Scrolls Review – City Of Dreams & Nightmare

City Of Dreams & Nightmare by Ian Whates (ISBN 9780007345243)

Ian Whates is a fine world builder.  In the towering city of Thaiburley he has created a megalopolis almost too big to fit into the imagination, a single skyscraper so wide, broad and tall as to be simply carved from a mountain, housing who knows how many millions of citizens.  His world encompasses steampunk technology, magic, street gangs, politics, elite flying police, mutants and genetic manipulation – an explosion of ideas.

Taken individually they can sparkle – I love the idea of the Kite Guard, swooping in with their puncheons primed to capture the villains – but much of this superb imagary and conceptualisation remain under-explored, like the city itself in the course of the book.  Indeed it felt to me as though the author felt compelled to cram as many ideas in as possible in order to make the world feel complex and real, yet in doing so left himself little room for actual story.

What plot there is breaks down into three strands:

1. Tom is a street-nick [nice term], a kid from the lowest levels of the city sent, for no clear reasons, up to the heights of the city by his gang leader.  Once there he conveniently witnesses a politically driven murder, is spotted and runs pell-mell back again facing dangers at every turn.

2. Tylus is a member of the elite Kite Guard, but everyone thinks he’s a bit rubbish. Failing to catch Tom he in enlisted by the murderous and ambitious archmage Magnus to find and catch Tom, shadowed by a sinister assassin.

3. Something mysterious is happening in the City Below.  Street-nick revolution is a-brewing, stirred up my shadowy forces with arcane powers.

The writing is pacey and there are some effective cliffhangers, but the characterisation is sparse and there are some shockingly under-developed areas (looking at you, Insint.)  It could have been special, it should have been thrilling – a potboiler of a novel in a fantastical world in flux – but what we get feels blurred, as though the author is simply desperate to keep things moving in case people look at the details too deeply.  I won’t spend time listing every element that seemed illogical, over-convenient or arbitrary.  Suffice it to say that I am impressed with the imagination evident in this book, if not so much with the author’s dexterity in displaying it.

For me it was ultimately a city of cards.


Reviewed by Dion Winton-Polak

Incidentally, Angry Robot were kind enough to send me the sequel City of Hope & Despair due to be published shortly.  For a fresh view on the city of Thaiburley keep an eye out for Clover’s review.  It’s the next book on her reading list.

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