Australian author K.J. Bishop's impressive first novel, The Etched City
, draws deep from the well of dark fantasy to create a bruised and battered realm which invites comparison with Stephen King's Dark Tower series
and China Mieville's twisted imaginings.
Set first in the dustbowl wasteland of the Copper Country, Bishop introduces the battlefield sawbones Raule and her gunslinging companion Gwynn. The duo's relationship of necessity is cemented as they flee the justice of "The Army of Heroes," a force created to put down a rebellion in which they were active participants. Wanted and destitute, they make for the uncharted Telute Shelf to find new lives amid the sprawling metropolis of Ashamoil. Gwynn's ruthless knack for violence sends him to the top of the town as an enforcer for the Horn Fan Cartel and its bustling slave trade. Raule, meanwhile, heads to the bottom where she tries to erase her brutal past through ministrations to the city's forsaken. Between the opposite poles of Gwynn and Raule is a languid tale wandering through a sideshow menagerie of lovelorn mobsters, debased priests, brutal imperialists, sorcererous drug dealers, gangland warlords, and otherworldly artists that deftly examines the nature of violence, compassion, spirituality, redemption, and reality. --Jeremy Pugh
From Publishers Weekly
Combine equal parts of Stephen King's Dark Tower series and China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, throw in a dash of Aubrey Beardsley and J.K. Huysmans, and you'll get some idea of this disturbing, decadent first novel from Australian author Bishop. Through the devastated landscape of the Copper Country, where their side has been defeated in a war, two powerfully drawn protagonists flee the victorious Army of Heroes: Gwynn, a former mercenary, a dandy, an atheist and, eventually, the lieutenant of a wealthy slave dealer, but also a man not totally without honor; and Raule, a physician who once served in Gwynn's mercenary troop and has chosen to devote the rest of her life to caring for the poor, though she also likes to collect deformed fetuses simply because they fascinate her. Later, they make new lives for themselves in the fabulous, horrific and corrupt city of Ashamoil, where beautiful artists occasionally turn into sphinxes, babies are born half crocodile, flowers spring from freshly dead corpses and drunken priests work useless miracles. Characters love to discuss theology, aesthetics and ethics, and they're prone to obsessive love affairs with inappropriate partners. They're also capable of committing cold-blooded and gruesome murder with little or no remorse. Despite the rather mannered language, this grim tale should strongly appeal to aficionados of literate dark fantasy.
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