Another year, another slamming sword and sorcery novella from Anthony Ryan. Welcome back to the newest installment of “novellas that are killing it that you have never heard of,” starring City of Songs. This is the third installment of The Seven Swords, a novella series published by the independent company Subterranean Press who are famous for their highly sought after and expensive illustrated editions of famous genre books. SP was kind enough to send me a digital ARC of this story so that I could tell you to go buy it; because just like its predecessors, it is a banger.
Each of these novellas exists as a vignette where our eclectic adventuring party arrives at a new magical city/location and must hunt down a legendary sword that is causing terror. The party is led by our rascally protagonist Pilgrim, a powerful warrior with a lot of baggage, including an enchanted sword. Our romp location this time is a city of unparalleled wealth, aristocracy, and art. Upon arriving to search for the next sword, our group finds themselves pulled into a murder mystery with many twists and turns. Can the party figure out whodunit and make off with the next sword in the set?
City of Songs has been my favorite in this series so far. It feels very distinctly different from the previous two installments, while also keeping extremely on theme. All of these stories have been very dark, surrounded by madness and horror. What I loved about City of Songs is that it starts somewhat lighthearted and quickly starts to descend into a pit of madness. This series is starting to remind me of the famous Hyperion by Dan Simmons – a series of somewhat disconnected stories that begin to form a web linking disparate threads together over time.
What was particularly cool about City of Songs is I got to see Ryan flex a number of lesser-used muscles when it came to his writing topics and focus. Ryan is a proven versatile writer, but previously I would have said that his greatest strength was always his action. But, in City of Sings his prose and mystery skills steal the show. The artistic pieces on display in the city defy imagination and leap off the page into the mind. His use of limited information and clever foreshadowing result in a very satisfying mystery that sticks around the perfect amount of time. Finally, there is some fantastic character growth which is not an easy task when writing a novella series.
Although I have nothing but praise for the content of City of Songs, I do want to observe that it feels slightly strange that these stories are novellas. This is the second serial novella series I have gotten extremely invested in (with the first being Murderbot), and there comes a point where the price point starts to hurt and I wish the stories were collected into a novel. I certainly don’t think any of these authors are trying to nickel and dime the reader, and there are definite advantages to splitting up the story into pieces (especially Seven Swords, the novellas have rich art depicting pivotal scenes). I just wish the series was slightly more accessible so that it could get into the hands of more readers because this series deserves to be read.
Rating: City of Songs – 10/10
An ARC of this book was provided to us in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.