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Gears of the City Hardcover – December 30, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In Gilman's alternately fascinating and frustrating sequel to 2007's Thunderer, the time-walking musician Arjun has gone mad after trying to climb the mysterious mountain at the center of the city of Ararat. The city itself—easily the novel's most fascinating character—has entered a dark age. Gods no longer wander among the people, men go to work in dreary factories and secret policemen called Know-Nothings patrol the streets. As a wounded Arjun flees the mysterious Hollow Servants, he encounters a variety of odd characters who join his quest to explore the mountain. Gilman's world-building is intricate, but his plotting often falters and the denouement is a mess. The multiple viewpoints bog down the storytelling, and though there's still much to enjoy in exploring the city, it's not enough to save the book as a whole. (Jan.)
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“Incredibly imaginative . . . a brilliant new author.”—Jeff VanderMeer, author of Shriek: An Afterword
“Gilman’s world-building is intricate…. The city itself [is] easily the novel’s most fascinating character.”—Publishers Weekly
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Where "Thunderer" used the god-seeking pilgrim Arjun to introduce us to the infinite, eternal, and ever-changing city of Ararat, "Gears of the City" serves as a satisfying "Part 2", and takes a decidedly bleaker tone. Having had the multiplicity of Ararat made clear to us, Gilman now takes us to the city-at-the-end-of-the-city: a bleak workers' sprawl, in the shadow of The Mountain, where factories, time-cards, and secret police rule the lives of the citizens, music is no more, and the doors through time and space have all been cut off.
Its orgies and cultist revolutions aren't quite as magical or fantastic as "Thunderer", which at times felt downright whimsical, but it has much more thrust and pathos. Secrets are revealed as to the nature of the city, the gods who walk its streets, The Mountain, and the mysterious time-hopping trickster Shay. Tricky existential questions are raised and deftly-handled. Fun is had with the conceit of time travel and infinite parallel realities; a defect in one man's character becomes bound up in the metaphysical troubles of the entire universe. The book starts slow, introducing a slew of new characters as Gilman folds us back into the intrigues of the city. But after the "battle" at the midway mark, the book takes off like a goddamn rocket.
It does end pretty conclusively. I don't know what's left to be said of Ararat at this point -- but it still leaves me wanting more. Thank god Gilman is proving so prolific.
Highly recommend. Though I'd avoid the e-book version if you can; there's typos and formatting errors all over the place.
He awakes in the darkness, imprisoned in a room with a strange creature in a cage, a large lizard that claims to know the future and the past. He cannot remember who he is or what he has done. He is one of the many "ghosts," men without memories, who have appeared in the city in its last days when rumors of a final war are rife and life is grim and grey, ruled by dark factories and local thugs called the Know-Nothings. Arjun escapes from the room in the deep basement of a fantastical museum that has been closed to the public. He is helped by two mysterious sisters who beg him to search for their missing third sister. Arjun begins a strange journey intersecting with dangerous men from his past, the continuing allure of the Mountain, the mystery of the prophetic beast and the secrets of the vast and ancient City.
There are battles and danger and suspense, but the City and the Mountain and the people who wish to explore and control it are the focus, rather than events and plot and characterization. The characters are all interesting unique. Ruth Low is the kindly sister who has a tender spot for the poor, memory-stripped "ghosts" who are rumored to have fallen from the Mountain. She is not as smart or beautiful as her missing sister Ivy, nor as practical and tough as her sister Marta, but her principles and her desire to help makes her crucial to the fate of the City. There is the decadent Brace-Bel who seeks to outrage the gods. There is Inspector Maury of the Know-Nothings, just doing his duty in a world where that duty can change in a moment. But most of all the book is about the failing City (and Mountain), the odd neighborhoods, the lack of ways out even for the travelers, the threat of destruction and war, the enigmatic Shay who has had his hand in intrigues throughout the history of the City, and the final attempt at reaching the Mountain to find the answers there.
They prose is slow and rich, well written and magical. If you prefer something simpler and more straightforward, wizards on quests or mysteries to be solved, this isn't the book for you. It has some very small Steampunk elements, but only as throwaways (reference to gears, airships attack). But this is literary SF/F, so that's not important. The importance is in the imagery and the ideas and the meandering through an imaginative world with unexpected and people and creatures and events that comes startlingly alive.
I did not read the first book and I think this could be read as a stand-alone (unless one is a completist, in which case you'd begin at the beginning anyway).