Scrolls Review City of Hope & Despair

City of Hope and Despair by Ian Whates (ISBN: 9780857660879)

City of Hope and Despair is the second volume in the City of a Hundred Rows series.  In this book the action does not centre solely on the fantastical city of Thaiburley but splits into three main strands.  One branch of the story follows young street-nick Tom as he is dispatched on a journey to discover the source of the river Thair.  Meanwhile, back in Thairburley the fiery Kat, in the company of the Tattooed Men, is hunting the dreadful Soul Thief.  At the same time the Prime Master is investigating an outbreak of a mysterious disease which could have devastating implications for the city.

Of the three stories Kat’s is the strongest, as it contains the most action and dramatic meat.  The Soul Thief is the creature responsible for the death of Kat’s mother and her personal quest for revenge begins to uncover hints of a deeper conspiracy.  There is a nicely drawn sense of oppressiveness as Kat and the other hunters stalk the streets of the city underneath in search of their elusive prey.  Ian Whates comes into his own as a writer when it comes to the action sequences.  Once particular moment, when a trap is set for the Soul Hunter, is easily the highlight of the book.

Unfortunately things slow down significantly when it comes to Tom’s adventure.  Despite the presence of a killer on their trail, it feels more like a back-packing trip than a genuine quest.  It doesn’t help that Tom is the weakest of the main characters.  Whilst he does develop a bit during the course of the book he never really gets beyond the standard issue Boy with Special Powers and a Big Destiny that we are all so familiar with these days.  Of more interest is his companion, Dewar, the assassin who has been tasked with protecting his former target.  There are some tantalising glimpses into his past and he has a personal connection with main villain which adds another layer to the character.

Overall City of Hope and Despair feels like the work of a developing talent.  Ian Whates is certainly not lacking in imagination and during the moments when his writing takes flight he shows genuine flare equal to the big name fantasy writers of today.  Unfortunately, the quality of writing is not consistent and there are some weaknesses in plotting and characterisation.  Given time and the opportunity to hone his craft however, there is no reason why he should not go on to greater things.

3/5

GSReviewer: Clover Winton-Polak

Listen to her dulcet tones on Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom.

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