Review: ‘The City’ by Stella Gemmell

It is a shame in many ways that my review of his wife Stella’s debut novel has reference to him in it, as she is a good writer in her own right, but I can only be honest about the path that led me to her.

As a purveyor, at least in the ideas, of heroic fantasy, I find it doesn’t get much better than David Gemmell’s fantasy offerings (the character of Druss the Legend is, indeed, a legend!). I was saddened when he died part way through writing the final installment of his Troy trilogy, a reimagining of the siege of the legendary city. This was my introduction to his wife, as she completed the novel based on his previous writings and the cover of ‘Troy: Fall of Kings’ bore both their names.

Let me start by saying that ‘The City’ is a solid debut novel. I don’t really know what I was expecting when I picked it up, but whilst it lacks the emphasis on the heroic that David Gemmell wrote so well (at the same time as keeping his characters somehow ‘normal’ and relatable), the characterization is a little more nuanced and subtle, the world-building more innovative and the geopolitics far more pervasive and insidious. The book is a bit more beauty and a little less brute-y than her husband’s works, though the redemption and striving against the odds that made David Gemmell’s books so addictive still feature.

It focuses on The City (a vast metropolis built upon the remains of the last city, itself built on the bones the previous city, and so on) and its strained relationship with the nations surrounding it. The varied characters we meet who dwell within it include the mysterious emperor, a dishonoured general, sewer waifs and many, many soldiers.

Upon finishing it, I did feel that the ending was somewhat unsatisfactory and seemed curtailed. Perhaps I felt that some of the loose ends hadn’t been tied up properly or I simply wanted more to follow. Then I realised that there is more; ‘The Immortal Throne’ is a now-available sequel that overlaps slightly with the end of ‘The City’, and which is told from slightly different perspectives. You could read ‘The Immortal Throne on its own as a standalone read but I highly recommend that you read ‘The City’ first; you won’t be disappointed.

I was hooked from the first chapter and read the novel in two sittings.

The City

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