Sunday, November 17, 2019
The Bookwyrm's Review of The Blighted City by Scott Kaelen
Author: Scott Kaelen
Length: 392 Pages/19 Hours, 29 Minutes (audio)
Publisher: Scott Kaelen
Release Date: January 15, 2018/August 23, 2019 (audio)
Narrator: Todd Menesses
Genre: Epic Fantasy
This is one of those books I had recommended to me by friends, and had in my To Be Read pile for a while. It just got lost in the shuffle of a lot of books hitting me at the same time for review. When the audiobook came out, I was offered a copy to review and decided now was a good time to see if the recommends panned out. I'm happy to say they were. In a crowded marketplace of fetch quests and chosen one narratives, this one takes some of those tropes and turns them right on their head, leading to an exciting romp through to true danger.
Four hundred years ago, Mallak Ammenfar brought a curse down upon the city of Lachyla. The city was blighted, and the city gates closed as the population died off. To this day, the city and the area around it are considered cursed, and people don't go anywhere near the city, since people who go in don't come back out. Since the fall of Lachyla, all the kings of the land of Himaera have fallen, and it now has no ruler, just a bunch of independent towns and hamlets, with free blades the closest thing to the law, and they are just hired to clean out bandits and monsters, not to enforce law.
The best of these free blade teams is led by blade master Jalis, along with journeyman blades Dagra and Orik. Bounties have been slow of late, but when a juicy contract to collect a family heirloom comes up, with a years pay for completion, the team has to seriously consider it, even though it leads to, you guessed it, the blighted city. Dagra, being superstitious, doesn't want to go, but allows himself to be talked into it.
Leaving on the journey, they make good progress intitially. They start encountering challenges as they get further into uninhabited land, having several run ins with monsters. Getting past these, they make their way to the city, climbing over the wall and going to the family crypt where the gem they came for is stored. While walking through the tunnels of the crypt, they notice weird fungus and spider webs all over the place. Dagra accidentally breaks one of the fungus and gets it on his face, but nothing happens, so they move on. Finding the stone, but being freaked out by the creepyness of the tomb, they make their way to the surface, where they get a rather unpleasant surprise. It seems that even though the blight killed the citizens of the city, that hasn't stopped them from walking around. What follows is a pitched battle, as the three sell swords have to fight against overwhelming odds to try and escape the city with their prize.
Effecting their escape, the group heads back to collect the bounty. However, they are slowed a bit as Dagra was somewhat injured in their escape and they need to attend to him. Dagra seems lethargic, but they put that to his injury. Waking up the next morning, they discover Dagra is gone. They also discover a strange girl watching their camp. Capturing her, they discover Dagra has returned to the city with the stone. They also discover there is a village of the cities descendants that escaped before the blight struck the city down, who will do anything to hide the fact of their existence. Following him back to the city, Jalis and Orik sneak back into the city, and meet an inhabitant who is not feral. It turns out there are two types of inhabitants, and those closer to the city are still thinking.
This is where the story takes some major twists and turns, as we learn the true history f the blight and the city. We learn what really happened to the inhabitatnts, and that the story that got out isn't necessarily the whole truth. The city was hit by the blight, but the effects weren't quite as permanent as advertised. What this means for the city if this gets out is unknown, since there are larger forces at play elsewhere, and if anyone found out about the city being inhabited, it could lead to a rush to conquer. This is the issue the adventurers face, as well as keeping themselves from getting killed by xenophobic villagers trying to hide there existence. Will the free blades be able to deal with this while being able to complete their bounty? You'll have to read to see what happens.
WORLDBUILDING AND CHARACTERS
A lot of indie and small press books you read now days have worldbuilding as deep as a kiddie pool. The backstory might be mentioned, but a lot of time it's forgotten by the next page. Not so with Blighted City, since the backstory is front and center in the narrative. Its well thought out and introduced very organically. You really get the feel you are right there in the story, running for your life with the blighted right on your heels.
The characters are so well written. The three main characters, Jalis, Dagra and Orik get so much attention. Their lives are slowly spun out before us, and you really get a feel for their strengths and weaknesses, which they all have. Their relationships, asperations and motivations play out right on the page, giving them the feel of real people. The secondary characters are a mixed bag, but in a good way, having a lot of variety in there various personalities. The book has unconventional antagonists, but I cant go into more detail without spoiling things. They get a lot of attention too as well, so they have as realistic motivations as the protagonists.
The narration is excellently handled by Todd Menesses. He has an excellent narrative voice with outstanding pacing, so you never feel he falls into a monotonous rut. He does an excellent job bringing the various characters to their own unique life, using a variety of tones and accents to differentiate them. His voice just draws you right into the story, and he is one of my favorite narrators working today,
I do go through a lot of books, and am always on the look for new series. This is definitely a good way to keep my attention for future installments. Is it perfect? No, because while it does have a good premise and good execution, it does have some scenes and plot lines that could use some pairing down, in my opinin. While not a deal breaker by any stretch, the hidden village plot line seemed a bit more than the story needed. That being said, it shouldn't scare anyone away from trying this book out, and who knows, you might think that's a strength. I definitely recommend this book to fantasy fans looking for an engaging mix of strong worldbuilding, excellent characters and solid plotting. I am looking forward to see where the story goes from here.