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thoughts without borders

City of Dreams & Nightmare by Ian Whates

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“This was Thaiburley: the City of a Hundred Rows, known by many as the City of Dreams and by those who dwelt beneath it as the City of Nightmare”

The world of City of Dreams & Nightmare, conjured up by author Ian Whates, exists laterally. Those at the top, economically and spacially, live comfortably while the people below live in squalor. It’s assumed that everyone stays where they belong—everyone except Tom, that is. Dared by his own gang of street-nicks, Tom leaves the City Below and, in a typical juvenile attempt to gain recognition, heads to the upper level of Thaiburley: “The rest of the gang would be amazed when he returned and told them of his exploits, and none would dare call him a liar . . . His status was assured. All of them would want to be seen with him, to associate with him . . . Then there was Jezmina. How could she fail to be impressed when he returned a conquering hero from the furthest reaches of the City Above?”. But what is supposed to be a short trip, an innocuous and foolish quest, turns into a life-threatening journey.

Consider it a case of Wrong Place, Wrong Time.

While in the City Above, Tom witnesses the murder of an arkademic, a high-level government official. At first, his ability to remain unseen keeps him from being noticed while the stabbing takes place, the killer’s powers, those of a fellow arkademic, prove stronger. Tom’s renewed visibility kicks off a chase through the city’s many levels and warrens. Magnus, the murderer, is after him for the obvious reason and Tylus, a member of the elite Kite Guard unit is doing so in the name of law and order after he sees the boy running.

Tylus has Tom cornered when he releases his baton. Tom, dodging the blow, falls over the edge of the balcony of an upper level. The Kite Guard assumes he’s tumbled to his death and Tom believes this is the end. Luckily, Tom is caught in a net hung out by Swarbs, Sanitation Workers and Refuse Burners, and brought to safety. But as no dystopian novel is complete without some sort of government surveillance, Magnus sees that Tom has survived the drop and sends Tylus, leading him to believe the boy is the murderer, to the City Below to find him—alive is preferable but dead will be accepted.

However, just ask Magnus is not what he appears to be, a law abiding civil servant, neither is his plan. Tylus, seen as something of a bumbling, lesser Kite Guard is a distraction, a smokescreen, while the real work is carried out surreptitiously by Magnus’ compliant servant, Dewar.

The City Below is a richly imagined place—gritty, bewildering, and dangerous—and the two bounty-hunters are not the only ones standing in the way of Tom’s homecoming. Landing on the opposite side of the city from his neighborhood, he’s faced with a treacherous walk through rival gang territory and the possibility of getting lost in the maze-like streets. Before setting off on the journey back to familiar ground, Ty-gen, a member of the Jeradine, a bipedal, reptilian race, immune to Tom’s gift of invisibility, finds him hiding in an alley and takes him in to get his bearings. It’s Tygen who pairs Tom up with Kat, a tough, loner street-nick whose fighting skills were honed in the legendary Pits—a place from the past where few emerged alive.

As everyone makes their way through the unreliable landscape, The City of Dreams & Nightmare follows the thoughts and actions of the multiple characters: Kat and Tom navigate the shifting relationships between rival gangs and their own allies, Tylus struggles to come into his own as a competent officer, Dewar’s past in the City Below unfolds, and Magnus becomes a person of interest.

Whates’ fluid storytelling and believable dialogue makes City of Dreams & Nightmare a triumph of literary urban fantasy; and while this particular adventure wraps up nicely in the end, the possibility of diving back into the ghettos of the City Below with the second book in the trilogy, City of Hope & Despair, is too good to pass up.

::[Brief Excerpt]::

On the roof of the cavern, eleven small drones had gathered, swarming around a bulky protrusion like bees around honey. The object that drew them was a sun globe, one of the many synchronised light sources responsible for granting this subterranean world a semblance of nature’s night and day cycle.

::[Links]::
City of Dreams & Nightmare at IndieBound
Ian Whates’ author page at Angry Robot
Ian’s publishing house, NewCon Press

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Written by Gabrielle

August 30, 2011 at 6:27 am

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