by Craig Hallam3 out of 5
A Hero murdered.
A Girl alone.
A city of Villains.
From the crumbling Belfry to the Citadel’s stained-glass eye, across acres of cobbles streets and knotted alleyways that never see daylight, Greaveburn is a city with darkness at its core. Gothic spires battle for height, overlapping each other until the skyline is a jagged mass of thorns.
Archduke Choler sits on the throne, his black-sealed letters foretell death for the person named inside. Abrasia, the rightful heir, lives as a recluse in order to stay alive. With her father murdered and her only ally lost, Abrasia is alone in a city where the crooked Palace Guard, a scientist’s assistant that is more beast than man, and a duo of body snatchers are all on her list of enemies.
Under the cobbled streets lurk the Broken Folk, deformed rebels led by the hideously scarred Darrant, a man who once swore to protect the city. And in a darkened laboratory, the devious Professor Loosestrife builds a contraption known only as The Womb.
With Greaveburn being torn apart around her, can Abrasia avenge her father’s murder before the Archduke’s letter spells her doom?
A city needs saving, as its ambitious ruler oppresses the common folk. People are disappearing; experiments are unsanctioned; and the Broken folk swarm the sewers.
I bought this book after meeting the author at a book event before Christmas, which was pretty awesome.
This story is about Greaveburn, a city pushed to breaking point by greedy, grasping nobles; and other unsavoury characters that are taking advantage of the chaos.
It is very creative, and the setting is solid, weaving science, steampunk and political danger.
I think the city of Greaveburn steals the story, it's like a slumbering giant, waiting for fate to play its hand. The other characters are simply the supporting cast, whether they are working for their own purposes, or have their strings pulled by another.
I found it quite an original take on the genre.
But I think its strength is also its weakness.
The narrative is split between various characters, and although a few of them play a bigger role than the others, you never really feel connected to any of them.
Abrasia is set up as the rightful heir, who can finally bring peace and prosperity to Greaveburn. She is sweet and kind-hearted, but she is simply a token figure that represents a good future. She doesn't actively do anything, even her thoughts and opinions are without any agency or purpose. She is moved about like a chess piece by the other players.
The most interesting character is Darrant, who goes from being Abrasia's right-had man and protector, to the lowest of civilians - the Broken folk. But even from the sewers, he rebuilds his life and his purpose. Under the guise of Riccall, he becomes a Robin Hood character, who tries to save the commoners, and drives the rebel attacks. He was pretty awesome, and it was a shame that he faded into the background, while the story followed the much-less-interesting Steadfast.
I was surprised by the time jump of two years between the two parts of the book. I don't mind lapses in time, as long as it benefits the story. I didn't really feel that it did on this occasion.
None of the characters made any progress with their own stories during this time. Developmentally, and plot-wise, they were all in the same place.
I mean, it didn't negatively impact the story, I just found it ineffective.
The only other problem I had, was that the narrative was sometimes stilted by the overuse of metaphors and similes.
'The collar of Chief Inspector Cawber's shirt was slick with sweat, like an eel wrapped across his shoulders.'
'Silence stretched out, drawing sweat from the Constables' foreheads like snake venom.'
Hallam gives us some of the most creative descriptions I've ever read.
I'll always remember when a friend said he was advised to keep the similes down to 5 or 10 in each piece of work. Greaveburn can have 5 per page in some sections, and then nothing for another chunk. The unevenness made it feel like the writer had approached these sections at different times, giving us a different effect.
Overall, I like the premise and creativity. You can tell this is a debut novel, and I look forward to Hallam's future, more polished work.