoyable.
Firstly we have secondary world building which I actually quite enjoy as I think it gives the author a certain amount of freedom. Ash lives in a City in the desert called Miroc. Unfortunately the absence of the Gods (known as the Abandon) seems to have led to the decline of the water supply and therefore the City is in rather dire straits at the start of the story. We have a world in which magic exists – wielded by the priests. We also have a world in which other races, non human, exist and live side by side – maybe not always harmoniously but nonetheless. The City itself is split. The Crescent is the City in the Sky, supported by girders and inaccessible to anybody except the Jansynians. A race of people who come across as strangely superior. They have advanced technology and weapons and the water shortage doesn’t seem to have affected them. They live above the rest of the City, unconcerned with the plight of those below. Immediately below The Crescent, living amongst the girders and support is a sprawling underworld/shanty town called the Web. Not a place to visit in the dead of night. The author, in building this world manages to have written a story that comes across actually as a strange combination of Sci-fi/urban fantasy and dark/noir detective.
We have quite a number of characters to take on board and I won’t list them all here. The main characters are Ash and his former lover Seana, a Jansynian who seems to have moved fairly high up the ranks. We have Ash’s boss Price and another colleague from a race whose magic allows them to shapeshift. We also have two sisters called Copper and Spark.
In terms of plot, Basically, there is a possibility of saving Miroc – an invention that could bring rain back to the desert. However, not everybody is interested in the salvation of the City which means the inventor needs protection from the bad guys – whoever they may happen to be.
What I particularly enjoyed about this story is that it was a fast paced read that escalates in intensity until you frankly haven’t got a clue anymore who to trust or not to. There is some very imaginative scenes, I’m thinking particularly of those in the temple, and some creepy situations where the shadows seem to shift – which spooked me out!
Did I have niggles or criticisms. Yes. They didn’t particularly affect my enjoyment though. I think the world building could have been a little stronger. For example, why are all these different races living together?? I gather that Miroc was a sort of trade hub and crossroads and I think that some of these characters were trapped there during the Abandon. But, I do think the world building could have been beefed up a bit. I also think the characters need a bit more development – and probably the dialogue could be sharpened.
On the whole though I thought this was quite a fascinating read, it fairly raced ahead and I was caught up with the action and mystery.
I would rate this 7/10.