The Immortal CIty
I read and reviewed May Peterson’s début novel Lord of the Last Heartbeat last year, and although I liked the concept behind the story, the world it was set in, and the main characters, I found the author’s overly florid writing-style difficult to navigate; the words got in the way of the story to the extent that it was almost impossible, at times, to work out what was happening, and the language was so overblown and dense that it was hard to picture the events in my mind’s eye.
So why did I pick up The Immortal City, book two in The Sacred Dark series? I was intrigued by the premise – an immortal being with no memories dreams of being able to regain them – and I wanted to see if perhaps the author had reined in the flowery prose and made it easier to actually understand her story without having to re-read two sentences out of every three in an attempt to make sense of what was going on.
Well, there was some success on that score because I did find The Immortal City to be more accessible than the previous book in that I found the story easier to follow; and incidentally it’s not connected to Lord of the Last Heartbeat by setting or characters (other than a couple of brief mentions of Vermagna and a “great lord of bear-souls” there), so I don’t think I missed out on anything by not being able to precisely recall the events of that book.
This one is told entirely from the point of view of Ari, a young man who, when he died, was reborn as a dove-spirit with numerous magical gifts including supernatural strength, immortality and the ability to heal others’ wounds. Oh, and he’s got wings and can fly. He also knows that he must have sold his memories to the powerful Lord Umber, who rules over the city of Serenity where Ari resides – but he doesn’t know why he sold them, or remember anything about his past life. He doesn’t even know how long he’s been in Serenity, but of late, he’s been thinking more and more about the possibility of regaining his memories – not that he has the faintest idea how to go about it or if it’s even possible. When a beautiful young man – Hei – literally falls into his arms, Ari is inexplicably drawn to him, and becomes even more preoccupied with the idea of finding out about his past. When Ari and Hei are together it feels somehow right – but when Umber takes an interest in Hei, Ari realises that there’s more to Hei’s sudden appearance in his life than random chance, and the two are drawn into an epic battle for Serenity.
It’s fairly easy to work out who Hei is – or who he is to Ari at least – and even though we only see Hei through Ari’s eyes, the reader is made aware that he knows much more than he’s letting on. There’s epic magic, the evilest of villains and the worldbuilding is sound – it’s not scrupulously over-detailed but not written in such broad strokes that it all feels superficial. I liked the author’s exploration of the relationship between self and memory and knowledge; the city of Serenity comes to life in all its decadence and strange other-wordliness, and best of all, the chemistry between Ari and Hei is pretty intense and there’s a real sense that theirs is a love that endures and never, ever gives up.
BUT. The pacing flags in places, there are pockets of repetition and sometimes the descriptive prose gets in the way of the events playing out (again). Maybe I’m just stupid, but I didn’t quite understand what happened at the end, and – is it a spoiler when I say that Ari does regain at least some of his memories, but we never find out how he died or why he sold them? (Or at least, I can’t see that he did.)
After two books which I can only give middling grades, I’m going to say this author probably isn’t for me. I found the storylines in both this and the previous books to be interesting, I liked the characters and the worlds in which the stories are set, but the writing just doesn’t work for me. I feel a bit like the Emperor Joseph II, who said there were “too many notes” in Mozart’s opera Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, because, to my mind, this author uses too many words! While Mozart quite correctly responded that he used as many notes as were necessary, May Peterson’s wordiness comes at the expense of clarity. And I’m saying this as someone who is generally verbose!
Opinions on Lord of the Last Heartbeat seem to have been divided between those who loved it, and those who, like me, had issues with the writing; I suspect the same will be true of The Immortal City. Ultimately, the book’s imaginative storyline is done a disservice by overly dense, flowery prose that leads to a lack of lucidity.