Book Review: City of Kings by Rob J. Hayes (Archived)

Hey, everyone! This review was originally published over on BookNest.eu about six months ago. Check the site out, great reviews by me and many other lovely folks! I thought I’d start reposting my old reviews here every few days, in case anyone who hasn’t seen them before follows my blog for the book reviews in question. Hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I received this novel for free thanks to the r/fantasy TBRindr initiative, in return for an honest review. The purpose of this initiative is to showcase the works of independent authors.

 City of Kings is a tale of siege, dark necromancy and bloody betrayal. It’s the sixth book in Rob J. Hayes’ First Earth setting, but it works well as a stand-alone. I should know since I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading any of his previous works. And I don’t use ‘pleasure’ lightly.

Let’s jump straight into what I loved about this book!

The Characters:

Five main characters, five diverse viewpoints.

Meet Rose, leader and de facto queen of the Wilds. Rose is on a quest to rid the land of the blooded, long-time lords and despots of the Wilds. This is one scary pregnant lady, ready to put everything on the line for vengeance. 

Anders is a good-for-nothing drunk, a charming spy, and capable of inexplicable feats of magic. He is also the son of our big bad, the blooded lord and military tactician Niles Brekovich.

The Black Thorn is a giant of a man, and a wielder of a great-axe much more at home lopping off heads than acting the part of nominal leader of an army and being called a hero. His romantic relationship with Rose is written well, and the prospect of fatherhood in the world he inhabits is examined well.

Red Henry delights in blood, murder and mayhem…but she is no soldier. And the battlefield is all too foreign to a woman used to striking from the shadows.

Pern Susku is an honour-bound warrior who failed in his mission to protect his master; who, in fact, allowed that very master to be killed by The Black Thorn. This failure haunts him, as does the tribe of warriors he comes from.

These five main characters come alive over the three-hundred pages or so of City of Kings. None of them are good people, with the possible exception of Szusku who does a fair bit of agonizing over past decisions. They‘re one and all opposed to the blooded; much like Joe Abercrombie‘s First Law trilogy, this presents characters wholly entwined with one side of the conflict. The blooded are ever seen as adversaries and for good reason.

Not that our protagonists are much better, mind. Hayes does very well with the ending when one of the main characters steps over the line in what is a particularly gory and memorable scene.

The side characters are memorable, too. Two captains, a sergeant, and of course the Five Kingdoms general, Verit, deserve mention. So does Pug, The Black Thorn’s young squire, whose fear and lack of skill don’t stop him from putting his hide in harm’s way time and time again.

The Plot:

Fast-paced and with the highest stakes, City of King‘s plot takes place over just six days. Not the time to pull off a proper siege, but time is not on Rose‘s side. With an empty coffer and enemies threatening to push on all sides, the self-styled queen of the Wilds only has one choice – to wager the men and women under the Black Thorn’s banner in a desperate bid to break the last bastion of the blooded.

But if a siege blood-curdling in its intensity isn’t enough for you, you might be won over by the shambling hordes of undead, or the daring battles with horrifying cave-trolls! Or perhaps you seek betrayal and heartbreak? There’s plenty of that, too!

I appreciate the downtime between battles, the moments of quiet reflection and discussion on what comes next, how the siege is compounded by whatever disaster our protagonists are forced into dealing with. It is during those times I most appreciated the character-building skill Hayes possesses, and so will you.

Conclusion:

Like the best of grimdark, this book doesn’t contain violence for violence’s sake. There is a point to it all, and it reflects on and deeply affects the characters who witness or perpetrate it. You will find no glamour in the clash of attackers and defenders, no allure to battle in City of Kings.  

What you will find, is a deftly written story, detailed and unafraid to show characters at their worst. Rob J. Hayes displays a tremendous amount of skill with a fully realized world, as well as a string of unexpected twists and turns all the way to the end.

With City of Kings, Hayes has earned a great deal of my interest. I’m looking forward to revisiting the First Earth setting both in future installments, and by picking the past five novels!

Did I have any problems with it? Not as such; more nitpicks than anything. Anders, despite being a favourite character of mine, was a bit too verbose even for a nervous drunk prone to bouts of chattering.  A letter is missing here and there, maybe even two!

…I really have no issues with this book.  I’m not shy about pointing out what I dislike, but there wasn’t anything I had problems with here, neither in terms of story and characterization nor on the technical side. The writing style is clear, crisp. Descriptions set the backdrop of scenes well.

You’ll enjoy City of Kings by Rob J. Hayes if:   

  • You are a fan of grimdark;
  • You are planning to besiege a fortress in the bloodiest way possible;
  • You’re looking at a handy how-to guide to pregnancy;
  • You enjoy books written by men who can pull off a gambeson;
  • And more! Prob’ly.

I gave this 5 stars on Goodreads!  (4.5 Stars)

Anthem: Demo Weekend Impression

Hullo, everyone! In case you didn’t know, along with occasionally writing stuff for this blog, doing reviews for BookNest.eu and universiting (coining that word), I also make videos on video games! I thought I’d share with you, dear reader, my latest video below but with a twist! If you care little for my voice or my video editing skills, I’ll also upload the ‘script’ which is largely what the video consists of! Whether you read or watch, thanks! Any likes and comments are, as ever, appreciated!

Or: How I learned to stop caring about FPS drops, and love the Magneto cosplays!

Anthem is more enjoyable than I thought it would be, which makes its abhorrent technical issues, and there is a myriad of them, nothing short of appalling.

I had the…uuuh…pleasure? Of playing Anthem during its demo weekend, and while I had fun with several parts of the game, I am far from convinced it is worth the asking price. Anthem excels in making you feel powerful – with a few exceptions, but on those later. Never has a game felt so much like what an Iron Man game should be; especially with the first javelin we had access to during the demo. Miniature rockets, grenades, and an ultimate that’s powerful enough to wipe out dozens of mobs all at once cements this power fantasy in a way that is nothing short of captivating, and for that Bioware has my most sincere congratulations. Good work, guys.

That, coupled with the vast amount of customization of the javelins made me thoroughly enjoy my time as the Storm Javelin in particular, whose ability to glide through the air with his majestic cape and aristocratic poise made me immediately seize the opportunity of giving my favourite master of magnetism tribute. Some pretty sweet moments were to be had, especially whenever I dropped the Storm Javelin’s ultimate ability. It’s a visual spectacle, and again, it plays really well to the core power fantasy this sort of game revolves around. Well, that and loot.

Speaking of loot, some of the guns aren’t too impressive in their damage output or their sound assets. Bit too silent sometimes, bit too normal in others. This is a science-fantasy world, right? Why not give guns an extra kick?! Granted, maybe they do become better at level 30 than at level 10-15 but with how little we know about the end-game look of the game outside of PR, who the hell cares?

Now, for the technical issues – and they were truly abhorrent. Once, when I alt-tabbed, Anthem murdered my screen resolution, transporting me back into ye olde middle ages. FPS drops were a common occurrence, and me and my dear friend, MegaShortFuze, were disconnected just as we were doing the stronghold mission – an admittedly fun mission, although why anyone would replay it more than five, ten times, I do not know. There’s only so much fun you can get from decimating a big-ass bug that doesn’t seem equipped to do anything to harm any of the javelins in the air: and hint, that’s all of them! Those things literally float on jetpacks, in the air! I don’t think I got hit a single time!

I will say, that boss at least was fun. At least it made us feel powerful. Know what wasn’t? A big, bullet-spongy anti-air gun boss! I don’t remember how it’s called, and I don’t care about wasting anymore time on it, ever, to find out, but that thing took us way too long to kill, and me and my friend were deploying advanced warfare tactics, son! That whole experience was frustrating and unrewarding, unlike the stronghold.

As for the story…the less said, the better. The one quest we actually had access to showed some fun Bioware writing and at least one memorable character, even if for a gimmicky reason. What about comm-conversations between supporting characters while we’re in the warfra—I mean, javelin? I recall smiling at a single line, but I don’t remember the line itself. It’s just…not even filling, y’know? Same as that nice lady that talks to you occasionally in Warframe. Makes for a nice change of pace from all the bullets flying at your noggin, but it’s not like you actually care, is it?

IS IT?

The sad truth of the matter is, I doubt Anthem’s creation has been due to Bioware’s sudden and inexplicable desire to break away from the tried and true format of creating rich worlds where choice matters for the benefit of making a Destine-lite loot shooter. Even so, they’ve done an admirable job in creating a game as fun as Anthem seems to be, in terms of the core gameplay loop and javelin customization. What has me most worried about Anthem is just how much we don’t know about this game, days before its release – how much will the cosmetics cost in terms of real money, as opposed to time spent grinding? How extensive is the end-game content? To quote Anthem’s latest video on the topic, there will be “challenges, contracts, freeplay and strongholds.”  How does the content drop delivery map look like, two months down the road? How about six? Just how many tens of gigabytes will the day-1 patch be, and how many new bugs will we get for each one fixed? I could go on and on asking questions like these – and it’s unfortunate that I have to. There was a time when I gave Bioware every benefit of the doubt, but in a world where EA’s bottom line forces its developer studios towards ever more rushed, money-grubbing video games, that time is long since past.

Anthem is…a definite ‘wait for many months, if ever’ buy for me. Based on my enjoyment of the core, I honestly would like to play it at some point. Based on how tired I am of EA, I ought not to. Time will tell. And so will the impudence EA shows in their monetising of cosmetics.

But at the same time… I still think there’s a massive audience for this game. Five-six million copies, maybe? And then, undoubtedly, we’d get a headline in PCGamer the like of, “Anthem underperforms well below EA’s expectations.”

Hell, I take on bets about that last point!