City Of The Fallen Sky
by Tim Pratt, fantasy (2012)
Paizo, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-418-4
Now, here's an interesting hero. Instead of the usual fantasy standard of a warrior, rogue, or mage, our hero Alaeron is an alchemist researcher. He throws bombs and other fizzy things that explode! His story, City Of The Fallen Sky is pretty straightforward: he is forced by a local crime boss to accompany a hot rogue of sorts, Jaya, to locate the fallen flying city that the title of this book is referring to. Tagging along is the hitman ordered by the crime boss to make sure that our lovely twosome do not get funny ideas like running away once they are out of town. In the past, Alaeron had hung out with the wrong crowd, and now these folks are after him too. Or rather, they are after some fabulous items he has in his possession, like that device that can stop time for a brief moment.
I know, I've left out a lot of details in my synopsis. That's because I'm leaving behind some things for you to discover if you want to read this book. Heaven knows, the plot in this story isn't exactly filled with excitement to keep one awake, much less engrossed.
Now, the story has plenty of potential. The author's narrative is top notch, filled with deadpan humor, and unlike some previous books in this line, actually reads like a novel instead of a transcript of a weekend role-playing session. Alaeron is a refreshing change from the usual sort of heroes - he's a nerd, but he's not a typical eccentric or inept weirdo. While he may not be MacGyver, he can get things done and kick some rear ends while looking like an adorable dork throughout. I like him, he's adorable. Jaya is a bit of a standard tough heroine who, of course, double duties as a love interest, but she can hold her own pretty decently. There are some interesting secondary characters to round up a memorable cast.
The problem with this story is that it suffers not from a sagging middle but a middle that is... well, it's like being cast adrift in a wide open sea, with nothing to see at the horizon apart from clouds. The story just drifts and meanders around without any clear sign of it going anywhere. There is no build up, no tension, no suspense. All I know is that these folks are looking for that city, and the bad guys are going after them. These people walk around, Alaeron reminisces about his past misadventures, they talk, they look around, maybe poke a bit here and there, and fight off some minor foe now and then. But because I have no idea what the story is building up - no clear big bad villain, no urgency, nothing - it is way too easy to just sleepily trudge along with this story while my mind drifts away in a completely different direction.
Things get picked up and become more interesting late in the story, but by then, it's a rather weak pay-off after all that yawning boredom of a trip. The bad guys turn out to be rather mundane and the denouement is pretty blah and uninspiring.
City Of The Fallen Sky, therefore, is a story that starts out with a bang and shows plenty of promise, but it loses its way quickly and wanders off sleepily without succeeding in recapturing its initial momentum. What a shame, really.
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