cover image The City Stained Red

The City Stained Red

Sam Sykes. Orbit, $16 trade paper (608p) ISBN 978-0-316-37487-3

This dense, overwritten fantasy novel reunites the ragtag crew of adventurers from Sykes’s Aeons’ Gate series (Tome of the Undergates, etc.). Done with adventuring and the requisite tally of murders, Lenk—a hardcore killer with an incongruously sweet face—wants out, and he needs his team to help him collect his final payday. Unfortunately, things do not exactly go to plan, and it’s up to this comically inappropriate group to save the day as their city descends into chaos and ruin. The fantastical, dangerous world and the creatures that populate it are packed with potential, different enough from standard fantasy fare to be exciting. The delivery is less appealing; Sykes struggles to get a handle on non-human perspectives and the mindset of people who kill for money, and characterization is inconsistent. Meanwhile, the potential for a rousing and gritty adventure is disappointingly smothered by pages of repetitive and meandering narrative. (Feb.)