Monday, January 9, 2012

City of Light & Shadow - Ian Whates

City of Light & Shadow is the third volume in The City of a Hundred Rows. As with the second volume, City of Hope & Despair, I got an ARC though publisher Angry Robot's fabulous Robot Army. I'm not entirely sure how many volumes Whates means to write in this series but it may be more than three. This one certainly provides a measure of closure for some of the story lines started in the previous two volumes but it also leaves plenty of opportunities and unanswered questions to write more. The series is one that suits publisher Angry Robot perfectly, refusing to stay within the confines of one genre, it contains elements of urban fantasy, steampunk and increasingly, the more classic epic fantasy. It's a very interesting mix but as with the previous two books, I am left with the feeling that perhaps Whates didn't get the most out of the unusual setting he created. It is highly readable, fast paced and entertaining novel nonetheless.

Tom has managed to reach the goddess worshipped by the people of Thaiburley, only to find out she expected to be awoken much earlier. Time is desperately short and soon, Tom's mind is crammed with every bit of knowledge he needs to possess to save the city from doom. The goddess is using him hard and Tom begins to wonder if perhaps he spends a bit too much time listening to others. Kat in the mean time, realizing their extinction is only a matter of time if they keep on going as they have, is preparing to settle her Tattooed Man in one of the vacated street-nick territories. First there is a bit of unfinished business with the Soul Thief to attend to however. Business that will take her in some of the most dangerous territory in the under-City. A region known as the Stain.

One of my remarks on the previous two volumes is that Tom is a bit of a passive main character. He needs others to tell him what to do and then he does them, usually without argument. In this book that is slowly beginning to change when Tom starts to wonder what he wants with his life and how he should employ is powers. Of course he is in way too deep now to back out but it is still a sign he is growing up. One of the things he questions most, if the origin of the goddess (and her brother). This is one area where Whates leave a lot of room to expand his world. He hints at a whole universe besides the world Thaiburley is located in. I guess Whates might well be thinking of adding some more science fiction elements in later volumes.

Where Tom is struggling to understand and harness his powers, Kat is facing up to the burden of leadership. Something she doesn't do with good grace to be honest. It is one thing to be a kick-ass pit fighter, leading a group of people into battle is quite something else. Whates shows us the inner turmoil and how it contrasts with the tough face she puts on in dealing with her own people as well as members from the Kite Guards. Kat can be a bit overbearing at times, especially when she's wrong and doesn't want to admit it, if she wasn't too handy by half with a sword someone would probably have spanked her by now. It is a great way of showing how young these characters are though.

Dewar, the man who Tom has had to leave behind on his way to the goddess, also makes an appearance in this novel. After Tom cuts him loose he decides it is time to settle a few old scores. We come to know a bit more of the neighbouring nation of the Misted Isles. Unfortunately his visit is very brief. Politics appear to be particularly vicious in this part of the world and Dewar's history entirely isn't cleared up yet. I did think a bit more of a link between the activities of Dewar and events in Thaiburley would have been nice though. Dewar's actions do have an impact on Thaiburley, or at least when the novel ends it looks like they will, but nobody in that city appears to be aware of what is going on there. It's the story line which contains the most obvious unresolved bit of business I guess. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy Dewar's ruthlessness but his story is so disconnected from the rest of the tale at this point, that is felt like reading two separate stories at times.

In the previous two volumes, Whates has already shown that he likes to keep the story moving. City of Light & Shadow is a fast paced, fairly straightforward novel, one that does not sacrifice pace to add a bit more detail. Personally I think that is a bit of a missed opportunity, given the interesting setting Whates has created. The nature of the city of Thaiburley becomes a bit clearer, but its history remains as confused as Tom's memory of them for the most part. There is not denying that the fast pace and plentiful action scenes make for a very entertaining story though. It's one of those books you blaze though in a day or two. It is not the most challenging series of books I've ever read but the series is definitely beginning to grow on me. No idea if there will be one but I think I'd like to see a fourth book.

Book Details
Title: City of Light & Shadow
Author: Ian Whates
Publisher: Angry Robot
Year: 2011
Language: English
Format: E-book
ISBN: 978-0-85766-191-3
First published: 2011


  1. I signed up for the ebook subscription to Angry Robot back when they introduced them in the summer. I bought the preceding two books in this trilogy a few weeks ago when Angry Robot announced its crazy sale, so I’m ready to dive in! When I find the time….

    I appreciate the way you talk about the changes the characters undergo, especially with regards to the previous two books. I hadn’t heard of Ian Whates until this ebook landed in my inbox, so I am looking forward to this even more.

  2. I picked up a couple of titles in that sale myself. As if the to read stack isn't large enough already ;) I understand Whates writes SF as well for another publisher, have you read those by any chance?

  3. I like the look of this one, must get around to starting the series :)

  4. Curious to hear what you think of it. I remember I wasn't blown away by the first volume.