The City Of God, Brett Stadelmann
It looks like book reviews are going to be a new staple for my blog. This one is The City of God, a debut fantasy novel from Brett Stadelmann, an Australian author living in Melbourne.
It was the Breath of God, and to the people of the City it was the core of their world. It warmed their homes and their hearts, it sustained them and strengthened them, and it filled their lives with joy. Known as the Aether to those who studied it, its intricacies remained elusive to all. It was imperceptible to the naked eye, yet its presence was felt everywhere. It was infinitely subtle, yet immeasurably powerful. With it, the City stood as a fortress against the desert winds, and as a bastion of hope and of faith. Its people lived without fear of disease, war, famine, or poverty. Life was perfect.
But as the pious civil officer Nathaniel Grey will soon come to suspect, all is not as it once seemed. When his mentor and most trusted friend is accused and sentenced for an inconceivable crime, he finds himself making a choice that will lead him into the company of witches, his former enemies, who manipulate and pervert the Aether for their own ends. Thrust from his life of comfort and security into the cold and lonely life of an outcast, he begins to see that all he once knew, or thought he knew, about the world beyond the walls of the City, was estranged from reality; he begins to learn that everything he had ever held dear, that everything he had ever held to be sacred and immutable, was only an illusion; and he begins to fear that the true nature, and source, of the Aether may be vastly far removed from everything he had been led to believe.
My Review: ★★★★
It's been a long time since I read a book this good. The City of God is one of those rare books that you hardly even have to read. It just reads itself. Your eyes skim the page and the story emerges as if by magic. I absolutely loved reading this book.
The story is full of intrigue. Something has gone wrong with the Aether, a mystical power source, in Nathaniel's city. The problem causes a disaster, leaving the city in ruins. Soon, a story of deceit emerges, and Nathaniel finds himself consorting with his past enemies to find the truth.
The setting of The City of God is exquisite. Brett has created a rich world complete with pagan gods, tribal languages, and a tumultuous history. Reading The City of God reminded me of reading David Eddings when I was in high school.
The characters are fairly typical, which I think is one reason why the story is so readable. There's the stubborn, yet fallible, hero, the vengeful head of armed forces, the amicable priest, the defiant outcasts, and so forth.
Of the different themes in the book, I most enjoyed the constant reappearance of belief persistence. Nathaniel is exposed to new ideas and religions, but clings desperately to his own, while at the same time being unable to deny the beauty and reverence of the 'pagans'.
Another theme I enjoyed was the internal struggles he has over his past.
My only criticism of The City of God, and the reason it doesn't get five stars, is that the characters all seem to speak with the same voice. Although they have interesting and unique backgrounds, they all seem to have turned out sarcastic. I found it distracting. The language in the dialogue clashes with the language of the setting. They're even sarcastic in the midst of battle.
There are a few other incongruities that didn't work for me. The people of the City are supposed to have gone from science to religion, which makes the story a little harder to understand. I think this was intended to be a distinguishing feature of the book, but it didn't work for me. In one scene, a witch is healed by magic drawn from the hero's own body. He then augments the treatment with antibiotics. I think a pure science vs religion theme would have been easier to follow. It's also unclear how the hero manages to survive so many stab wounds.
Nevertheless, these are relatively small problems. I'm looking forward to reading more from this emerging author. I think the sequel will be good.
Brett is a self-published Australian author living in Melbourne with his wife and two Dachshunds. He blogs at brettstadelmann.com.The City Of God, Brett Stadelmann