The City by Stella Gemmell

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The City by Stella Gemmell

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The widow of the late, lamented David Gemmell steps out in her own right to receive well deserved personal acclaim. This slow burning epic provides fantasy lovers with a new voice that we're going to love just as much. Actually, forget the future tense; I love it now!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 704 Date: April 2014
Publisher: Corgi
ISBN: 978-0552168953

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The City has been fighting for centuries, be it the recognised war of Red versus Blue fuelled by the mysterious Emperor or the daily fight of the Dwellers struggling for existence in the sewer settlements. Such oppression breeds unlikely heroes. A former general, now a fugitive from a questionable justice, a 16 year old soldier trying to out-run her father's reputation, a famed Red army leader and a little girl who believes in someone whom others hardly notice any more; these carry hope for the City, whether the City realises it or not.

Journalist and aspiring novelist Stella Gemmell became a published author via tragedy. Stella's husband, famed fantasy writer David Gemmell died in July 2006 part way through a trilogy reworking the Trojan War story. Two weeks after David's funeral Stella told the publishers that she would complete the work. This she did and Troy: Fall Of Kings by David and Stella Gemmell was the result. Now Stella moves into the spotlight in her own right and, having read The City, although wishing it was through happier circumstances, I'm rather glad she has.

This is a deceptively slow burner to begin with, more than making up for it later. This gradual start does enable us to take in the characters and dystopian world before us. The City and its environs have been ravaged by eons of war, the Emperor's palace being the only example of majesty in a world of utilitarian or shanty buildings above and below the ground.

Our companions on the journey are just as fascinating as their world, as their pasts slowly emerge through our time with them. People like Indara, the young warrior hell-bent on duty lest she be thought of as a coward like her father. Bartellus the ex-general, with a kind heart and fierce sense of justice, subsumes the pain that haunts him from the time when he was known by a different name. If you like jaw dropping twists, meet Fell, fighter, leader and eventual reason for the 's' brand 'Aaha!' moment.

Indeed, Stella is the mistress of the jaw-dropping twist, imbuing a seemingly throw away moment with a deeper meaning revealed later. She also shares her late husband's ability to translate battle scenes from a two-dimensional page to a brutal three-dimensional mind play. Indeed as we watch people wade through rivers of sewage seasoned by human body parts from the very beginning, before even getting to the battles, we realise this isn't a book for the kiddies!

By the way, if you want to place Stella on the fantasy genre line, like David before her, she's every bit as at ease with gore and flawed heroes as the likes of Joe Abercrombie and Luke Scull but milder language than Messrs A and S.

We may come to relish the fight but aren't partisan. Ok, we realise we aren't fans of the Emperor pretty early on, but our heroes are raised from both sides of the divide as eventually their episodic paths merge at the same place. Each is worthy of the fear and tension we feel on their behalves; oh yes, this is good stuff!

While typing this, realisation has dawned on me. Although we will of course miss David Gemmell while continuing to luxuriate in the body of work he's left behind, it's unfair to think of Stella only in terms of her writing partnership and connection with him. The City proves Stella is a writing tour de force in her own right and I for one am eager to grab with both hands whatever she would like to offer us next. (After saying please and thank you, of course!)

(A definite thank you to Corgi for providing us with a copy for review.))

Further Reading: We would recommend Troy: Fall Of Kings if you'd like a taste of how Stella's writing has developed and Legend if you'd like to enjoy the writing that David will be remembered for. If you're already a fan then try Herald of the Storm by Richard Ford, another exemplary British fantasy writer.

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Buy The City by Stella Gemmell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The City by Stella Gemmell at


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