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The Etched City Paperback – January 16, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tor (January 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405041609
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405041607
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,207,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Peter Williams on June 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
What a fine book this is! While the world between these pages has been --justly-- compared with M. John Harrison's Viriconium and China Mieville's New Crobuzon, the world of Ashamoil and its environs is uniquely Bishop's own. Bishop's world is every bit as fleshed out as either of the formers', and there's plenty of action and plot to move things along. Ashamoil is not a pretty place, and I found myself immersed in the decadence and savagery of the place.
The author doesn't take the easy path of painting her characters in manichean black-and-white. Gwynn and Raule --the antiheroes and main characters of the story-- are very human in that they are both bad and good, and thus neither completely likeable nor unlikeable. As their paths cross and diverge, and as they confront their respective moral dilemmas, we come to see something of ourselves. In this aspect, she outdoes both Harrison and Mieville.
Should mention that it's written such that you may read it quickly, or linger over it for maximum effect. I chose the latter.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Etched City and plan to return to Ashamoil again soon. Books like this keep me excited about "what's to come" in fiction.
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Format: Paperback
I cannot recommend 'The Etched City' highly enough. This is an astonishingly good book. As I read it I found myself thinking of Dostoevsky's willingness to tackle spiritual and ethical issues; of Bulgakov's surreal whimsy; of the richness of imagery and fable to be found in books like 'The Dictionary of the Khazars'. They are not writers and works to be invoked lightly, but I believe K J Bishop has written a first novel worthy of the comparisons.
This is a book that resists easy classification. It is a story set in a surreal world with characters that are refreshingly free of easy sentimentality. There is action, violence, murder; passion, lust, love; there is confusion and clarity, magic and pragmatism.
Her main characters, like the book itself, do not fit any recognisable type, beyond the facile one of 'anti-heroes'. Gwynn is a fascinating creation. He is a man of great honesty which he applies to both himself and others, clear-eyed in a murky world. Yet for all his cunning and sharp observational powers, he is capable of being seduced by the intriguing woman who embodies ambiguity. He is paradoxical, amoral; a killer who nonetheless refuses to be callous; an executioner who refuses to be judge, and a realist who embraces the poignancy of love.
Raoule is equally paradoxical, a woman who acts compassionately but feels nothing, a callous caregiver. She searches for truth amongst the monstrous remains of the children she delivers, and her relationship with Gwynn is astringent, to say the least.
There are men who manipulate wars, reaping rewards and destruction in equal measure; there are zealots, lovestruck fools, women and a priest who fumbles towards heaven and Gwynn's soul even as he fumbles in their skirts.
I don't know if time will prove this to be a great book.
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Format: Paperback
I can only think of two books that seems to me to be in The Etched City's weight-class, and that's Gormenghast and Paul Park's Soldiers of Paradise. The Etched City has that same quality of dreamy, otherworldly skill in using prose to suck the reader seamlessly into another mentality. It's the opposite of Tolkien-esque world-creation, and far less often accomplished or attempted. The Tolkien-type fantasy, even the very good ones, approaches world-creation as a matter of comprehensive scholarship and geek-friendly mastery of consistent detail. Bishop's Etched City is no less a masterful creation of a world, but it accomplishes this through simply beautiful, utterly original prose and equally memorable characterization. Reading it is like drawing deep in an opium den, a sort of delirum contract between reader and writer. Seen in the cold light of the morning after, there are weaknesses, in particular a plot that seems to be moving langurously towards the convergence or closure of two parallel tracks but ultimately spins out (in a rather life-like manner) into a whimper rather than a storytelling bang. But just as Gormenghast in the end doesn't really seem to be about that much, or Soldiers of Paradise is just a retelling of the French Revolution, the narrative weakness of The Etched City ultimately seems irrelevant. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
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Format: Paperback
The Etched City, by K.J. Bishop, is an interesting case. It is startlingly well-written, filled to the brim with lush language from a seemingly bottomless reservoir of precise language. It is exceedingly verbose, yes, but not needlessly so: this is not the work of someone showing off. Every word is there because no other word would have sufficed. Miss Bishop is a careful writer who obviously loves language and the possibilities contained within it. Building off of this, she uses her literary skills to construct the despairing and fully-realized city of Ashamoil. Her portrait is sordid and entirely compelling. And, despite being classified as fantasy, this is a novel where the fantastic is in relatively spare supply and the promise of it, at the edge of experience, astonishes us (certainly, if you're expecting typical fantasy stuff with elves and dragons and the like, run far, far away from this book, because you won't find it here).

However, the novel also reads like a parody of the literary novel, with its mix of Marxist social preoccupations (Ashamoil, I imagine, is about as close to hell as any egalitarian could possibly imagine, and she expands on this throughout the novel) and a subtle, plotless narrative. And when I say plotless, I do mean plotless: the novel starts out fairly tight, but by the time the main characters reach Ashamoil the narrative collapses and the novel becomes almost episodic.

We start out following Raule, a doctor, and Gwynn, a gunslinger, two allies who had fought on the losing side of a vicious war and happened to run into one another at the very beginning of the novel, as they make their way through the post-apocalyptic ruins of the Copper Country and outrun something called the Army of Heroes.
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