Following the thrilling first instalment of the Legends of the Red Sun series, Mark Charan Newton presents us with a second adventure. Laced with all the subtle politics of Nights of Villjamur, alongside an even defter approach to the “new weird”, City of Ruin is an exciting, thought-provoking, and extremely politically relevant continuation of the series.
Away from Villjamur, we are taken to the city ofVilliren: a city of gangs, corruption and the bizarre—a city soon to be on the front lines of a terrible and imminent war. Brynd Lathraea—commander of the Night Guard—takes centre stage, and it is around him the events unfold. Inspector Jeryd returns, having fled Villjamur after uncovering plans for the mass murder of hundreds of the refugees clamouring at the city walls, and endeavours to make a difference in a city even darker than Villjamur.
As war advances, Brynd must prepare both a militant force and fortify the city as well as possible in what time is given. With a corrupt Portreeve and violent underworld gangs, the task will be difficult—especially when he must liaise with Malum, a cleverly presented character who offers an original spin on a classic horror archetype, whose underground and criminal reputation controls enough muscle to help sway the tides in the coming war.
Malum has his own agenda—as do all of the characters—and whilst he isn’t especially villainous, he becomes an antagonist at times through his actions—especially his treatment and nature towards Brynd. He adheres entirely to his own views and refuses to be swayed by any tide. Instead, with a troubled private life, and difficulties of his own, Malum remains an angst-fuelled, strong character who provides glimpses into an extremely masculine mentality, and yet, beneath the surface Newton shows a sad core, afflicted by both his past and present. It’s a suggestion as to what lies beneath an overtly masculine (and often homophobic) façade.
With hints of external blackmail, and his own Night Guards’ individual loyalties called into question, Brynd must tread carefully as he attempts to protect Villiren. Then, when a member of the Night Guard goes missing, Brynd is forced to call upon the Inquisition—upon Inspector Jeryd.
With Jeryd comes the noir: throughout Nights of Villjamur he served as a gritty, darker and moodier counterpart to much of the cast, and although his spirits lift here and there—largely thanks to a reunion with his wife and a rekindling of their relationship—his oddly melancholic determination coupled with his refreshed role as an investigator keeps the noir atmosphere fresh and present.
Jeryd and his new aide, Nanzi, must uncover the details behind bizarre murders, and scattered glimpses here and there of an extremely large arachnid, which supposedly moves through the darkness of Villiren, its motives unknown and its actions untraceable.
Loaded with subtle feminine strength, Newton has created the strong female presence he felt Nights of Villjamur lacked. Nanzi has a strong role of her own, but for her part, she becomes the suggestion that a woman can be both dependant on, and independent from a man. Nanzi’s subplot takes City of Ruin deep into the “new weird”, and although elements surrounding her did not work entirely for me, what Newton attempted as a character was a success.
As we came to expect from Newton following Nights of Villjamur, the book is loaded with politics. The most awkward and difficult of these is a radical new solution to food shortages. It is a sharp shock to the system and it irks the reader—which is exactly what it intended. Nanzi’s involvement at the behest of the man upon whom she relies further demonstrates the idea of a strong woman, acting on her own.
More gripping, is the growing homophobic atmosphere.
Malum, along with a member of the Night Guard—his actions fuelled further by a member of the church—demonstrate strong homophobia, to the point where murder and irradiation is the only option for these “wrongdoers”. It’s very clever of Newton, to further develop these ideas in the second instalment, after the reader has grown attached to Brynd, regardless of his skin colour (he’s an albino) or who he takes to bed.
That, whilst a city faces war, individuals would rather dispose of their best hope for the salvation of their city based on his sexual preference, is poignantly allegoric of issues regarding gender and sexuality in our world, and thus a clever play by Newton.
Whilst we do revisit those who fled Villjamur at the close of Nights, what interests most about Randur and the Jamur girls in this novel, is who they meet. A strange encounter leads onto a journey to Villiren in order to help the city, whilst the “woman” they meet begins to slowly explain the nature of current events in their world—knowledge she has attained and brought from her world. She may well just hold information that could give Brynd what he needs to save Villiren.
Having let the confines of Villjamur, we glimpse Newton’s world up close, and though much of the story does take place in Villiren, we see the outside starkly during Randur’s journey to the city. The world is more fleshed, deeper, and just as well-crafted as the city of Villjamur was, demonstrating Newton’s excellent world-building prowess.
The prose is just as slick, descriptive and smooth as the first book and the pacing is seamless: there is always something happening, all pressed by the urgency the ice age brings with it.
Whilst I missed the streets of Villjamur—and will be excited to return to them in The Book of Transformations—the streets of Villiren are just as dark and interesting—perhaps, with what stalks them, darker.
City of Ruin is a slick, engaging fantasy that borders on—at times—“new weird” and even speculative science fiction. It is a well-constructed and relevant read. It’s also a great deal of fun, and will merely whet the appetite for the third book, penultimate novel. Brilliant, outstanding, and imaginative.