Review: City of Skies


At 29% I'm throwing in the towel.

It's not terrible, but it's not that good either.  Reading this is a chore.

I couldn't tell up to the point I stopped if this book better fits as Sci-Fi or Fantasy. There are some hints that make me think probably Fantasy.  I do know it's not Epic Fantasy and it's not Urban Fantasy. Dystopian, maybe.  Post-Apocalyptic - no. Post-Apocalyptic suggests to me a society that has devolved into a state without advanced technology, at the very least. That is not the case here. It also suggests to me a story taking place in an imagined future of our real world. Also not the case here.  This seems most likely to be a mash-up of Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

It's also not Historical Fiction, or Children's Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Myths (for starters it isn't a Children's book),  as I've seen it being touted elsewhere.

I also came across zero Norse mythology, beyond the mention of Loki.  Literally just a mention. Doesn't mean there isn't any, but there isn't any up to 29%.

It did not remind me of Divergent or The Hunger Games except in the broadest and vaguest of ways, nor does it compare with either of those books, in my opinion.

The Short:

Worldbuilding is sparse, haphazard and relies mostly on telling, not showing.  Mostly revealed by exposition by the main character – Nora.

The story is written in first person, present tense.  Which can be tedious to read, and means what we’re told about the world comes from what the MC knows (except for what she frustratingly withholds from us) and comes to us mostly in the form of info-dumps.

I didn’t dislike Nora, but I didn’t really like her either.  As both the primary focus character and our narrator she comes off as pretty blah. She's also really judgey, and has a bit of a mean streak. I truly think her character suffers from the first person, present narration.  Poor Nora isn’t up to the task of performing both roles well.

The way it's written there's really no tension or emotional investment in what is going on, even where there definitely should be some. We're told the "Republic" is "cruel", but never shown that.  We're told not submitting to the "recruitment" where young people are assessed and assigned an "allocation" by the government, is a death sentence. But since we're simply told this it doesn't really carry any impact.  Even being taken away from her home doesn't seem all that dire, although certainly not being happy about it is understandable. There just never seemed to be any weight to what was going on.

The writing is pretty good, in general.  I didn’t notice any glaring grammatical issues, or punctuation problems.  I *did* notice strange/wrong word usage multiple times.  As if the book were written by someone who is very good at English, however is not a native English speaker, and therefore makes an occasional mistake in word usage.

Being transported on a ferry she says,

"The ferry shakes," which gives the impression it's about to break apart or something. What becomes clear soon after is she's simply meaning the normal tossing about in rough seas, causing the MC to become seasick.

Describing the feeling of being given a shot of medicine:

"Something cold patches my arm, but I don’t react."

I think the word that is wanted here is "pinches".

Nora is contradictory, and says contradictory things about what she wants and what she thinks. This makes the story confusing, and her character feel muddled.

She states she knows what she's been chosen to do:

'“Leave the East?” I say. “What would I do in the West?” I have a feeling Dan knows. I sure do, but I don’t want to believe it.'

And then she doesn't know,

"I’m leaving the East. I’ve been chosen, but to do what?"

"I have no idea why they’re taking me to the West and where I will be allocated. What is my destiny?"

On Page 4 she says,

"...but living on the edge is the one thing I want."

But after being chosen to be trained to be an elite "Raider" who go into the dangerous Forbidden Territories to look for the rumored magical Viking relics she says,

"But I’m not happy. I’m terrified. I have no idea what’s going to happen to me from this point on."

'“That’s right, Nora, and you’ve been selected for an allocation reserved for the privileged.” Tanya is skillfully selling the idea to me but doesn’t mention that raiders live a life on the edge—dark and dangerous like the girl on the motorcycle.'

'“What if I refuse?” I say deliberately to provoke her. My freedom has already been taken away from me, and the only reason I’m not resisting is because I want to find my dad and somehow contact this woman, Karen. Who could she be?'

She already said she wanted to live on the edge, she should be thrilled.

There were several times when we receive some explanation right after something occurs where knowing that information would have helped us make sense of the story.  Where I’d read something that raised questions, only to find the information I needed was soon to follow.  This made the flow of the story feel choppy, and kept jolting me out of the story.  This story is not immersive. I was constantly taken out of the story by this sort of thing.

Sometimes things are not explained at all. For example "Rainbow people" are mentioned twice,

Page 5:

"Rainbow people sit at the long wooden table and benches outside..."

Page 33:

"Gustav stands among the rainbow people in Blossom Heights when I walk by."

Who/what are rainbow people? We're never told.

At 29% I still don’t have a good handle of what genre this story is.  It does seem the basic plot is that of: Special girl taken from her home by an authoritative government in order to be trained in order to become a part of an elite group that do a dangerous job and seek rumored magical objects.

Bottom line: Don’t recommend. Some may enjoy this, but the story doesn’t flow, the MC feels wooden, the writing means constantly being taken out of the story to try to make sense of things.

The Long:

The story takes place in a land that has technological advancements a bit beyond our current real world.  However it’s the West division that employs most of this technology, Nora’s division – the East has little in the way of technology. There’s a television in a communal area, some people live in broken down buses, and outsiders come in to the area in old cars.  Nora doesn’t even have a bed, she sleeps on a mat. There’s no indication they reject technology for some principled reason, so I gather they are simply poor due to their insular and communal society. In fact we’re told they all take a vow of poverty.  So they do apparently think of poverty as a virtue.

The inhabited land is called “The Triangle of Peace”. It has three “divisions”: East, West, North.

Page 6:

“The Empire is meant to govern the divisions in the Triangle, but instead our imperial leaders sit on a passive throne and watch silently while the Republic oppresses us, while it enslaved our own division after ragnarok, the Viking doom.”

The Empire and the Republic, as far as I could make out, are both entities that govern the land of the Triangle.  However the Empire is subservient and submissive to the Republic.

“Ragarok”, as much as I could make out, was a cataclysmic war that reduced this land to the state it’s in now, with the different divisions and the authoritarian “Republic” in charge.

Just as a refresher, this is what “republic” means:

“a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.”

This does not appear to define this particular Republic, which is:

“…corrupt authority known as the Sovereign Republic, seven Lumini Lords were elected to empower the people across all three divisions but instead started a vicious rule. They took power from the hands of the people controlling the Triangle.”

So, we have a small group which form an authoritative dictatorship, and it’s referred to as the “Republic”.  What this actually is, is an oligarchy:

“a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.”

So, there’s an oligarchy, but it’s called the “Republic”. Just so we aren’t confused. Because, that’s confusing. In a republic representatives aren’t elected to empower the people, the people are empowered and elect representatives.  Somehow these guys just grabbed power and authority for themselves, in some way that is not explained, and now we have a dictatorship. How they stay in power, and why don’t the people kick them out of power? No idea.

" the statue of capitalism standing tall in the clear blue waters. The statue is 300 hundred feet tall with a large hand raised toward the sky, the hand holding a glittering pot of gold. It is the magnificent symbol of the West division’s wealth and prosperity ruled by the Sovereign Republic."

It appears the author doesn't really understand "capitalism" either, because it's not "wealth and prosperity" and definitely not "ruled by the Sovereign Republic" (aka oligarchy).

Why there even is an “Empire” along with this is also confusing and never explained.  Prior to this power grab the same land was both, at the same time, an Empire and a Republic.  Having both an Empress, and the supreme power in the hands of the people. Which doesn’t make sense. But ok.

“The seven lords are descendants of an old and powerful Viking society, and rumor has it they are great wizards behind their sealed silver masks, rarely making public appearances.”

There are many references to some past Viking society, as well as artifacts. However the current world doesn’t seem to have any real influences from such a society, and nothing much is said about them.  I gathered that this “Viking society” was around prior to the huge war about 100 years before this story starts, but I could be wrong. We get throw away mentions of it, but no actual information or explanations.

Where I stopped - after a scene taken straight from the opening of Indiana Jones. I kid you not. Obtain relic, having to replace the object's weight with something else in order to avoid the booby-trap of boulders coming at you.  All magically known about in advance by one of the trainees in the group. Take a look:

"But Frederick tells us that stones will release if the statue is removed, rolling in our direction like an avalanche. It is clearly a hidden trap."

I rolled my eyes at this so hard I hurt myself.  "Borrowing" from this iconic scene in such an obvious way is just dumb.

First impressions:

This book has several things that make me very skeptical (Or, how not to write a blurb):

Comparisons to very popular books (rarely a good idea):

"If you like The Mortal Instrument Series you're going to love this Book!" (Um, I was not impressed with "Mortal Instruments" anyway.)

"If you are a fan of Divergent, The Hunger Games and Cassandra Clare you will enjoy this series."

I liked Divergent ok, Liked the Hunger Games 1 & 2, but didn't like Katniss much, didn't care enough to read the third one. Am definitely not a fan of Cassandra Clare.

What I am however is a Fantasy reader. And a Sci-Fi Reader. (I wonder if whoever wrote this blurb is even aware of the fact that "The Mortal Instrument Series" isn't even the same genre as "Divergent or "Hunger Games.")

This blurb is actually telling me, a YA Fantasy reader, that I should probably give this one a skip.

So, this is a way to turn off readers who may actually like this story (I'll withhold judgement), and cause those who really did enjoy these other books to either have unrealistic expectations, or (more experienced and likely often burned by this sort of claim) to be very, very skeptical.

It also appears to be yet another Romance set in a Fantasy world, and touted as a Fantasy.  Can we please get some authors who'll write YA Fantasy that is not Romancey? Pretty please?

There are Fantasy readers who are not Romance readers. We exist.

"...and avoid falling in love with the charming boy who just happens to be her worst enemy...and she’s not quite sure which task is more difficult… " Just, ugh.

Telling me in the blurb "Experience the beginning of this fast paced fantasy saga that will have you turning the pages."

Readers know blurbs are written by the publisher.  So, hardly a credible, unbiased source of how "fast paced" it is, and one that cannot possibly know that it will have each and every customer "turning the pages."

The Editorial Reviews section on Amazon is a list of quotes from consumer reviews.  Clue: Consumer reviews are not "editorial reviews".  At. All.

To be fair, this book may not have any editorial reviews, which is perfectly fine (readers don't care that much about them, most especially Fantasy and Sci-Fi readers - professional reviewers tend to be too snooty to care about those genres much), and the publisher may have felt something in that space was better than leaving it blank. I'd disagree, but fair enough. But touting ratings, and reader quotes from GoodReads and/or Amazon in book promo space (Blurb, or Promo area) just screams amateur, and that's not a good idea.

The number of 4 and 5 star ratings/reviews, and how exuberant many are in their praise. For a YA Fantasy book published almost a year ago that I have never heard of and none of my YA Fantasy reader Friends and Following have read.  Combined with how few 3 star reviews (and under) there are.  For a book of this sort I'd expect more 3 star ratings than there are.

It's on the Listopia list of "Best Epic Fantasy". Um. That is really, really weird.  Sure, some, or a couple, readers may have loved it so much they stuck it on the list. But really, one of the BEST Epic Fantasies? A book I've never heard of, by an author I've never heard of, when Fantasy and Epic Fantasies are books I am a huge fan of and devour and keep my eye out for, always on the lookout for another good one?

See, I'm very, very skeptical.  Books don't need to be "the best" to be perfectly fine and enjoyable reads. Most books are not the best. Most especially most books that are by unknown, self-pubbed authors.  Most especially in Epic Fantasy, where really, really good books are very rare, and the vast majority are acceptable at best, mediocre, derivative even more common.

In fact, really good Epic Fantasy books are so exceedingly rare that those that are thought to be very good by Fantasy readers tend to become pretty well heard of by those in Fantasy reading circles.

This book is on two pages of Listopia lists! That is a lot for a book that only has about 250 ratings. Quite a lot. To the point that it makes me suspicious how exactly it came to be on so many lists.

Confusingly, there are six readers who think this book is actually Urban Fantasy:

And those same six readers, plus another one, think it's also "Paranormal Fiction":

And those six readers also think it's Dystopian/Post Apocalypic:

They also happen to be among the eight readers who think this book is Epic Fantasy.

Um, see, that's really strange. Is it Epic Fantasy, Paranormal or Urban Fantasy? Dystopian/Post Apocalyptic (a sub-genre of Sci-Fi, not Fantasy). Cuz those are different things.

Maybe these six-seven obvious uber-fans just don't know what kind of book this really is, or are just sticking a book they love willy-nilly on all sorts of lists, whether it fits or not.  Certainly possible.

I noticed another reviewer say, "...The book fits into the Nordic mystery genre with its cutting-edge Viking theme. Set in a sci-fi, dystopian world..."

There's a Nordic mystery genre? Who knew! So, is this a Mystery then? Because "Nordic mystery" sounds like it should be a sub-genre of Mystery.  But wait, "Set in a sci-fi, dystopian world" means it's Sci-Fi, not Fantasy.  Well, wouldn't be the first time a book marketed as Fantasy actually was Sci-Fi, or that a reader classified a book as Sci-Fi that was actually Fantasy.  Although if it's dystopian then it's definitely gonna be Sci-Fi, not Fantasy.  So perhaps this reader has a better handle of genre than those that think it's "Epic Fantasy".  Then again, the "Nordic mystery genre" is confusing.

Four of these uber-fans think it's one of the Best Fantasy Books of the 21 Century:

And three think it's one of the Best Books Ever:

While I can appreciate their fanaticism for what is clearly one of their all time favorite books, I do have to question their judgement, or at least perhaps degree of exposure to many books.

What I know: after pursuing reader reviews, reading the blurb, and taking a gander at the many listopia lists some excited people have put this book on, I am completely confused about what kind of story this actually is.  That's not good.

What I want in a blurb:

A good idea of what the book is about and what genre it is in.

What I turns me off in a blurb:

Telling me I'll like it. Telling me how awesome it is. Telling me how much other people have liked it.

Comparisons to very popular books. "For readers of....", "If you enjoyed...", "It's a cross between Book A and Book B..." Etc.

IMO the blurb itself should be free of any promotion, marketing, advertising type verbiage.  Or at least reasonably so.

But it's currently a Kindle freebie, and I am a Fantasy reader, and I sometimes am surprised, so...