City of Strife (City of Spires #1), by Claudie Arseneault
Description: (from Claudie Arseneault’s website)
Isandor, City of Spires.
A hundred and thirty years have passed since Arathiel last set foot in his home city. Isandor hasn’t changed—bickering merchant families still vie for power through eccentric shows of wealth—but he has. His family is long dead, a magical trap has dulled his senses, and he returns seeking a sense of belonging now long lost.
Arathiel hides in the Lower City, piecing together a new life among in a shelter dedicated to the homeless and the poor, befriending an uncommon trio: the Shelter’s rageful owner, Larryn, his dark elven friend Hasryan, and Cal the cheese-loving halfling. When Hasryan is accused of Isandor’s most infamous assassination of the last decade, what little peace Arathiel has managed to find for himself is shattered. Hasryan is innocent… he thinks. In order to save him, Arathiel may have to shatter the shreds of home he’d managed to build for himself.
Arathiel could appeal to the Dathirii—a noble elven family who knew him before he disappeared—but he would have to stop hiding, and they have battles of their own to fight. The idealistic Lord Dathirii is waging a battle of honour and justice against the cruel Myrian Empire, objecting to their slavery, their magics, and inhumane treatment of their apprentices. One he could win, if only he could convince Isandor’s rulers to stop courting Myrian’s favours for profit.
In the ripples that follow Diel’s opposition, friendships shatter and alliances crumble. Arathiel, the Dathirii, and everyone in Isandor fights to preserve their homes, even if the struggle changes them irrevocably.
I decided to buy and read this book after finding out it was from the person who had created the Aromantic or Asexual Speculative Fiction Database. I always feel more inclined to read a book when I have followed an author on social medias for a while and seen what a nice person they are (nobody wants to support bigots right?)
So I was super excited to get this book and I ended up reading it in a week! It could have been less but unfortunately I had some exams. To be more precise, I read half of this book on a Saturday morning, tucked in bed, only getting out when I was almost done and because eating had become imperative.
This novel is sold as a “multi-layered political fantasy”; I almost didn’t picked it up because I’m not a big fan of politics in books, but this first instalment wasn’t too heavy on this! Since the story focuses on different characters across the city, the political aspect sure plays a part but it was never too much of it. There was actually only two characters whose life where really intertwined with the political aspect (so far).
It also is sold as a book “led by an all QUILTBAG cast” and that was AWESOME! The author is on the aro-ace spectrum and so are some of the characters (though, never using the label, but putting into words their identity in a clear and casual way). The novel isn’t focusing on the characters sexual or romantic/platonic orientation, but it does come up in the story at some point, because that’s a part of who they are. There is diversity everywhere, such as a minor character whose chronic pain is mentioned, a healer who prefers people to use the pronoun “they/them” to refer to them, a colour blind person, etc.
“But if Nevian didn’t correct Isra’s racist mistake, was he any better?”
The found family theme is one of my all-time favourites and it is strong in this novel. There were really a large number of characters but they aren’t introduced all at once, it was very well done and I never got confused on who was who and what was their part on the story. Some were more present than others, some felt like they would get a more important role in the sequels, but overall I liked to learn about all these diverse characters from all over the city. I liked how their storylines met, how deep friendships formed and their compassion. It’s really the ingredient that a book needs for me to call it a favourite and for me to want to read it again someday. A welcoming team of friends, a great diversity of characters and acceptance of everyone above all: you get me as a loyal reader 4ever. Not saying they’re all perfect cinnamon rolls, some have prejudices, others are hostile to new of different people. But you get a feeling that their prejudices are going to be challenged enven more on the next instalment.
“You’re a lady. You should find a nice decoration to brighten up this place.”
“Charming. Your sexism is an appreciated change from my favourite colleague’s repeated transphobia. I’m glad the bigot club is diversifying a little.”
City of Strife ended up in a kinda abrupt way. I didn’t remembered there was going to be a bonus short story at the end of the physical copy so I thought there was going to be more things happening and… it didn’t. But it was a way for me to realise I really wanted to know more, to know what was going to happen to those characters and how the fate of this gorgeous city was going to play out. Stressful things happened, but this nice addition at the end about the way two characters met years and years ago is the perfect way to let the reader close the book with a smile on their face nonetheless.
“Nevian would never understand that kind of desire – he had never even experienced attraction and doubted he one day would – and physical proximity unnerved him. He waited, wishing people were more reasonable about this whole sex thing. Because, really? The middle of the day?”
This novel is all-indie, like the author says in the Acknowledgment, which explains the slight editing mishaps I saw. For instance, at times the spaces between the full-stop and following word was missing, sometimes –but less often – it happened between words. Like “and he” became “andhe” and I was a little bit lost, ended up checking wordreference because I thought it was an English word I didn’t know haha! Anyway, nothing serious but I felt I needed to mention it in this review.
I asked the author on twitter what had caused those mistakes, and she told me something happened during formatting, she is checking everything and it should be back to normal in a few days. People who bought the kindle edition should even get a warning to update to the clean version once it’s done!
Once a mistake has been made once, it won’t happen twice 😉
Still, this is not something that will deter me from buying the next instalments of this trilogy, and the other books from Claudie Arseneault!
Really looking forward to read Viral Airwaves next! Which also has a gorgeous cover!
Trigger warnings can be found on the author’s website (there are quite a few!)