Kirsten Reviews: The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
Bring Down Heaven #1
Long before he was sent to hell, the Aeon known as Khoth-Kapira was the closest thing to a living god the world had ever known. Possessed of a vast intellect, he pioneered many of the wonders that persist in the world that lingered long after he was banished. Nearly every fragment of medical, economic and technological progress that the mortal races enjoyed could be traced back to him. But with his wonders came cruelty beyond measure: industrialized slavery, horrifying experimentations and a rage that would eventually force the world to bow to him.
Now, as Khoth-Kapira stirs the world begins to shudder with disasters yet to come.The epicenter is the city of Cier'Djaal. A religious war between two unstoppable military juggernauts begins to brew. The racial fury among many peoples of the world is about to explode. Demons begin to pour from the shadows at the head of a vicious cult worshipping dark powers.
And Lenk finds himself in the middle once more, his fate and the fate of Khoth-Kapira interlinked as the demon attempts to convince him of his earnestness.
"Your world is breaking around you," He Who Makes says, "let me fix it. Let me help you. Let me out."
The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes is the first book in his Bring Down Heaven trilogy, and from the first pages, readers step into an adventure winding down, or so the main characters believe.
The story picks up as a group of adventurers attempt to enter the city of Cir’Djaal in order to obtain money they are owed. The premise seems fairly simple from the outset, but as with any such characters, things quickly go sideways, and they find themselves in the middle of a foot war, and political power struggles.
Fair warning, this book throws a lot of characters of varying species, temperaments and histories at the reader very quickly. However, while the plot sprawls over a large landscape, its threads are woven tightly, and it all comes together into much larger picture with the various characters each having their own issues to wrestle with.
The leader is a young man named Lenk, who is only in charge because nobody else wants the job, and most of the time, makes the worst plans. He’d like to stop killing - something which he has a talent for doing very well, and yet would like to preserve his relationship with Kataria, a shict, who is conflicted about her connection with Lenk, as well as her faith. Then there is Dreadaeleon, a young wizard, who would like to prove himself, often at the detriment of others. Denaos is the quintessential rogue, and he’d like to avoid the city more than most of the others. Finally, Gariath is their ‘heavy,’ a dragonman, who protects the other members of the party, and yet struggles with how to reconcile that with his sense of identity. There are a number of secondary characters, some helpful, others decidedly not, and many who have stories worth exploring further.
As the story progresses, the book is divided up into sections, and as circumstances deteriorate, so do the relationships among the adventurers. There are no easy answers to any of the plotlines, and as a rule, everything is terrible, or might be if somebody breathes wrong.
There are a fair number of fantasy books that follow a formula, where the protagonists are all good, or at least the kind of characters you wouldn’t mind meeting in a dark alley. This book departs from this rather spectacularly, as this group is as dangerous to their enemies as they are to their allies, and might rescue someone, or cut them down, depending on their level of emotional instability. Even so, Sykes’ sense of humor comes through strongly, and even though there’s quite a bit of bloodshed, the jokes aren’t in short supply either.
In future books, it would be nice to see the characters stepping away from their own stories a bit more, in order to interact more, beyond fights with one another and their many enemies, and there is definitely plenty of story and its world to explore.
(Received a copy from the publisher)