I havent read any of James
Barclays books, and frankly, if he thinks this is the "the best fantasy
in the last decade" I doubt that Ill bother. I was not impressed to
see his name in the acknowledgements at the end of the book eitherhis comment on the
front is not likely to be unbiased. Theres no doubt that Stella Gemmell is a fine
writer in parts, giving us evocative descriptions and strong characters. Its when it
comes to stringing the pats into a novel that things fall apart. Very literally.
Theres little continuity here, events occur randomly in space and
time, so that the whole thing simply doesnt make sense. It might have helped if
there was a time and place header at the beginning of each chapter. Or a map. Or even a
listing of dramatis personae . But there are none of these aids to the reader. And so the
book is crippled.
The other issue I have is the logistical problem of maintaining a city
under siege for centuries. Theres a reason why sieges worked in
historyits because people starve when their city runs out of food.
Battlefields do not make good farmland. Now, in a high magic environment where mages can
turn any organic matter into food you might get away with it, but this is a low magic
fantasy with the only sorcerous effects being the longevity and psychic powers of the
Emperor and the other Serafiim.
While an editor might have been able to fix the novels other
problems, the background of the City at endless war with its neighbours is too central to
the book. I was curious enough to finish it, and I have to admit that it did become more
coherent towards the end, but