After reading one of Tara Sim’s YA books from a couple of years back, I was excited to explore her new adult fantasy, The City of Dusk. However, I am sad to say my experience with this story was not great. I found the story’s lack of world-building, the in-your-face storytelling, and the confusing chaotic plot tiresome. It was a marathon to get to the finish line, and I am utterly exhausted and disappointed.
King Ferdinand rules over Nexus and is served by four noble houses that contain incredible power. House Mardova are Elementalists mastering all the elements, House Cyr are Lumins wielding light, House Lastrider are Shades controlling the shadows, and House Vakara commune with the dead as Necromancers. Each house possesses the power of a god, but the gods have been increasingly absent since they sealed the barriers between the realms. Tensions are high as the realm begins to die and a group called the Conjurers appear, using illegal conjuration spells that wreak havoc on the city. Any one of the house heirs may inherit the throne, but they will find that their priorities shift as their realm erupts into chaos and evil forces work against them in the shadows.
The plot of The City of Dusk is all over the place. Throughout the entire book, it felt like there were several stories fighting for center stage. The heirs are vying for the throne or other personal pursuits, there are Conjurers that somehow possess magic and are using illegal means to do it, the gods are either suspiciously silent or toying with their heirs, a demon is being wielded by a mysterious someone, and the King has a fragile hold on his dying realm. There are also refugees from other realms who got stuck in Nexus after The Sealing that just end up being plot devices. None of these things come together nicely at the end, and I do not have confidence that the next book will rein in the competing storylines Unfortunately, the issues here affect other aspects of the story because Sim distorts the other elements to serve the plot, robbing us of intricate worldbuilding and characters with agency.
The premise of The City of Dusk sounds so intriguing. I was ready to dive into a rich world of competing heirs wielding their powers and navigating the political nightmare in their dying realm. Instead, I got a story that was trying to do ALL THE THINGS, and it did not work well. The end result was a story that tried to go too big, too fast and it skimmed the interesting world that was sitting beneath the surface. For instance, the depth and breadth of the house powers are a mystery to me. Information about these powers was doled out sparingly and only shared to aid the plot. There were a lot of these instances in the book. I was frustrated by the lack of background information that would inform the story, it did not need to be seamlessly incorporated but it wasn’t given time to breathe before its use in the plot. The information was force-fed to me only when I needed to know it, so it could explain away an important moment. The City of Dusk also had a hard time keeping up with its characters. The story struggled to capture everyone’s experience in a meaningful way. This led to flimsy connections between the characters, and it was hard to understand their emotions and motivations.
There is nothing subtle about this story. Everything came off a little too forced. The observations from characters always gave away too much information, leading me to hone in on the one thing that should have remained inconsequential or mysterious. Several “seemingly” unimportant characters come back around and force their way into the story. Hints about the plot were shoved in my face, and it softened the blow of all the twists and reveals. This was a strange experience for me because I am notoriously bad at trying to predict stories. Yet here I was, seeing every reveal from pages away, and I was exasperated each time I proved myself right.
The City of Dusk had a lot of potential, but ultimately, it missed the mark for me. The story overall is fine I guess, but it is missing the seasoning that would make the meat worth sinking my teeth into. It felt like I had to salt and pepper each bite instead of enjoying a studiously prepared meal. Having had little enjoyment on this particular adventure, I would like to bow out now and let others carry on with the series.
Rating: The City of Dusk – 3.5/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.