The Drowning City by Amanda Downum

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The Drowning City by Amanda Downum

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Amit Vyas
Reviewed by Amit Vyas
Summary: Frustrating. There is so much that is technically competent and worthy of praise, leading to high expectations for a story which ultimately fails to connect.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841498140

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In a nutshell, you're reading this because you're wondering whether The Drowning City is good, bad or mediocre. You've probably glanced at the rating and guessed the latter. I'm afraid it's not quite that simple. This is a debut that provokes decidedly mixed feelings. I started off convinced that I was going to love this book. The cover art is effortlessly cool, the premise intriguing, the characters laden with potential for greatness and the backdrop is certainly evocative.

The main character, one Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy, arrives at the city of Symir with a mission to start a revolution. The Assari Empire controls the city and Isyllt needs to stir up some trouble before the kingdom of Assari turns its attention to her own country. Isyllt is accompanied by her travelling companions, the veteran bodyguard Adam and his lover Xinai, an assassin who used to call Symir home.

Symir is the drowning city of the title and is undoubtedly the star of the show in the early going; a lush tropical seaport built around a network of canals and surrounded by jungle. I felt as if I was travelling along with Isyllt in the opening sections, taking in the unique atmosphere with a sense of both wonder and apprehension. There is a palpable sense of tension in the air that is subtly conveyed. The writer obviously spent some time in South Asia and this is reflected in the first rate world building. I enjoyed the subtle distinctions between the pseudo Middle Eastern culture of the Assari Empire, and the Asian culture of the oppressed natives of Symir. The opening chapters impressed upon me the fact that Downum can write and is capable of conveying realistic dialogue and description without overdoing it.

Several hours later I was fighting against the realisation that I just wasn't enjoying the reading experience. It was a difficult thing to admit at first. The positive first impressions had me expecting great things and I did not want to be disappointed, but the story just did not flow well. In fact the story was interesting but not engaging, it was not clear until about the halfway point where the plot was heading at all.

The problem was with the characters, I never felt that I was living their experiences with them and getting to know them as people. They were caught in the midst of one set piece event after another but never carried the plot. It often took a few seconds of staring at a person's name on the page to remember who they were. Too many people were introduced too quickly and nobody was given enough space to shine or show much of a personality. Not to say that I want a 900 page fantasy epic filled with needless background detail. However when its difficult to keep track of who's who then its usually a sign that the story needs more room to breathe.

Isyllt turned out to be a little bit of a dud, spending most of her time not doing much actual spying, but spending a great deal of time spinning her wheels attending events and being held captive. Xinai was given a sizeable subplot, joining a violent revolutionary faction opposed in aims to the peaceful outfit Isyllt was courting. The author obviously has a story arc mapped for the characters in the forthcoming installments, but she forgets to take the readers along with them.

I'd like to thank the publishers for providing a copy to the Bookbag.

For superlative character driven fantasy The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan comes highly recommended.

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Buy The Drowning City by Amanda Downum at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Drowning City by Amanda Downum at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Drowning City by Amanda Downum at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Drowning City by Amanda Downum at


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