by J. L. Gribble
Series: Steel Empires, Book 1Kindle Edition, 216 pg.
Dog Star Books, 2015
Read: June 10 – 11, 2016
This is a doozy to know how to categorize — it’s Post-Apocalyptic (but not really dystopian), it’s Futuristic (but little tech and everyone uses swords), it’s Urban Fantasy (but, pretty different from what you’ve seen before). Basically, this is the kind of thing that
Mike Underwood has been talking about, the kind of thing that Angry Robot does so well when they list 3 or 4 sub-genres on the back of a book. So, you’ll have to settle for me saying it’s a good story about vampires, weres of various stripes, mages, mercenaries, humans, elves, Romans, and Brits.
The first thing to talk about is the world building — it’s great. Gribble doesn’t get bogged down in the details of the world, but you get the sense that they’re present. And what you are given demonstrate a fleshed-out reality — the magic system, the political structures (within the city and internationally), the races, the history (personal and global) — really she has it all together here. Better yet, she (mostly) explains it bit by bit in a way that serves the story, not bringing it to a halt to give us a lesson.
I’ve started — and deleted — a few versions of a couple of paragraphs talking about the characters and plotlines — they’ve been too detailed/spoilery/boring or vague/confusing/boring. And it’s not her, it’s me — this is an interesting book full of characters you want more of in situations that push them to be their best. I feel really bad that I can’t come up with anything here that works. So let me borrow the official cover copy:
One hundred years ago, the vampire Victory retired from a centuries-long mercenary career. She settled in Limani, the independent city-state acting as a neutral zone between the British and Roman colonies on the New Continent.
Twenty years ago, Victory adopted a human baby girl, who soon showed signs of magical ability.
Today, Victory is a city councilwoman, balancing the human and supernatural populations within Limani. Her daughter Toria is a warrior-mage, balancing life as an apprentice mercenary with college chemistry courses.
Tomorrow, the Roman Empire invades.
The last portion of the book wasn’t entirely satisfying — I liked the way the main storylines wrapped up, and appreciated that by and large you don’t have to come back for a sequel or two for some real closure. But things felt a bit rushed, and I had a couple of other little hangups. There was one character that seemed to get dropped partway through (I don’t think that’s what happened, but felt that way), which was troublesome. About the same time, a cultural movement seemed to peter out a little too quickly. But that could be explained by a focus (both in the narrative and in the city) on the military action. Still, a bit rushed is better than very rushed, or abruptly paused to set up a second book.
From the action of the beginning, to the political intrigue, to the action-filled end this was a pretty entertaining read. I liked this one, I look forward to getting back to this world and characters, and do think that anyone open to reading this genre-mix would appreciate it.
Disclaimer: The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.