Built up over the millennia, layer upon layer, the City is ancient and vast. Over the centuries, it has sprawled beyond its walls, the cause of constant war with neighbouring peoples and kingdoms, laying waste to what was once green and fertile.
And at the heart of the City resides the emperor. Few have ever seen him. Those who have remember a man in his prime and yet he should be very old. Some speculate that he is no longer human, others wonder if indeed he ever truly was. And a small number have come to a desperate conclusion: that the only way to stop the ceaseless slaughter is to end the emperor’s unnaturally long life.
From the rotting, flood-ruined catacombs beneath the City where the poor struggle to stay alive to the blood-soaked fields of battle where so few heroes survive, these rebels pin their hopes on one man. A man who was once the emperor’s foremost general. A man, a revered soldier, who could lead an uprising and unite the City. But a man who was betrayed, imprisoned, tortured and is now believed to be dead...
The City is Stella Gemmell's first solo book, Stella Gemmell helped her husband, David Gemmell the legendary bestselling fantasy author with working on the three Troy novels and finished the last book Troy: Fall of Kings after his death in 2006. The first thing that really got me excited on The City was the part of the synopsis that mentioned the City and all that surrounded it, you can get a glimpse how intricate it is and how perilous and dire the situation in the city might be with the emperor. However this is nothing compared to when you actually start reading the book, just then you really get to feel, experience and breath firsthand how awe inspiring the grandness of the City is.
Like I already briefly mentioned above, the first things that falls to notice when you are just a few pages into The City is the scope of the book and the story therein. It's grand and ambitious and as far as epic fantasy goes The City deserves one of the places up top. The introductions in The City be it the characters or the world itself is carried out with a perfect finesse, showing on one hand a lot of the world and the current characters and on the other hand keeping enough information behind to be revealed later on in the story. This produced a very engaging and interesting storyline. You never know what might happen next, and Stella Gemmell also did those neat short sentences where she left a certain character arc on a cliffhanger moment when she finished one part of the book, this on top of the beautiful way this story was written really gave me the urge to want to finish this book. The City itself is divided into seven different parts, that in the beginning focus on different characters and later you see the bigger picture of it all. The first parts of the book dealt most with the exposition part of the story and the accompanied characters, there were already a few thrown in the story on who was really who, and how the storyline of quite a few characters proofed to be connected with each other.
The first part of the book throws you not in the beautiful parts of the City, but right down into the sewers with Emly and Elija. You see how they are dwelling through the sewers to scavenge food and survive. In here there were already quite a few references on the size of the City and how it was build up, with some people never having left the City in the first place. (And just quickly in between, referring to the City as the City just inspires this feeling in me that this is the one and only place for a lot of people and they just don't know better). But living in the sewers brings a lot of possible threats for Emly and Elija and they are separated by a flash flood. Emly is later rescued by a Dweller named Bartellus, a scarred old man. Elija is picked up a band of strangers. This is just the first part of the book and gave a very colorful introduction to the story, but leaving the first part on the premise I had no clue on how the story would unfold in the later chapters of The City.
Continuing reading into the second part of the book introduces you to a completely different setting, all of a sudden you are thrown in the storyline of Indora and Fell Aron Lee, who serves in the army for the Red's, the army of the City, who fight against the rebellion Blue's on a lot of different fronts. In this part of the story you readily get to learn that the City is enforcing its superiority on the surrounding towns and villages. So the City isn't without a clean slate. There was a nice change in point-of-view in this part of the story even showing some of the Blue soldiers, what more comes to show is that it might just be that the emperor of the City has gone too far with his waging of war and his tyranny. What is even more crucial to the storyline in the second part is, and you really do have to keep a close eye when you read, that Stella Gemmell starts dropping various hints that reference to characters later on, and when you finally learn what they are, it's just amazing. A really nice feat of putting the story together in this way. The first two parts are the most crucial for the story in itself and from here on onwards you learn how everything is connected and how the several independent forces plan to put an end to the reign of the emperor, something just had to give. But this doesn't take away that the later parts of the book aren't good, more on the contrary, the story only becomes better and better with each pages. Stella Gemmell shows that lying the right foundation in the beginning of the book really pays of 100fold in the end.
Now I do have to restrain myself from telling more about the plot. All I can say that this is really something you have to experience for yourself, I think that you will be just as awed with it as I was.
As for the characters in The City there are quite a few you get to learn through and through. However it is not only the focus on the importance characters that gets highlighted, there are also quite a few scenes where characters that only make a brief appearance for one encounter get several lines dedicated to why they were there, how it came to be. Just these brief glimpses into their personalities makes the story that much more well rounded and well thought through. From the more recurrent characters, I mentioned the important ones above: Emly, Elija, Bartellus, Indora and Fell. From them all Bartellus really takes the lead as the main protagonist, and actually I first thought he was just a Dweller, a bit like a bum, but his character has a deep past that made him how he is. He just wants to pick everything up and leave the City for good and start anew. However, his past is catching up with him, mostly for the worse and encounters several things he cannot avoid any longer. I liked how you were introduced to him, with a bit of a feeling that he was just a bit average but with the hints dropped later on you learn just what he was... just superb. Emly is just as enigmatic as Bartellus and being saved by him, if it was pure chance? I don't know. Emly is a young girl and when you are able to relate her relation to a specific character in the book, her personality of perseverance and determination falls neatly into place. Then there is Fell, he is the kind of hero type soldier, determined to fight for his City, giving life and limb for his emperor. But there is definitely more to his character. He has just as a troubled past as Bartellus, too which you are introduced all in once. The characters, their personalities and their relations amongst each other was executed to in the details and was fantastic to read.
The City is how epic fantasy should be. Even before I started reading I has already that grandiose feeling of what possibly could be told, and once I started reading it was just amazing and went above my expectations. I just cannot find any fault or anything that I didn't like in The City. From the buildup of the story, steadily increasing the pace by introducing more concepts of the world, new characters and the places itself was done in a brilliant manner. Later on the storyline only proved be that much more amazing than that it earlier was, as you now see how several things start to be connected with each other and when you learn more about each characters background. Stella Gemmell proves that alone is an author to watch out for and I am hoping to see much more of her stories. You don't want to be missing out on The City it's an compelling, intriguing and an ambitious book.