David V. Stewart’s work returns to the Castalia House blog with The City of Silver. Regular readers will recall last August’s review of his sci-fi horror and military bloodbath novel, Voices of the Void. This time around David presents another fairly short novel with an equally straightforward premise.
A reluctant countess chooses to leave her arranged marriage for a life in exile. The man she finds to act as her champion-for-hire is a sorcerer in a world where such men are hunted down by a Church and political system that views them as a dangerous wild card in the game of power. The bulk of the narrative follows their flight to the coast, and then their maneuvering through the streets of a hostile city to secure passage to a potentially safe neutral country. Naturally, this being Book One of a longer series, it’s a good bet that that neutral country won’t be terribly safe.
Considerably more complex than Voices of the Void, despite its short length, this novel feels a lot bigger than its page count. Not because the story drags – it’s a fun “escape from a foreign city while pursued by agents of the crown” adventure – but because it occurs in a fully realized world and because the characters leap off the page. The addition of black powder weapons and an Amish sort of ban on certain technologies add another layer of
Many authors blunder unto the big pitfalls of epic fantasy by wasting too much time on world building and setting dump expositions. David does edge along that precipice with a few brief scenes that paint a larger world. Instead of “as you know” style conversations, he steers things into a more “how can you think” debate between people whose opinions on politics and religion differ. The resultant scenes help establish a nice change of pace between action scenes and ease the reader into the wider world to provide context for the central conflict of The City of Silver. These passages help ground the action, and potentially lay the groundwork for future installments of the Moonsong Saga.
Of particular note is the black powder technology level of this otherwise straightforward fantasy setting. A ban on certain technologies, reminiscent of the Amish prohibitions on tech, appears at first glance to be a power play by the authorities. That is a dangerous assumption built on other works, given the way David hints at other, more practical, factors weighed in that decision. Add a powerful monotheology predicated on a god known as The Dreamer, served by angelic godlings, and you’ve got the makings of one of the more original versions of Christianity with the serial numbers filed off of it. All told, it works well to present something greater than the sum of its parts.
But it is in the characterizations where David truly shines. In addition to several strong character arcs, he crafts well rounded characters who continue to surprise the reader with depth and nuance. The central couple feature a pampered countess who understands political struggles among the gentry, but must learn how politics operate at the level of the people in the gutter. The square jawed hero and hired muscle has a lot of rough edges that hide a gentle demeanor he dares not show, given his line of work. Even the villains have moments of humanity that, while not exactly redeeming them, remind the reader that they are not cartoons but living people with their own reasons for what they do.
There is no word yet on the release date for the second book. My return to Mr. Stewart’s works serves as a strong indicator of his worth as a writer. My anticipation for the sequel to this work should provide ore evidence that any fantasy reader would do well to add his works to their library.