October 9, 2018

Tarnished City: A Rambling Review

Tarnished City by Vic James

I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as the first, which may partly be due to the fact that the first book had the novelty of learning about this world and meeting the characters, but is also because I felt like a large chunk of this one in the middle moved quite slowly and was repetitive. There were lots of conversations talking about plans and schemes and then re-hashing what happened, and so many characters that it was really hard to keep track of who had done what where. (Seriously, a cast of characters list is MUCH NEEDED for this series! Also a map would be nice.) Interspersed between all these dialogue scenes were a few dramatic scenes, but they didn't usually build momentum for the plot; it felt like nothing had really changed from before the dramatic scene, and people just carried on having their secretive conversations where they plotted things.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the beginning and ending sections of the story. Abi and Luke are both still pretty bland characters, but we get to see the story unfold from a number of POVs (in third-person voice) – a technique that I think serves the story well and keeps things interesting. Certain characters don't know about secrets that other characters have, so it's kind of like the reader is "in on it" because we get to see everything -- and yet, because of the oblique nature of the way certain POVs or scenes are written, we really don't know everything. "Good guys," "bad guys," and those in-between (*cough*Silyen*cough*) -- we get glimpses into a variety of perspectives (although Silyen's still remains cloaked in mystery and ambiguity).

Some plot twists I saw coming (spoiler, highlight to read: I guessed partway through that Coira was Crovan's child), others I did not (spoiler: Jenner's betrayal came totally out of left field, although since I never really "shipped" the romance with Abi, I wasn't upset about it. Still, hopefully in the third book we'll get his perspective on that, because right now the reader has no idea why he flipped sides. Is it as simple as the reason he gave to Abi?). There was also some interesting character development (or perhaps just further character revelation?) with Gavar, which was good to see.

And as I commented in one of my updates as I was reading, this dystopian series feels very realistic in how it presents the obstacles to the rebels. The governing class is Skilled and the rebels are not, and their continued failure reflects their poor odds of winning this fight. Time and time again they are beaten by the Jardines and their allies. It's dark, there's no doubt about it -- this book is full of death (so many characters died in this one!), torture (mental and physical), and at times a sense of hopelessness pervading the rebel cause. But they keep on fighting, at times acquiring curious and unexpected allies. While Abi and Luke are, as I've said, quite boring as characters, it's easy to root for them to win against Whittam Jardine and his crew. I also found myself rooting for certain characters to join the "good guys", even when it seemed like it was a fruitless hope (*cough*Silyen*cough*).

I was also struck by echoes of socio-political issues we are facing in our current political climate – for example, references to controlling the narrative through the media and the truth being, not facts, but what people are persuaded to believe... sound familiar? A couple of quotes sum it up nicely:

"Abi had dared imagine that the Equals' version of history could be fought with the truth, but how could you do that when they were making it up as they went along, and shouting it over and over and over through the media? They had everything at their disposal: power, money, connections. They hardly even needed Skill."

And then several pages later:

"'Stupid girl,' he said. 'Truth isn't what happened, it's what people will believe happened.'"

I have to wonder how heavily the author was influenced by recent political events in the US... the themes seemed too clear at times to be coincidence.

Anyway, pick this series up if you are looking for a dark, thought-provoking dystopian fantasy series, but be prepared for this book in particular to be slow-moving in the middle, heavy in dialogue scenes, and chock full of political manoeuvring.

3.5 stars.

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