AWW2012 #2: The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts

She could hear that laughter again, and for a moment Velody was confused, not sure which dead man was mocking her. Velody now holds the leadership of the Creature Court. The unsteady alliances within the Court are beginning to fracture, as a series of murders and disappearances throw suspicion on one of their own. A shiol finds Aufleur’s many festivals frivolous, until a major one is cancelled. Unease grows. It seems nothing can save the city from a massacre … nothing but the ultimate sacrifice from one of the Creature Kings.

 

 

 

 

The Shattered City is book two of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court trilogy, following on from book one, Power and Majesty. I know that there are some mixed opinions on the covers of the books, but I still think that they’re gorgeous.  Possibly they don’t do a good job of indicating just how blood- and sex-soaked the books can get, but I still think they’re lovely.  These books could easily have been illustrated with scantily-clad women or men (which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, given how gorgeous the characters are) but I’m glad that we get something classier.  Doubly glad that we get Velody dressed, and that the artist chose not to portray her as some stick-thin waif. Returning to Aufleur in this book feels like returning to a home, in a way.  There is less of a sense of Aufleur as a living, breathing entity in this book than in the first, but the city itself is still vivid and real.  Personally, I like the fact that we get to delve deeper into some of the characters and their lives. Despite the fabulous men who populate the Creature Court, the plot of this book, and of the trilogy to date, is shaped very firmly by Velody, our protagonist, and her friends Delphine and Rhian.  Both Delphine and Rhian are more fully formed in this book than the first, as both find their places in the world.  Delphine, in particular, shines, finding strength even as she is tortured by her own shortcomings. I am absolutely and completely in love with all three of the main female characters – Velody, Delphine and Rhian.  Each of them is real and three-dimensional, and even in the depth of pain, they are very, very human.  I think that the humanity that Roberts gives her characters acts very much to ground the more fantastical elements of the world, and make it feel very much like a real place. Roberts has a particular talent for making even the most minor characters live and breathe, which in turn makes the reader empathise with even the most minor of characters.  Her dialogue, as always, remains incredible, with each character given their own unique voice. My only complaint is that things end on somewhat of a cliffhanger, which was slightly irritating the first time I read this book, because the third book was still to be released.  On a reread, it’s much better, since I had the third book ready to go! The Shattered City is now available internationally for Kindle.     Things become clearer, as we delve more into the mythology of Aufleur and the Creature Court, but there’s still much to be learned.

AWW2012 #2: Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts

She almost missed the sight of a naked youth falling out of the sky. He was long and lean and muscled … He was also completely off his face.

A war is being fought in the skies over the city of Aufleur. No one sees the battles. No one knows how close they come to destruction every time the sun sets.

During daylight, all is well, but when nox falls and the sky turns bright, someone has to step up and lead the Creature Court into battle.

Twelve years ago, Garnet kissed Velody and stole her magic. Five years ago, he betrayed Ashiol, and took his powers by force. But now the Creature Court is at a crossroads … they need a Power and Majesty who won′t give up or lose themselves in madness …

 

 

I am a huge fan of Tansy Rayner Roberts, both in respects to her fiction and the work she does outside of fiction (reviewing, podcasting as a member of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia.)  When she announced that she was going to writing her own version of an urban fantasy series, I was pretty excited.  And when I saw the beautiful cover for the first book, Power and Majesty, I was even more so.  Seriously, check out that gorgeous cover!  It reminds me very much of the original covers of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books (which may have been deliberate on the part of the publisher, since I believe that fans of the Black Jewels books would very much enjoy Roberts’ Creature Court trilogy).

I pre-ordered this book before it was released, and have picked up copies of both books two and three (The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts respectively; reviews of both will be forthcoming).  I have read books one and two previously, and have embarked upon a reread before I read the recently released third book.

Upon rereading, I’ve found myself even more in love with the world of the Creature Court than before.  Roberts’ worldbuilding is subtle but extremely powerful.  There are no rambling, florid descriptions of the city of Aufleur, and yet the city lives and breathes and completely real.  It is almost a character itself, as the daylight people celebrate a seemingly never-ending cycle of festivals (one gets the impression that all the work done by the people in the city is undertaken only to sustain these festivals) and during the nox (night), a different kind of people come out – the Creature Court themselves, shapeshifters who fight a war unseen by the people of the day.

We are introduced to both worlds through Velody, a girl who has come to Aufleur with the ambition of becoming a dressmaker.  She secures her apprenticeship and is well on track to the career she desires when, abruptly, the Creature Court intervenes in her life.

Velody is an amazing protagonist – she grows and discovers her strengths, but never loses her essential humanity and practicality.  She manages to balance two lives, but never loses sight of the fact that she needs and wants to work.  She also never evolves/devolves (depending on your point of view) into the typical heroine seen in a lot of urban fantasy – we see her developing some harsher edges, but there’s no hard talking or butt-kicking in a physical sense.

Velody’s friends Delphine and Rhian are also fascinating characters – they are both well-defined, and one gets the impression that this book has only just barely begun to explore them.  They are both strong in their own ways – and both highlight the many different kinds of strength that can be had.  Nurturing is strength, as is the ability to conquer one’s fears when needed.

The Creature Court itself is made up from an array of characters, all of them at turns witty, frightening and fragile.  One of the fascinating thing Roberts has done with her shapeshifters is considering pure mass – a human body can transform into a flock of birds, several cats or dozens of mice.  Their magic is unique – they have abilities other than the simple ability to shapeshift (including, for those powerful enough, the seriously disturbing chimera form).  As with some of the exploration of character, there is a definite impression that the magic system is just barely explored here, and there is much to be learned still about the Creature Court and the city of Aufleur.

Roberts has an exceptionally deft hand when it comes to dialogue, and her characters really live when they are speaking.  Some will also appreciate the detailed descriptions of dresses (which makes sense, since Velody is a dressmaker).   There is a good balance of quieter, more introspective moments with scenes that are pure, hectic action, with the pacing guaranteed to keep you turning pages once you’re hooked into the story.  There is also a decent amount of sex and violence, should these be issues you wish to stay away from.

One other thing I have to note is the thought that’s gone into a lot of the plotting.  There’s the aforementioned mass of shapeshifters, but there are also other nice little details – like a character actually noting that his arm would get tired holding a sword to someone’s throat for a long period of time, and adjusting accordingly.  Velody also takes into account what she will be doing when she dresses, so we don’t get to see her running around on rooftops in high heels.  It’s all very refreshing, and gives the book a feeling of realness.

I set down this book and immediately picked up the second to read.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this series to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy or dark fantasy like Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books and Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books.

The Creature Court books are available in Australian bookstores and have recently been released on the Kindle.  You can purchase the Kindle version of Power and Majesty at Amazon.