Travel Documents 09: City Of Kings

City Of Kings

Bree M. Lewandowski
Genre: Alternate History, Romance, Dystopia

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The Dust Cover Copy

Lovers once. Enemies now.

How hot does hurt and hatred burn before the flames consume everything?

She was the ruin of his heart, the reason he swore he’d never come back to Illinois. Yet when a commanding officer sends Judah Grane on obligatory guard-detail to Chicago for the Quarterly Council of Kings, nightmares from that past come back to haunt him.

And God has a funny sense of humor…

Maive Greene has worked hard for the life she has. There’s been no one along the way to help. Now, engaged to Chicago’s City King, she can finally see her future and everything she hopes to accomplish.

Until the man she once loved appears.

Betrayed by each other years ago, yet suddenly thrown together in a strange twist of fate, neither can see how this will end…

Scandal threatens and hearts never healed might break anew! Get lost in this wildfire dystopian second chances romance!

The Deets

The Scene

Worldbuilding

 The exploration of a post-petroleum world is probably my favorite part of this book. With the loss of petrochemicals, this world has an interesting industrial-revolution bent to it: the inequality is blatant, the city states are back, the streets are full of horses and civilization has contracted. A single plant species provides enough fuel to run steam locomotion, at a high human price. This setup gives the story a nice retro-noir flavor a la ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ sans the religious overtones. As with many good dystopian works, just enough of our present world still hangs around to give the reader an eerie sense of being a stranger in a familiar land.

The Crowd

Characterization

Sadly, the world is more engaging than the characters. Judah is a distant military man who seems to be playing up the good-soldier-with-a-maverick-streak archetype, but the maverick flare is missing. What you get is a tired, distant soldier. Flashbacks are used to give a stronger sense of personality and allow readers to empathize, but though the work is there the connection never seems to go through.

The character of Maive is even trickier to connect with. In both cases, emotions are seen and described from the outside by the narrator, giving them a distance that makes them difficult to really connect with. The main antagonist was completely described rather than experienced, which at times made him feel a bit like a caltrop dropped in the lovers’ way rather than a character in his own right. I would have liked to feel for these characters, but too often I felt I was hearing a friend describe an acquaintance for me. I was politely interested, but rarely engaged.

The Moves

Plot

The beginning was strong, but as soon as it hit the woods of primary conflict it wandered off the trail and got lost. Past remembrances, asides between characters, musings by characters and a lot of exposition in world building scenes all served to leave me feeling more and more disconnected as a reader from the story. When the meandering events ran into the first pivotal story point, it felt like running into a tree in the dark. I spent the next ten pages trying to figure out why the emotional tenor of the story had very suddenly tried to ramp up from placid dissatisfaction and ennui.

There are some clever lines and neat ideas in this piece, but its pacing and structure really could do with some work.

The Lingo

Writing style

This is definitely the book’s weakest area. I think a good editor could do wonders, but as it stands the sentence structure routinely pulls the reader out of the story.  Take this sentence: “Dressed all in beige, she looked fresh as a day lily and he fought to keep his eyes on the people, and not how dammed attractive the fitted skirt and blouse looked on her.”

It’s not a bad image, in fact it’s nice. But the sentence is a run-on, ‘daylily’ is one word, and the brain stumbles over the structure. ‘Damned’ is misspelled.

There was a regular misuse of certain words as well, especially ‘scattered’. A group can scatter. An object can break into scattered pieces. But a discrete individual cannot scatter. They can skitter, scramble, even scat if you’re writing colloquially. But writing ‘she scattered into the hall’ does not work.

Beyond that, a simple spell-check needs to be run. ‘Snugly’ is not spelled with two G’s when used to describe something tight-fitting.

 

The Vibe

Overall Rating

This one needs to get cleaned up before it’s going to shine. That’s harsh, but it’s true. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Indies have to hold themselves to the highest standard, because we’re already at a disadvantage. We’re already running against a bias. Every bad indie book a reader picks up is another mark against us.
I think this book can be great if it goes through edits, cleans itself up and gets some schooling. Right now it’s a bit too untidy for polite company.