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Tarnished City by Vic James

BOTTOM LINE: Very political and complicated. I can only hope the finale is worth the slog.

Genre: Fantasy
Publication Date: 6 February 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“The captivating dystopian trilogy that began with Gilded Cage continues. In a modern Britain where magic users control wealth, politics—and you—an uprising has been crushed. In its aftermath, two families will determine the country’s fate. The ruthless Jardines make a play for ultimate power. And the Hadleys, once an ordinary family, must find the extraordinary strength to fight back.

Abi Hadley is a fugitive. Her brother, Luke, a prisoner. Both will discover that in the darkest places, the human spirit shines brightest. Meanwhile, amid his family’s intrigues, Silyen Jardine dreams of forgotten powers from an earlier age.

As blood runs in the streets of London, all three will discover whether love and courage can ever be stronger than tyranny.”

My Thoughts: Sequels are such tricky things for trilogies. They have to bridge the gap between the (hopefully) exciting end with all the answers and the intriguing beginning with all of the questions. In many cases, authors use sequels to develop characters and further establish the setting. However, they still run the risk of creating imbalance in the series. Give away too much and the ending suffers. Do too little and readers lose interest in the series at large. It is my opinion that Tarnished City suffers more from too much explanation which creates more questions and will disappoint fans hoping for a bit more action and more answers.

Vic James does not spend much time on character development as she does on politics. Politics are at the heart of the goals of the different factions, and Ms. James uses the sequel to explain it all. Between the various Skilled families and their ancestors, there is a lot take understand, and the names and political plots seem to never end. Making things worse is the fact that we add a few new narrators to the story. Not only do you have to keep track of who is against what or whom at any given time, you have to remember which narrator is which and on whose side they stand. By my count, there are at least five different agendas or factions ready to fight for power, making this story a bit more complicated than a battle of the Skilled versus the Unskilled as the first novel made the series out to be. It is more than a little confusing.

There are some compelling character developments and discoveries that are bound to play an important role in the series’ finale. However, these serve almost as inflatable rafts in a storm. They are there to keep readers from giving up on the heavy exposition and detailed history lessons of her world. They do work in the short term; Luke makes a rather shocking discovery which could be a game-changer, as does Abi. The fact remains though that the story by the end of the novel is so complex that it is virtually impossible to determine how it will all end. Five different factions all fighting over the right to rule and the fate of the Unskilled creates not only mass confusion but a myriad of possibilities.

While you can admire Ms. James for her willingness to tackle such a complicated story, you do have to wonder if it is all worth it in the end. Already, after two weeks, the developments of Tarnished City are fading from my memory. By the time the final novel is available, the history lessons and general understanding of the various dynamics at play will be nothing but a distant memory. Should Ms. James find it necessary to rehash much of what was covered in this sequel, the finale is not only going to be very long but it will also be rather anti-climactic. However, to assume that readers do not need a refresher of past discoveries, she runs the risk of further alienating readers by confusing them even further than they might already be. To that end, one’s enjoyment of the second novel hinges on what happens in the finale. Ms. James needs to find a way to tie all of the dry exposition into what hopefully is an exciting close to what is turning out to be an ambitious story.

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