City of Ruin, by Mark Charan Newton
#2 in Legends of the Red Sun Series
Well, in this case, you might just be reading Mark Charan Newton’s City of Ruin, the second book in his Legends of the Red Sun trilogy. It takes a lot of fine tuning and balance to mix this many elements of this many genres, but Newton pulls it off remarkably well.
The book opens with a change of scenery: Villjamur has been left behind for the more exotic city of Villuren. Investigator Jeryd, forced to flee Villjamur for being too honest and too dedicated, finds himself caught up in a case of missing citizens and soldiers. The facts don’t line up, and he must wade into the underground of Villuren, where he meets the real ruler of Villuren…
Brynd Lathrea, general of the Empire’s forces, captain of the elite Night Guard, has come north to build the first line of defense against the alien army to the north. Too many enemies, not enough knowledge and certainly not enough time, the defense of the Empire rests on him. And he hides a deadly secret that could cost him everything.
…Malum. Leader of the Bloods, the most powerful gang in Villuren, Malum rules the city from beneath. As the temperature plummets and the alien armies draw nearer, Malum does what is necessary to ensure the safety and comfort of his dependents. His wife, a powerful cultist, talented with the artifacts of a vanished era, has rediscovered a lost love. With his marriage falling apart, his city under threat and his own morals being challenged, Malum begins to unravel under the stress.
Rika, newly appointed Empress, has now been ousted by a manipulative councilman. On the run through the snow, with her sister Eir and Eir’s lover, Randur Estevan, Rika faces the challenge of rebuilding a broken empire while evading capture. Further treachery leads them to a discovery that will change the face of the war…and their entire knowledge of history and religion.
Nights of Villjamur was a fantastic, epic science-fantasy. City of Ruin is more. More detail, more action, more danger, more romance. More fun. Newton juggles nearly a dozen characters, weaving their story-lines together, but still keeping them distinct. The setting is exotic, easily believable as the layering of thousands of years of history and culture. The stakes are high, and the action intense. Newton draws heavily on economic and social stress, showing the reality of a dying world and a very human reaction to it.
Newton has been compared to Mieville and M. John Harrison, and that comparison is earned. But he is not those authors, nor are his books merely copying from them. He is, instead, an excellent addition to Fantasy that is heavily influenced by the Weird. His settings are in some great, terrible future where humanity has reached too high, constructed a Babel of technology, and been struck down by its own terrible creations.
Far from suffering from a sophomore slump, this book is even better than the first, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.