Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review: City of Blaze by H.O. Charles

Published: June 24th, 2011
Publisher: self-published
Read from August 12th to 17th, 2013
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Epic fantasy with romance. Hidden by monument and pride, the city is crumbling beneath a mountain of its own indulgences. Its army abuse the castle's servants, confident that deadly wielders have been exterminated; wars are fought to encourage otherwise absent mortality; countless people suffer from the terrible pangs of nalka, the hunger for intimacy; and all the while its king concerns himself with choosing which of his disappointing concubines to execute next.
The duty falls upon his emotionally withdrawn son, Morghiad, to restore the city's strength and the army's purpose. In his attempts to do so, he uncovers darker horrors and encounters a young servant who could either be his greatest ally or his greatest hindrance.
City of Blaze is a story of changing allegiances, self-control and love.
Now includes Glossary of Terms

I don't even know where to begin with this review because I became so completely obsessed with this book. It was absolutely incredible, and I'm dying to buy the second book and continue the series.

The world that this book is set in is fascinating. Not only are their wielders (females) and kanaala (males) that can harness blaze energy (a type of magic basically), but everyone is also immortal unless they are killed. Because of this, wars are incredibly common place as a way of keeping population down, and the king thinks nothing of performing executions, especially of his concubines that offend him in even the slightest capacity. The king seems to have an almost irrational fear of women, and he is especially scared of wielders. Because of this, he's called for the execution of all wielders. His son, Morghiad, has much different views, and he ends up wanting to change things. One of the ways he does this is by secretly allowing wielders to live unknown to the king.

Another intriguing aspect of the book is how relationships are treated. There's this phenomenon called nalka where, if two people stop sleeping with each other for more than two weeks, they will have to go through incredible pain. Anyone under twenty, can't survive nalka, so they're typically careful about entering into relationships. You'd think nalka would cause people to be incredibly careful about who they sleep with, but they're apparently not. There are always countless people who are suffering from nalka because they ended a relationship with someone. Child birth is also interestingly different from our world. Two people must be together for nine years before a child can be born, which I'm sure is good when people are immortal. I found the entire idea behind all of this stuff incredibly fascinating.

I just loved this book so much that I could go on about it for days. The setting was wonderful, and I've kind of fallen in love with this world. I'm sure that's obvious by the way I went on about it. The characters are just as amazing. The society as a whole is pretty oppressive of women, but the female characters are all strong characters that fight against that oppression. In addition to that, there are many decent men who either realize at the beginning or come to realize that women aren't weak, such as when the army men come to accept Artemi as a perfectly capable member of the army. Artemi did seem a bit too perfect at times, but I never found it to be too off-putting while reading. I do hope she gets a bit more flawed in later books though.

I'm going to stop now before I go on forever. I highly recommend this book to everyone though, and I plan on getting the second book as soon as possible.

ETA: Years later, I have re-read this book, and I have noticed important things that I feel it important to add onto my review. The biggest of these is a very transphobic moment towards the beginning of the book where one of the male characters is terrified at the idea of a woman he is attracted to "secretly being male". It really is an absolutely horrible moment that I greatly regret not calling out in the original review I wrote of this book.

There are other moments which are more subtle but which I noticed. I imagine I did the first time around too but I managed to brush them off easier back then than I did now. There's an attempt at LGBT (well, LG and T if you count the transphobia) inclusion in this book, but it's not always carried out well. The one openly gay character is very sexualized, though that could be dismissed as it's true for many of the characters. What's more worrisome are the ways the straight characters react to certain things. Artemi acts offended when her father asks if she's gay (though her father does not act like he would have a problem with it), and the king (who, to be fair, is the villain) is offended that there are gay rumors about his son. Each of these moments is small, but taken all together, there is definitely homophobia there.

There's also a moment of sexism that I had to mention in that one of the soldiers is threatened with the "punishment" of having to dress "like a little girl". Undoubtedly, there's a lot of sexism in this book, but what's disappointing about that moment is that it comes from one of the supposedly good characters who is often tearing down the more blatant sexism of those around him but who, I noticed this time around, also exhibits quite a lot of sexism himself that is just muted and slightly more concealed than many of the other characters.

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