Keri Arthur’s books aren’t normally my style, but the description of City of Light (2016) interested me, so I jumped on it. A futuristic world that has been ravaged by war? Reality has been fundamentally altered? Yes, please.
The worldbuilding impressed me from the start. This world felt strange enough to not be our world, but similar enough for me to try to pick out where all this was taking place from various points of reference Arthur gave her readers. The war that happened roughly a hundred years before completely changed society and cultures as we know it. Life is rough, and brutal, and people hack out their existence with their hard work and determination. It’s not a pretty world, and it was surprisingly gritty but so well done. It was layered and textured and packed full of atmosphere. I haven’t read any of Arthur’s other books, but if this is her skill with worldbuilding, watch out. She’s a force to be reckoned with.
The magic system is likewise fascinating. Tiger is the last of her kind, a unique vat-built supersoldier who has a very painful, dark past and an incredibly lonely present. She has no human DNA, and all of her kindred have been killed. The world is divided between shifters and humans, with vampires roaming the night. They are dangerous and presented as something less than animals with no language and no social structure. The new take on vampires was very welcome, and another unique addition to the world Arthur has created, making night more than just darkness, and full of danger. Along with this are sprits that can either help (as Cat and Bear help Tiger), or hurt in rather surprising ways. Nothing really is what it appears to be on the surface, and half the magic of the magic system is that it takes so long for Arthur to reveal all the layers involved in it. Just when I figured it out, she added a new little detail and twist that made the whole thing that much more interesting and complex.
The plot takes a while to get going. Part of what makes the start feel so slow is Tiger’s obvious isolation. She’s been alone so long, and her ghosts are her only company. While ghosts are interesting, they aren’t very conversational, so much of this beginning is introspection and thoughts that introduce readers to the world and the magic system as a whole, and Tiger’s place in the whole thing. Things start getting more exciting when she discovers a girl in need of help.
City of Light doesn’t really go anywhere I’d expect it to go. The first hundred pages or so felt reminiscent of Ilona Andrews’s KATE DANIELS series. After that, Arthur turned left where I expected her to turn right, and she took all of her unique worldbuilding and memorable magic in a direction I really didn’t expect. The mystery is really compelling, and Tiger’s intense, emotional desire to help just about every hurt and needful child she can find added a really raw, emotional bend to a story that I didn’t really expect to jar me as much as it did.
Tiger is an interesting protagonist. She’s a strong woman who has learned to survive in a very hard world. She’s isolated and estranged from just about everything and everyone, but there’s an obvious hunger in her to be with other people, to connect with just about anyone else. She’s independent and tough, but has obvious and realistic weaknesses and knows what they are. In the face of her world, her strengths and limitations came across as believable and compelling. Tiger was a character I felt for, because she so obviously had her feet in two different worlds, and was struggling to find a balance in her reality and herself. The struggles she faced challenged her in fascinating ways, and her connection with others forced her to grow in areas that felt rather stagnant before.
There is sex, which I expected. I know enough about Keri Arthur to know that sex kind of comes with the territory. I faced the interesting point of expecting sex, and bracing for it, and sort of anticipating it, and still finding that the sex almost completely jarred me out of the storyline. The book was so wonderful, and then BAM, the sex was there, and I was wondering when we could get back to things. Maybe that’s because I’m not really fond of explicit sex in my books, or maybe it’s just because I genuinely felt that the sex didn’t really need to be there. The tension was great, the situations were moving wonderfully, and I think in the end the sex felt a little gratuitous and unnecessary.
City of Light, despite that complaint, really wowed me. It’s a compelling story of a woman who both fits and doesn’t fit at the same time. Her story is shockingly emotional as she tries to figure out what is going on in the world that has left her largely ignored and isolated. She’s haunted by her past, and trying very hard to puzzle out her present. The world is absolutely fantastic, and the magic system left me wanting more. The plot was gripping, and the atmosphere was intense. I have kind of avoided Keri Arthur’s books because they generally aren’t my bag, but this one surprised me, and that’s probably the highest compliment I could give it.