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  1. #1
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    April 2011 Fantasy BotM: City of Dreams and Nightmare by Ian Whates

    This month's Fantasy Book Club book is a fairly recent release: City of Dreams and Nightmare by Ian Whates.



    According to Ian's website:

    My debut novel, City of Dreams and Nightmare, was released via Harper Collins imprint Angry Robot on March 4th (2010) (UK and Australia, due out in the USA... August 2010). This is the first of a series set in the fabled city of Thaiburley, a multi-tiered metropolis of social strata and complex politics. Most of the narrative takes place in the basement level, the City Below, where Thaiburley is at its dirtiest and deadliest. The novels are urban fantasy with a heavy dose of SF and a side-order of steampunk.


    The second volume in the series, City of Hope and Despair, is due out later this year (2011)

    Discuss!

    Mark
    Mark

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    I'm a bit disappointed to be the first to post here, because I'm afraid I come bearing bad news. This is the worst book I have read in a while. There's a lot that annoyed me, from deus ex machina and clunky dialog (really, read some of out loud) to the paper thin characters going through life changing personal growth in the course of a day through to some of my pet hates which may not annoy others such as fantasy swearing and mixed naming conventions (e.g. Thomas and Ty-gen).

    Additionally, the setting is confused and not very well realised. I got the feeling Whates was aiming for New Crobuzon and fell well short. There's a lot of invention here (I was reminded a little of Stephen Hunt) but it comes across as confused and not very well integrated.

    And the foreshadowing! Clumsy. Aaaarrrgghhhh! I also forgot to mention the use of the Chosen One/orphan cliche!

  3. #3
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    I've been trying to put together my thoughts on this one. Bastard loved it. Eventine didn't. I guess I'm somewhere in between. Looking at it objectively from a writing perspective, I don't think it was spectacular. On the other hand, it wasn't uninteresting to read. On top of that, it only took me about a day to finish, so a lot can be forgiven. I think if it was a book that took me a week and had the same issues, I would have been a far harsher critic.

    I think I felt pretty much the same way about the setting. We're sold on this fabulous city setting, but in the end most of the book is spent in the slums below with no real connection to the upper city. We're given glimpses of the politics of the city with no real connection to anything. Other than a few administrators and guards and the guys with the nets, the city may as well be completely empty, lacking in populace, economy, etc.

    Characters: I thought we were told a few things about each character at the beginning but after that they became merely vehicles to move us from place to place. I don't feel like they had connections to each other, really, which prevented any sort of connection with them. I wanted any of them to have to actually do something life-changing. In the end we know not much more about the main characters than we did at the beginning (which wasn't much).

    I think for me this is one of those rare books that has lots of elements in place that I could really like it but the writing abilities of the author just get in the way. I think it's one of those really good ideas, potentially really good stories (we haven't seen enough of it to know) that falls short in the execution. I can almost see what the author wants it to be. I just wish it was that. I think it's a strong vision of what could be a really interesting story. Maybe as Whates writes more and improves his chops we'll see more engaging stuff from him.

    So I guess Eventine actually summed up my feeling more succinctly when he said: "Additionally, the setting is confused and not very well realised. I got the feeling Whates was aiming for New Crobuzon and fell well short. There's a lot of invention here (I was reminded a little of Stephen Hunt) but it comes across as confused and not very well integrated." I just used a lot more words to say it.

    On to another topic: In the lead-up to this month suicil said this was more SF than fantasy. Anybody care to make a case one way or the other?

  4. #4
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    I guess I should also add that if I can get my hands on the second book for 2 or 3 dollars I'll try it out. I don't think I'll spend full price on a second volume of the same which can be burned through in a day. If I hear that the second volume picks up the level of writing a bit, I'll have a look, because I think there's a lot of promise here.

  5. #5
    Jack Bauer Bastard's Avatar
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    I wouldn't go as far as saying I loved it, but I really enjoyed it. Cliches have never been a problem for me, so that might be a part of it. I thought he was a competent writer, given that this was his debut novel, but I think I mentioned elsewhere that I kinda didn't enjoying reading the book as much as when I was done and looked back I kinda really thought this was a fun book. I don't know if that makes much sense. I thought it was a cool world myself, so I give bonus for that.

    As for naming conventions, well you're comparing a human character with what seems like some sort of alien entity... so I can't agree with that being a problem at the moment. I would say though, if I remember correctly, I disliked having many character names starting with "T". But that's just nitpicking.

    I agree with the "Empty Populace" notion though, I'll have to see the next installments and how he makes the city come more alive.

    As for fantasy vs. scifi, well the lines are so blurred at the moment that I really don't know what to think. I still consider Star Wars fantasy in many regards. Reading the excerpt of the next books leads me to believe that more fantasy elements come forward, but more scifi elements are also introduced.

    Second book of the series arrived the other day, hopefully i'll get to it by next month as I have a ton of other stuff to read.

    If you expect more than a fun ride than you'll be quite disappointed. In that regard it delivered for me, and hold that in high value. And within the simplistic straightforward adventure story we're treated, some cool things happen and that's enough for me particularly as a series/author debut.

  6. #6
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    I quite enjoyed the novel though the second volume a little less since it was less inventive and the attraction of this one lies precisely in its sense of wonder - hence my observation that if pressed to strictly choose, I take CoD&N as sf, while CoH&D as fantasy since the half of this last one that takes place in Thaiburley is very UF-like in structure and tropes, while the half that takes place outside has also some more overt fantasy tropes like "rust warriors", ancient evil that lies dormant...

    Coming back to CoD&N I took it at face value as a sf-nal adventure that depends on flow and sense-of-wonder rather than deep characters and complicated storylines; not unlike a mystery, thriller, UF formula, romance formula and so-on; I had no expectations of New Crobuzon or anything New Weird sophisticated since I do not think that was the point of the book; if the fast and fun sf-nal adventure - here with some fantasy echoes - does not appeal to you, the book won't work

    As for the prose, i actually found the author's style very enjoyable - sure it won't win the Booker but again if you look for literary stuff you look in the wrong place here and generally in most genre- and some of the criticisms above were for me "features not bugs" as they say it.

    So overall an entertaining adventure that kept me turning the pages end to end, characters that while generally stock interested me enough to "root" for them and the "goodies" and twists were quite enough

    Incidentally CoH&D offers quite a lot more background on three of the main characters - Tom, Dewar, Kat - as well as on the history of Thairburley itself and on why some of the things are as they are despite say the leaders being reasonably well intentioned and not a bunch of thugs as we expect to start with when seeing the shambles on the ground level - so some of the things that may create dissonance here start making more sense there - again that's par for the course in a lot of sff series where only few things are introduced in the first volume and I happen to like this approach as long as there is enough consistence and plausibility, rather than have huge chunks of world-building thrown in from the first

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erfael View Post
    On to another topic: In the lead-up to this month suicil said this was more SF than fantasy. Anybody care to make a case one way or the other?
    It's a blend for me, although leaning towards the fantasy end of the spectrum simply through the inclusion of pure magical elements (healing, demon dust, etc), while the technology elements are only used in a cursory, unexplained manner (e.g. the dogs).

    Quote Originally Posted by suciul
    I had no expectations of New Crobuzon or anything New Weird sophisticated since I do not think that was the point of the book; if the fast and fun sf-nal adventure - here with some fantasy echoes - does not appeal to you, the book won't work
    Quote Originally Posted by Bastard
    If you expect more than a fun ride than you'll be quite disappointed. In that regard it delivered for me, and hold that in high value. And within the simplistic straightforward adventure story we're treated, some cool things happen and that's enough for me particularly as a series/author debut.
    I didn't know what to expect coming in, I'd never heard of this book and my first impression was based on the blurb. It was what made me expect something more than a fun romp (and I don't mind the odd fun romp), which I didn't think the book was anyway - what I saw as flaws impeded it too much.

  8. #8
    Repudiated Ursus s271's Avatar
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    I second Bastard - good enough but not great. The ending was kind of meh - too simplistic for such intricate beginning.

  9. #9
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    The sequel arrived the other day, I'll see if I manage to squeeze it in in the coming days... really have a lot of priority reads pending.

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