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  • A.K. Lee

Book Review: The City Stained Red

“Some things were so uncertain that the logical mind could not abide them. Some things were so uncertain that they must be made certain." - The City Stained Red, Sam Sykes

This book could not be found in Singapore (at least, my searches in bookshops and the libraries turned up nothing), I could not purchase it as an ebook, and so I could only purchase via Amazon, a company whose services I am actively avoiding the use of.

Basically, what I'm saying is that I was very adamant that the book had better be worth all the hassle because otherwise I would be extremely upset and I might even leave a one-star review. (I wouldn't have. I'm not soulless or evil.)

Good news though: The City Stained Red has been worth the hassle. It is a fast-paced action fantasy romp replete with flawed yet likable characters (most of them). I devoured the book in two days, and I needed two days because I started the book on a Friday night.

By the way, apropos of nothing, it is a thick book, and having it land on your nose hurts.

I hadn't read anything by Sykes other than his tweets so I was assuming there would be a lot of wry asides and witticisms and jokes. There are some, but the book is literally about how a city which glutted itself with spider silk crashed headlong into a war through people being bloody-minded dumbasses. In fact, the entire book is about people. Some of them have good intentions, and what happens when we act on good intentions.

The City Stained Red is a good story for novice writers like me too. It is an exercise in Making Shit Happen, and how everything that happens influences the next thing that happens, and before you know it, the entire city is running with blood. It was great fun to read as a reader, and I am having great fun reading it as a writer.

My one very mild whinge as a reader is that I found it hard to visualize the city or the characters much beyond a sketchy outline. Perhaps I have been thoroughly spoiled by Tolkien and Pratchett, who can paint pictures in my head, and so having to work to see Lenk and Kataria and Denaos et al is a challenge. To be fair, this does not detract from the writing at all - Sykes trims away anything that isn't relevant to the plot and drives the narrative forward; even when characters decide to step off the stage for a breather, their return always amps up the tension. In a good way, Sykes' writing reminds me of Elmore Leonard, whose words are sharp as blades and there is never excessive fat.

Now I need to get my hands on The Mortal Tally...

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