Friday, February 17, 2012

100 Books #15 - Ian Whates' CITY OF DREAMS & NIGHTMARE

Never before in my experience has it been harder not to think of another book -- in this case Alastair Reynolds' Terminal World -- while reading this one, and this includes my experiences last year with Christopher Priest's Inverted World (and that's a whole lot of world, eh wot?). Which is not necessarily a bad thing, in that I really enjoyed the Reynolds book; everyone knows he's my favorite living sci-fi author. It was just a bit odd.

There are definite and undeniable resemblances between the two, of course. Both feature vast, vertical, layered cities with the elites high up top (in Reynolds' book the elitism is technological and has to do with the physics of resolution, whereas in Whates' the elitism is more traditionally class-based and economic). Both follow detectives from the heights as they venture down into the rabble below to solve mysteries. And really, they're both pretty awesome.

What makes Whates' book different and thus worth reading in its own right is the characters, particularly the secondary ones (the protagonist is very much a typical orphan-who-is-secretly-the-most-important-kid-like-ever, not so fresh, but not poorly done by any means). Of particular interest are Tylus, a somewhat nebbishy member of the higher level's elite public safety division, the Kite Guards (more about them in a minute; they're really cool and by far the most memorable bit in this book) who discovers that he actually likes being a cop once he's sent into the slums below and has some actual crime to fight, and Dewar, the main bad guy's henchman-assassin who is secretly sent down to look after/assist Tylus because, well, nobody respects Tylus, who, after all, let the OWISTMIKLE get away from the bad guy in the story's opening movement. Again, these are both very well established types, but against the interesting background of the city and the story, they feel fresh and just a tad unpredictable. And since both are tossed into an interesting stew of street toughs, weirdly constructed monsters and the truly unusual setting of a city that has literally been carved out of a mountain, I never got bored with them.

Now, about the Kite Guards. Damn, what a cool idea. Since their jurisdiction is way up high at the top of the mountain but they frequently have to go down a few levels (but almost never all the way to the bottom), they wear kite capes (hence the name, duh) which let them fly, or at least glide -- less well than Superman but better than Batman, let's say. The passages in which Tylus deploys his cape are easily the most exciting in the book and almost by themselves make City of Dreams & Nightmare worth reading. I totally, totally want one.

As is so often the case with speculative fiction these days, City of Dreams & Nightmare is the first of at least three extant books in the City of One Hundred Rows series. While part of me says "Oh balls, another trilogy", I did like this book well enough to want to read the others sometime soon. Watch this space, children.

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