Ever since author Mark Lawrence began his Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off contest in 2015, I have been reading some absolute gems in the Fantasy genre that may not have ever gotten the notoriety they richly deserve had it not been for SPFBO. I have gone off in the past with regard to how wonderful this development has been for Fantasy and also the book industry in general. So many of the books entered in this year's SPFBO were already on my radar before they were announced as entries. Since the announcement though, I have tried to read as many as humanly possible.
I had seen brief flashes of marketing about THE BLIGHTED CITY, book 1 of The Fractured Tapestry by Scott Kaelen, by way of some of my followers' retweets on Twitter. The ominously dark cover was the first thing that quickly caught my eye, and then I did a little more research on the plot which sold me even more on wanting to check it out. I began following Scott on Twitter and eventually requested a review copy because I thought it was something that I would really enjoy based primarily on the amazing description and the reviews to date. Scott very graciously provided me one not long after my request and as a result, I rushed it right up near the top of my "to review' list. And so, on to the book.
Somewhere in the Blighted City of Lachyla, a powerful and mysterious gemstone is buried in an underground graveyard within the Gardens of the Dead. Legends say that the walking dead roam the catacombs, guarding the unholy city from those who would exploit it and loot those treasures entombed with the dead. Dagra and his fellow guild members Jalis and Oriken are well aware of what the legends say, but that doesn't deter them from accepting a lucrative contract from a woman named Cela Chiddari to venture into the fabled city and steal back the gemstone. Cela claims the gemstone is a vitally important family heirloom that should have never been buried within the cursed city in the first place.
The job pays top money, five hundred dari to be exact, which is impossible to refuse given the paltry contracts that the guild members have seen trickle across their doorstep lately. Complicating matters is that their destination of Lachyla is a fallen kingdom that is shrouded in mystery and has been wholly deserted for hundreds of years. The history of Lachyla has been largely forgotten, and so this just adds to the danger that may await the three companions as they attempt to sneak into the crypts stealthily and escape without detection from whatever manner of godless creatures still stalk the area. As they enter the Gardens of the Dead, Dagra can't help but feel as if something isn't right about their surroundings. He continually senses movement inside the catacombs and even stumbles across footprints in the dust that appear to only be going in one direction - OUT of the crypt.
How could that be? Surely if the footprints only point outward it could only mean one thing, it wasn't a fellow explorer's footprints but someone or something already inside the crypts leaving. At this point, the companions want to complete their mission as fast as possible and leave to collect their money. But as they finally uncover the gemstone and begin to pry it off the wall where it is embedded, they notice frail-looking figures begin emerging from the mist among the gravestones, slowly approaching their location.
It is now clear that the legends are not legends at all, and that in their avarice to acquire a quick payday, the three of them have stumbled across an infernal boundary where the line between the living and the dead is forever blurred. Now, just making it out alive becomes the one and only mission. Can the three escape what looks like a growing army of the undead and whatever other manner of monsters await them on their escape route out of the underground hell that they find themselves in? I can only say that you will be treated to a fantastically dark and macabre journey if you decide to read this book and find out.
Upon reading the opening chapters of THE BLIGHTED CITY, I made the remark on Goodreads that it reminded me a lot of one of my favorite dark Fantasy books of all-time, The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells. The shadowy atmosphere and the whole thievery angle were very reminiscent of the feel of that wonderful book. I stand by that assertion now that I have finished Scott Kaelen's book and I add to it that while bearing similarities, THE BLIGHTED CITY stands on its own when it comes to an exceptional Fantasy read. One of the things that I loved about the book was the city of Lachyla and the mysterious history of its cursed past.
I am an absolute sucker for a great and multi-layered history when it comes to the stories that I enjoy. When an author takes the time to build a solid history, I believe that it adds so much depth and mystery that just make it a joy to read. Scott Kaelen has accomplished that tenfold with THE BLIGHTED CITY. Another aspect that I thought made this a compelling read were the characters and how they interacted with each other. This is a book that has spurts of action and then significant lulls. If put into the hands of a less adroit author, the lulls could lead to moments of boredom. That is never the case with this book and that is completely due to the characters and how they spend those down moments. The dialogue is crisp, the personalities are unique and bold, and the way that they behave faced with the most inexplicably horrific creatures hunting them is an amazing thing to behold.
This book had virtually every box checked off that I love in a great Dark Fantasy read. The mystery of the city is always present in the story, making the reader yearn to find out more about it. Scott also ratchets up the tension quite a bit and where the story really excels is in the development of the story itself and the characters that make it a truly wonderful book to read. If you are looking for a really good book that has creepy undead antagonists, heroic protagonists, and world-building that is of the highest quality, I recommend Scott Kaelen's THE BLIGHTED CITY without reservation. It truly is a fun read that will have you wanting to find out desperately how things turn out. This will definitely be an intriguing series and I will absolutely snatch up book 2 as soon as it becomes available.
(My Rating: 9/10)