Review: The Drowning City

Posted: December 22, 2009 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Amanda Downum, Dark Fantasy

THE DROWNING CITY by Amanda Downum (Amazon) is the opening act in The Necromancer Chronicles sequence. The plot follows a number of characters, but Isyllt Iskaldur (how do YOU think this is pronounced?) is the main protagonist. She is in the island-city of Symir, in the capacity of a spy/government agent. Her mission, should she choose to accept it? Spread dissent, foment chaos, and generally wreck the status quo. Cool eh? Well, read on…

Let’s talk setting. We have read books that run the gamut on interesting settings, however we have very rarely seen anything that resembles the Far East. After reading this book we wondered why we haven’t seen it more before now. (Before your get your panties in a bunch, we know there are other novels that have this style of setting. We are just saying, there seems to be a shortage.) It is such a cool place, and provides Amanda Downum with a lot of source material to create her own unique world. The landscape gives us familiar vibes, yet remains extremely exotic due to being filled with Demons and Ghosts. A tropical environment gives plenty of fantastic opportunities for the author to exploit and satisfy our imaginations. But here also we have a problem. We were left… wanting. This was a chance for Downum to really blow her reader’s minds with something unique and creative, and yank them from the comfort of common pseudo-European fantasy settings. THE DROWNING CITY didn’t deliver as much as it should have. We were disappointed… kinda like a fat person eating a small salad.

The characters. Oh the characters. THE DROWNING CITY has some very intriguing characters with real potential and depth to them. Their histories and character traits are fairly unique in a genre that has been saturated with the familiar fantasy archetypes. However, as will be a theme throughout this book, the execution was somewhat lackluster. What do we mean by that, you ask? Well consider this. As we mentioned above, the plot is one of intrigue, political maneuvering, and guerrilla warfare, etc. So we get a lot of the fun, “Who is really good or bad?”, “Is there such a thing as either?”, “Where is the line, if there is one, that can’t be crossed to achieve a goal?” and “Where do this person’s morals fit?” kind of stuff. (Are you sensing that we completely dig that attitude yet?)

Part of the problem is that the transitions between character PoVs can ofter be pretty bad. In addition, some disappear for huge chunks of the books altogether. Some of the characters who could have been really, REALLY interesting aren’t given enough, if any, screen-time. Not to mention the naming syntax Downum uses is downright confusing at times. And what the crap was she thinking naming a dude, in this book, Adam? A tad inconsistant? Yeah, especially considering the fact the rest of the names are so foreign, that we felt like we were unwrapping a Starburst with our tongue (something else, like most things, that Nick is way better at than you–he practices daily) as we tried to sound them out. And really, characters didn’t do a whole lot. We kept asking ourselves, “When is the character development going to happen? When are these people gonna do something cool?” They also do things that are in direct contradiction with their established personalities and back-stories. This is perhaps the single most unacceptable flaw in the entire book.

The plot, with all its intrigue, was simply not what we wanted. This really isn’t even an issue of our preconceptions not being met (as if anyone would possibly think we would be capable of weakness like that). It just lacked movement, or rather, a pointed movement. The flow of the story seemed more like a trickle of a muddy stream than the deafening roar of rapids that we want.

THE DROWNING CITY has fantastic characters, a great concept, and loads of potential. Since this is a debut novel, Amanda Downum is one to watch.

THE DROWNING CITY is not quite a dark fantasy, despite having a lot of those gritty qualities that tantalize us so. It is also not quite a horror book either, even though it has a lot of the horror qualities as well. This is good news for you folks, because people who enjoy either will find something they enjoy here. It was bad news for us since our egos are taking a slight hit due to our inability to squish it into a genre. Don’t worry. We’ll recover. If you send us Christmas presents the process will go quicker.

Looking at the meat of the review we want to say that THE DROWNING CITY wasn’t bad. In fact, for a debut author it was actually pretty impressive. It is a great concept with tons of future potential. But it didn’t dazzle us either. That said, we look forward to the sequel, and Amanda Downum’s continued published work. With a little more effort on her own part refining her craft, and her editor polishing the writing, Downum may become a household name for fantasy readers.

Our final note is something that we haven’t agreed on between the two of us (yeah, it happens occasionally). Downum frequently uses made-up words for common vernacular (replacing phrases like ‘greetings’, ‘good morning’, ‘mother’, ‘lady’, etc.) without any sort of warning, glossary, or explanation. Steve thought this was a blunder because it can really pull the reader out of the story. Nick agreed, but was also pleased with Downum for not beating the reader over the head with out-of-story information, and expecting that they will be able to catch on. Also, in the typical artsy analysis that has become his habit of late, Steve was pretty happy with Orbit’s (the publisher of the novel) art direction of THE DROWNING CITY, and it’s sequel THE BONE PALACE. High-five, Orbit. It almost makes up for your crappy production quality of the UK edition of THE GATHERING STORM. Almost.

Note: Don’t confuse this series with Gail Z. Martin’s, The Chronicles of the Necromancer. It seems to us that either these two authors are in cahoots to inundate our immense brains with Chronicles and Necromancers, or they both need to open up their eyes the next time they are at their local bookstore. What gives ladies?

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Nothing that we imagine could be of concern to anyone
  • Violence: Not as much as we hoped, but it is there
  • Sex: Its present, with a couple scenes, but nothing explicit. Its mostly alluded to, or briefly introduced.

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