David Gemmell has been my favourite fantasy author since the early 1980s when I picked up his first book, Legend. When David Gemmell died a few years back I more or less gave up reading fantasy and have concentrated on Science Fiction, Steampunk and Spy thrillers since then. However I occasionally get the urge to dip my toe back into the fantasy genre and I am often disappointed when I do. So I had mixed feelings when I spotted The City by Stella Gemmell. The author is David Gemmell's widow and had worked with DG on several of his books, completing his last book after he died. So the connection was made, and I felt I wanted to see if there was anything of the quality of Mr Gemmell's writing in his wife's work.
The City is not your straightforward fantasy novel, in fact for much of the story their are very few hints of anything supernatural or indeed fantastic, about it... It reads more as a standard historical novel. Don't let that fool you, the fantastical elements are certainly there and they do have a pivotal role in the story, however many of the characters within the story, are not even aware of these elements. Quite a lot of the story takes place in the "under-city" a world of sewers, lost chambers, death and decay. Although the people that populate the underworld are the lost souls of the city, either hiding from the authorities or simply scrabbling to maintain an existence. It soon becomes clear that there is some twisted kind of comfort and safety to be found down there for many of the inhabitants. When the story switches to view the battle fields of the the many wars that the city is fighting, we soon miss the life in the under-city.
Through all of this colourful travelogue, it soon becomes apparent that there are plots hatching, both from within the City walls and from those nations that are at war with it.
At times this is not an easy book to read. The tendency to jump from one story to another with very little warning, sometimes years later is disconcerting and can be quite jarring. However, in some ways it actually adds something to the book.
I am not certain I will follow Stella Gemmell's career the way I followed her husband, but I must say, this is an excellent first solo novel.