Genre: MG/YA fantasy
To Be Published: May 2011 by Dial Books
Recommended for: readers who liked Incarceron
Welcome to Anara, a world mysteriously crumbling to devastation, where nothing is what it seems: Ancient relics emit technologically advanced powers, members of the old Order are hunted by the governing Watch yet revered by the people, and the great energy that connects all seems to also be destroying all. The only hope for the world lies in Galen, a man of the old Order and a Keeper of relics, and his sixteen-year-old apprentice, Raffi. They know of a secret relic with great power that has been hidden for centuries. As they search for it, they will be tested beyond their limits. For there are monsters, some human, some not, that also want the relic's power and will stop at nothing to get it.
The Dark City is the first book in the saga of the four Book of the Crow series books which will be released this summer. The first book will be released in May, the sequel in June, and the final book in August. I'm not quite sure how I feel about this strategy of releasing a series. I mean, yeah, we all complain about having to wait a whole year or longer for the next book to come out, but four books in four months seems a little rushed-- no time to anticipate the sequels! The good news is the saga have a huge marketing campaign and are giving away tons of review copies, so there will be plenty of time for the word to get out.
There's no doubt that Catherine Fisher is a very talented writer. She's written nearly 50 books, including the dystopian Incarceron dualogy, which I loved so much, I hosted a giveaway for the two books awhile back. But for me personally, her books tend to be a hit-or-miss. Incarceron was a bulls-eye, and so was Darkhenge, but The Dark City was a little meh. A miss for me, I'm afraid.
The fantasy world within this book is impressive: in Anara, at least two races-- humans and the cat-like Sekoi people-- exist side-by-side. Anara has the primitive, dangerous feel of medieval times, but then there are the Relics-- advanced technological devices which are regarded with the same solemn sacredness with which people today might regard holy relics or magical objects. Galen is one of the last Relic Masters in existence. He guards relics and practices his mystical brand of magic in the safety of the countryside, alone but for his apprentice, Raffi. When a devious king tricks Galen into giving away one of his most precious relics, the two are forced to set off on a quest to recover a thief who stole from the king. They end up journeying for the faraway 'Dark City' of Tasceron, where the remaining secrets of the Relic Master Order lie hidden beneath the shadows of the forgotten city.
I had a difficult time connecting with any of the characters, especially Galen and Raffi. Carys, an orphan girl who is part of an organization dedicating to stamping out the Relicmasters' Order and is sent to assassinate Galen, was deeper and more interesting than either of them. There were also a few promising characters (the King's thieves were too cool!) that seemed really promising, but hardly got more than a few paragraphs worth of 'screen-time'. Hopefully they will make longer appearances in the next three books. This novel is definitely more plot than character-driven, which isn't my style, but it's also pretty much impossible to put down once you pick it up. It's easy to read in a few sittings, if a couple of hours, and is paced more like a middle-grade book than YA. I can see how it's intended to appeal to fans of Incarceron, since the mythology and even the characters are somewhat similar, but once again the dividing point is the characters. None of these people were half as exciting as Finn or Claudia, or half as bizarre and intriguing a couple as Keiro and Attica. (Oops-- I'm turning this review into propaganda for Incarceron!)
All in all, I enjoyed the unusual storyline and the premise. This book is worth the read if it sounds like your kind of thing and the writing is excellent, don't get me wrong. I think it just wasn't my kind of book, and that happens sometimes. But I probably won't be seeking out the sequel when it comes out in June.
Overall Rating: 3/5
*Thanks to Dial Books and Library Thing for the review copy!*