Hiding from his emotions, denying the nightmares that haunt his sleep and the anger that fuels his days.
Most of all, hiding from the truth—that no matter how much he keeps his head down, no matter how he clings to the echoes of everyday life, his city—his world—is dying.
When a new technology offers salvation to his desperate city, Ash must reach out to people he left behind and step back into the world that almost killed him. But coming out of hiding now could be the worst mistake Ash has ever made.
Because there are monsters in the darkness, feeding the chaos, watching the city burn. And once those monsters know his name, Ash will never be able to hide again.
For the next SPFBO novel on my to-read list, I decided to go with City of Burning Shadows by Barbara J. Webb, the first novel in the Apocrypha: The Dying World series that’s kind of a blend of fantasy with urban fantasy in a post apocalyptic world and provided for an interesting read that is yet another unique offering in the Competition. So far I’ve read three books from the finalists and they’ve all been incredibly different and engaging, and I can see why they were selected to win each round. This one feels like a different entry into the fantasy genre following the adventures of Joshua “Ash” Drake, who works for Price & Breckenridge, when he’s called to help someone who needs protecting, but the new challenge comes at an incredibly high risk when stepping back into the world that he used to belong to may be a decision that will come back and hurt him.
The worldbuilding of City of Burning Shadows is superb. The fantasy follows a world with more advanced technology than our own and that is densely populated with thirteen races that used to have their own unique Gods. However, The Abandon happened, and the Gods vanished. The races are far from your typical staples of fantasy and with a variety of protagonists including a non-white lead, the blend between fantasy and technology is something that authors don’t always get right, but it’s something that Webb has definitely managed here. It’s descriptive, compelling and engaging, and moves along at a swift pace.
There are a few things that didn’t quite work for me however, the magic system not quite being refined as clear as it could have been, and on top of that, there are a few contradicting points in narrative where we were told different things from what happened earlier in the book. And it took me a while to become invested in the book at the start, but once I was hooked, it provided a solid read. I’m sure these minor problems won’t put people off reading the book, and it’s certainly a solid read.
Based on the quality of the first three novels that I’ve read in the SPFBO contest (You can find the current score table here), including Webb’s City of Burning Shadows, it should be very interesting to see what the other entries have in store. If this book, Bloodlust, and my pick Sins of A Sovereignty, are anything to go by, then it’s going to be a very tight competition indeed.