Review: “City of Shadows: Part 1”

I have earlier reviewed a few of Jack Conner’s Atomic Sea books. Now he has provided me with a free copy of Part 1 of his new series City of Shadows for an honest review.

We are back in the Atomic Sea world, though this story is separate from the earlier storyline. There are only a few passing references to the Octunggen aggression. Instead we arrive in the city of Lavorgna, where the protagonist Stevrin ekes out a precarious existence as a low-life teenager living in an orphanage run by a brothel (it makes sense in context and the facility is not what one would think at first glance). Lavorgna is a crapsack place where the rich prey on the poor and where conspiracy and violence is a part of everyday life — a case of Dickensian misery on steroids.

However, recently matters have gotten even worse in Lavorgna, with people disappearing mysteriously and earthquakes tearing down buildings and opening chasms in the ground. A Lovecraftian doom appears to be imminent. Jack Conner walks firmly in the footsteps of HPL, even though his fiction is grittier than the old master’s. The reader encounters a Frankenstenian reanimator of corpses (possibly one of the better characters in town), a nasty alchemists’ guild, an evil cult sacrificing people to eldritch horrors, gun-toting gangsters, jazzy brothel parties, sneaking and skulking in the shadows, assassinations and kidnappings, and much more. (I am deliberately careful with spoilers.)

Conner’s writing has improved since the Atomic Sea books. The editing is tighter, and the prose less purple and less gory. It is an adventure story that delivers what it says on the cover. The main characters are not deterred by the frequent encounter of horrors; most are teenagers and display thoughtless impatience and reckless daring appropriate for that age. The badguys are as amoral and maleficent as they should be. The story works fine for Conner’s fantasy world. My sole complaint is that the plot moves ahead a bit too slowly for my liking.

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