Review: Tarnished City, Vic James

Vic James’ Gilded Cage sequel, Tarnished City, widens the world in a way that its predecessor didn’t, although it becomes much darker as well.

Alternate history is usually its own genre, but Gilded Cage and its recent sequel, Tarnished City, have taken the alternate history and added a veneer of magic over it — not dissimilar to V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic, although James has fewer alternate dimensions and a much less clearly lined out system of magic.

But a much-less defined system doesn’t make Tarnished City worse. It’s hard not to compare the two series just based on how magical society rewards the strong. James is much more intrigued with putting together a solid thriller that investigates the situation from both sides thanks to the use of multiple perspectives.

While sympathies naturally fall with the Skilless and their allies, that doesn’t mean that the most powerful characters in this story don’t come with their own intrigue. In fact, they’re almost more interesting. After all, they’re operating on a different level. James makes a reader anticipate Silyen’s chapters most of all.

Although Luke and Abi Hadley are really the closest to traditional protagonists, Silyen has always been the most mysterious character — and that’s with chapters that he actually narrates! But even chapters featuring Bouda or Gavar have their own appeal.

Plot-wise, there are three main stories that actually end up intertwining — Abi wants to rescue Luke, who is a former member of the resistance, so she meets his friends, and those friends are also part of the Equals who dominate Britain. It’s all connected, basically.

There’s an additional challenge for James here with Luke’s storyline. Without spoiling it, it does get a little repetitive. There’s a reason for it, but it still makes things harder to read. Then again, if a reader isn’t going through the book in large chunks, it might be more difficult to notice.

Again, without trying to spoil anything, Tarnished City gets dark. It’s impressive, particularly when you consider Gilded Cage actually opens with a death. Readers might have trouble dealing with the sheer amount of violence and how it’s carried out, even if they did make it through the first book, since it does escalate.

Tarnished City certainly has a lot to compete with in terms of new releases this month, but it does have its own niche that it fills. There’s a little romance, a lot of violence and, of course, plenty of magic. That’s a lot of crossover appeal.

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