The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was my first book by Sam Sykes, and it was a good introduction to his works. The book opens with a band of adventurers (read: mercenaries) on a mission to collect the payment owed to them by their latest employer. They follow him to the city of Cier’Djaal, where they plan to collect what they are owed and get on with their lives. For Lenk, the leader of the band, that means retiring from the advenutrer life and finding somewhere to settle down in peace. For the others, collecting their money means other things. What they find when they get to the city is not a simple matter of finding the man who owes them, but navigating a complex, biased society that is on the brink of all out civil war. Despite their efforts, they get pulled into the conflict.
The setting is a fairly typical fantasy world, essentially a Medieval city with many of the usual details. Instead of lords and kings, there are the fashas, who control the silk trade that brings the city its wealth. There are merchants and tradesmen and peasants. Religious factions compete for followers and power. Non-humans, here known by the all-inclusive deragatory term oids, are looked down on by almost everyone. There are two radical groups who create chaos with random attacks that often spill into full battles.
The characters are interesting and well-rounded, if a little predictable in pesonality at times. Lenk, the battle-weary leader, can be a bit self-pitying and morose. The theif, Denaos, puts on a devil-may-care attitude. Asper, the priestess, is the moral compass of the group, if a group of mercenaries can have such a thing. And the rest have their tropish characteristics, also. Still, the development is there, and the dynamic of the group works well. It is apparent they know each other well, and the relationships are complex and real. The plot moves along well, with only a few slow spots. When the frequent action occurs, it is fast-paced. There is a fair amount of humor sprinkled throughout the story, which fits in well and adds to the character’s personalities. The ending is satisfying, if perhaps not completely tidy.
This is a good read for anyone who enjoys sword-and-sorcery fantasy.
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