By Heather A.
4 out of 5 stars ★★★★☆
Lenk and his battle-scarred companions have come to Cier’Djaal in search of Miron Evanhands, a wealthy priest who contracted them to eradicate demons — and then vanished before paying for the job.
But hunting Miron down might be tougher than even these weary adventurers can handle as two unstoppable religious armies move towards all-out war, tensions rise within the capital’s cultural melting pot, and demons begin to pour from the shadows…
And Khoth Kapira, the long-banished living god, has seen his chance to return and regain dominion over the world.
Now all that prevents the city from tearing itself apart in carnage are Lenk, Kataria, a savage human-hating warrior, Denaos, a dangerous rogue, Asper, a healer priestess, Dreadaeleon, a young wizard, and Gariath, one of the last of the dragonmen.
I fell for Sykes’s “Buy My Book” gag twice. Once to get the ebook and the second time as the paperback version. This tome is 600+ pages, so I read the ebook during commutes. The beginning was tough to get through. I was confused by the 6(!) characters that made up the Adventures: Lenk, Kataria, Denaos, Asper, Dreadaeleon, and Gariath. Though, as I continued reading and got more of a sense of each of their strengths and weaknesses, I understood their roles in society and within the group dynamics. But 200 pages of plot exposition is a lot. In some ways, I wish I had read the Aeon’s Gate Trilogy, a precursor to this series, just so I could understand why these random people/humanoids were on this journey together. It’s explained vaguely throughout in tidbits and more succinctly in the last chapter, though I would have wanted it explained earlier. We’re starting this book at the end of one of their adventures, so there’s a lot of backstory that was left out. Clearly they all had history together, trust each other (for the most part), and had a great team dynamic when called for. And that’s what made me like, or rather understand, these characters. I wouldn’t say that I liked every single one of them and I think the intention was that they weren’t supposed to be liked. They made decisions that might not be the best, followed their instincts, and generally wreaked havoc. They fell into a demon war, of course they are not perfect.
I’m a huge fan of worlds in fantasy that have multiple gods and actual religious figures that are prominent in society (and maybe at one point actually helped the people who worshiped them). The religious element was very strong in this novel, even a member of the adventurers, Asper, is a Priestess who struggles with her own faith. However, most of the gods have vanished and the only things left are violent demons bent on destruction. The City Stained Red is VIOLENT. In the first few scenes where readers are still trying to get their bearings, a demon emerges from a swelled belly of a fanatic. Later, in a trip to the outskirts of the city, Gariath encounters a Tulwar (another humanoid-type being, you’ll understand if you read, there’s a lot of different types of “people” for lack of a better word) who slices off the arm of a human with barely a thought. Toward the middle/end of the book, in one of the more creepy scenes, a giant massacre and house fire destroys many lives. And there’s plenty of violence in between. Why do people even want to live in this city? Mostly because they have nowhere else to go, the city is the only place where they can feasibly live, even if their life might be cut short by a simple robbery.
But of course, it’s not all violence. There’s a balance where we have moments of humor and amusement as the companions adjust to life in the city as outsiders. The Couthi (bug-like creatures with a painting for a face) provide comic relief in the beginning and in places of dire circumstances. Of the more non-violent acts are the three sex scenes in the book. I feel like I haven’t seen enough of these in fantasy books. Generally, a lot of books seem to lead to a kiss. And I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. Sykes handled them well. They fit the tone and characters who were in them. He discusses this and other things in a recent Rocket Talk podcast with Erotica/Romance writer, Tiffany Reisz, so I felt that I sort of knew what to expect. It’s apparent that he took just as much time with these scenes as he would any of the others (violent/non-violent). I don’t want to dwell on them too much. They were good and fit the needs of the characters.
As a long time Twitter follower of the author, I’m glad I finally read his book. The writing was strong and detailed so that it built the world, set the tone, and made for an excellent read. Looking forward to reading The Mortal Tally, which comes out in March 2016. If you’re curious about this book, I suggest reading this comic which basically sums up the first few chapters and gives you a sense of what to expect.