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The City Stained Red is a fantasy novel, but only in an aesthetic sense. Sure, there's magic, monsters, demons, and swordfights, but the author has chosen to subvert standard fantasy storytelling tropes like heavy exposition, heroic protagonists, or even a clear division between good and evil. These subversions all feed perfectly into the central theme of the novel: chaos. The world of The City Stained Red is dirty, disorderly, and cruel; and the protagonists (I hesitate to call them “the good guys”) are not here to fix it.
The story opens in medias res (kind of), so instead of learning about the protagonists via exposition, their characters are revealed through their actions and interaction with each other and the world. Each has a unique way of coping with the immense chaos of the setting, so any reader will be able to identify well with at least one of them: whether the reader would just want to leave the chaos behind, try to find personal connection in the chaos, try to help others in the chaos, be at home in the chaos, look down on the chaos through a lens of simple axiomatic truths, or try to control the chaos by (literally) burning it all down.
The structure of the story eschews standard fantasy arcs like redemption or ordained quests, instead choosing to follow this scenario to fruition: what if six uniquely powerful people with various levels of decision-making skills entered a city like Jerusalem at the peak of Roman occupation? “Powder keg” is an understatement. The protagonists are broken people in a broken world, so of course their stories can come across as dirty and disjointed. One character is revealed to be a terrible (almost vile) human being, but instead of being given a chance for redemption, his arc completes when he realizes and accepts that he is a monster.
I do not want to leave the impression that this book is overall dower or dreary; it is actually a very fun read. The author often portrays the most chaotic moments as whacky hijinks; the dialogue and descriptions are freckled with wit and hilarious analogies. David DeSantos’ performance is fantastic: despite the large number of main characters, he is able to make each voice instantly recognizable and characteristically appropriate. Bravo! I sincerely hope that Audible commissions his performance for the other novels in this series.
If you enjoy fantasy novels, read this book. If you enjoy wit and humor, read this book. If you are in the mood for something unusual, read this book.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
An awesome first book in a series, I wish there were more audiobooks from Sykes!
Narrator does a great job of presenting Sykes unique witty writing in a way that flows very well.
This series takes some fantasy tropes and turns them up on their head - a great thing for a genre that can become saturated with predictability.
Moments of laughter, confusion (the good kind), action, and sadness all happen organically, leaving you wanting more. definitely worth a listen.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful