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Book Reviews

“Most of all, hiding from the truth—that no matter how much he keeps his head down, no matter how he clings to the echoes of everyday life, his city—his world—is dying.”

the music box girl

by Barbara J. Webb

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Joshua “Ash” Drake is a man in hiding.

Hiding from the past, from the horror of his life as a priest after the gods disappeared.

Hiding from his emotions, denying the nightmares that haunt his sleep and the anger that fuels his days.

Most of all, hiding from the truth—that no matter how much he keeps his head down, no matter how he clings to the echoes of everyday life, his city—his world—is dying.

When a new technology offers salvation to his desperate city, Ash must reach out to people he left behind and step back into the world that almost killed him. But coming out of hiding now could be the worst mistake Ash has ever made.

Because there are monsters in the darkness, feeding the chaos, watching the city burn. And once those monsters know his name, Ash will never be able to hide again

My Thoughts

City of Burning Shadows was a book that had me instantly interested. It’s different, a futuristic fantasy that works hard to blend science fiction and fantasy aspects into a seamless narrative but never really detracts from either aspect. The characters are as unique as their world, with plenty of history to draw on, and a lush past that Webb has used as a powerful backbone for the social structure that has been crafted here. As with everything else, this book also blends all these aspects into a nice noir feeling (sort of dystopian) novel that leads readers on a gritty, almost grim sort of adventure that is addictive, and full of surprises.

As you can tell, City of Burning Shadows had a lot going on. It wasn’t quite any one thing, or even any two things. This is true in just about every respect, from the world, to the characters, to the plot, to the magic system. Webb has her fingers in a lot of pies, and while it creates one incredibly different book that is quite memorable, at times I felt like there was a bit too much going on, and the book could have used a bit more streamlining, and maybe minus a few pies would have made it a bit richer of an experience. There is something to be said about books that try something completely new and different, but this one, I felt, might have been trying a bit too hard.

The problem really is the fact that there was so much going on, it kept me from really feeling like any one aspect of the book was as well realized, and fully fleshed out as it could have been. This was something I struggled with throughout the book as I’d be introduced to one interesting concept after another, but never really have the time to explore any of them fully. And the truth is, there is so much in this novel that could have carried the novel on its own, from the trials that the city is facing, the loss of gods, all of these unique races living together in this one place, a protagonist with a dark and mysterious past and so much more. Any of those ideas could have carried the novel, and plenty of them, I felt, were interesting to the point where I wanted to learn more, but I never quite learned enough because there was just so much here and not enough time for all of it.

That being said, there was plenty about this book that pleased me. While it did take some time for the book to get going, and occasionally the dialogue felt a little stilted and unnatural, the overall story of Ash was interesting, and numerous secondary characters that enter the show were just as captivating in their own respects, for their own reasons. The characters, are in fact, one aspect where I really felt like Webb shined. Ash’s inner conflict and obvious desire to hide from a lot of the facts that are right in his face is compelling. It’s a struggle that I’m sure most of us can relate to, and Webb makes him quite human in that respect. The writing is well done, and the world is unique enough to keep just about anyone reading. However, I feel I should note that some details contradicted each other. There are some references to earlier events that, maybe I’m just remembering it wrong, didn’t happen the way they were said to have happened later in the book. Or maybe I just read those parts wrong.

Diversity is a huge aspect of City of Burning Shadows, and in this way I applaud Wells by creating a world and landscape that is so incredibly diverse, the diversity itself feels rather natural. In fact, in a book that I felt tried too hard in a lot of aspects, this aspect of it felt right, like it belonged there. There was no effort. It was natural. I enjoyed all the diversity, and the smashing of numerous cultures that were depicted. In fact, I enjoyed that aspect of the novel so much, I kind of wish it had focused more on that and less on a lot of other things.

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I really did. In fact, I pretty much devoured this one, but it did leave me disappointed. City of Burning Shadows has so much there, I just felt like Webb was trying to chew on too many bones, and all of them got jumbled together into a tasty, but too flavorful stew. When I boil this novel down to its respective parts, I really loved the mystery. I adored the diversity. I thought the city was an entity unto itself, and I thought Ash really stole the show. There is a lot here to love, and I can see a lot of readers really enjoying this novel. I liked it a lot…. but with strong reservations.

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Sarah Chorn

sarah chorn

Sarah has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age, she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a writer and editor, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, three-time cancer survivor, and mom. In her ideal world, she’d do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books.



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