The City by Stella Gemmell – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

The City

Bane of Kings reviews the first epic fantasy novel by Stella Gemmell, published by Bantam Books. 

“An awesome, epic book. Unputdownable, engrossing and enthralling. A top notch Fantasy debut.” ~The Founding Fields

If you’re a fantasy fan, chances are you’ll have probably heard of David Gemmell and more than likely read at least one book by him. I can say that I actually own three of his Druss the Legend novels, but have only ever found the time to read Legend, which I really enjoyed. I don’t know why I got around to reading the next two books, but I still couldn’t help but marvel at his work. Naturally though, fans of David Gemmell will be wondering if Stella Gemmell can match the high calibre work of one of fantasy’s finest authors. And does she succeed? Yes. The City is mind blowingly awesome, managing to be one of the better books that I’ve read so far in 2013. It’s one of those novels that I couldn’t put down, and I came away wanting to see what book Gemmell could put out next.

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…

There is of course going to be comparisons made to David Gemmell, but it’s important to note that The City manages to be very superb indeed. Whilst Stella Gemmell has co-authored the Fall of Kings with David Gemmell, she’s never quite written a book on her own before, and The City ensures us that she can produce a top quality work on her own, rich with originality, strong characters and a captivating plot. Of course, this book is epic fantasy, but Gemmell manages to create a wonderful world in which it takes place. She captures everything from soldiers to Emperors and more, with a wonderful understanding of how characters work and what makes them tick.

The CityAll good epic fantasy books are immersive and The City is no different. The world-building is literally superb, with a believable creation enhanced with an inspiration from various eras of History, with most notably, a Roman-edged organisation of such things like military, and social standings, with a great tale that tells a tale that’s a lot more complex than David Gemmell’s Legend in plotting, with deeply flawed yet likeable characters and places them in a world that is as believable as the one that we live in.

The characters are, like the worldbuilding, a joy to read, but not quite as stand-out  with times when they don’t feel as distinctive or as memorable as they should have been, probably due to the fact that we have a ton of POVs on display here. However. the amount of characters on display here also adds to the storyline, we get a wide range of perspectives to which we see the events unfold from, as the book deals with themes such as loyalty, revenge, honour and more – allowing for a complex and well crafted tale that mounts a strong challenge for one of the best fantasy novels of 2013.

The book also has the benifit of being a standalone, and the reader is not left hanging on waiting for a sequel as is common with most fantasy novels from debut authors. It’s refreshing to see an epic fantasy book that can be told as a single volume, and with such a sheer quality that is displayed here. If you’re a fan of the genre, then you should certainly consider picking this book up, for it is top notch.

VERDICT: 4.5/5

Bane of Kings is one our most senior book reviewers here at The Founding Fields, based in England. He’s a prolific reviewer that has contributed to many things here and around the internet.


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