The Ruined City by Paula Brandon

The Ruined City

I recently read an article in Publishers Weekly that talked about the upsurge in novels that combine a few disparate genres.  It was in reference to young adult novels, but I think the principle applies to mainstream science fiction and fantasy as well.  It not only gives the novel a wider appeal, but I think that the mixing of genres can lead to some wildly creative tales.  Paula Brandon’s second novel, The Ruined City, offers adventure, magic and some very unique zombies.

(Description nicked from B&

“Reality is wavering. Soon its delicate balance will shift and an ancient force will return to overwhelm the Veiled Isles. Now those with the arcane talent forge an uneasy alliance in hopes that their combined abilities are enough to avert an eerie catastrophe. Yet it may be too late. The otherworldly change has begun. The streets of the city are rife with chaos, plague, and revolt. And it is here that Jianna Belandor, once a pampered daughter of privilege, returns to face new challenges.

The dead walk the streets. The docile amphibian slaves of humanity have taken up arms. Jianna’s home lies in ruins. Her only happiness resides in her growing attraction to Falaste Rione, a brilliant nomadic physician whose compassion and courage have led him to take dangerous risks. Jianna, stronger and more powerful than she knows, has a role to play in the unfolding destiny of her world. But a wave of madness is sweeping across the land, and time is running out—even for magic.”

First off, I have to say that I love the way zombies are handled in this trilogy.  They’re not the kind that chase humans hoping for a little nibble on their brain.  Instead, they’re the vehicle for what is essentially a plague of magic.  They congregate and sometimes menace the living, but their function is to weaken the fabric of reality by their very presence.  It allows the horror to come solely from the fact that they’re walking around in defiance of natural law.  As far as I’m concerned, ambulatory dead bodies are scary enough on their own without the whole carnivorous aspect.

While I like Brandon’s characters overall, it’s the minor characters that really get my attention.  Jianna’s uncle Nalio is a wonderfully petty little man, one who gets a taste of power and is willing to wield his authority in way that he can.  Rione’s younger sister is a brilliant portrait of a zealot, doing whatever it takes to accomplish her chosen goal no matter the cost.  And a menacing character from Jianna’s past wanders through the story every now and then, and you have to wonder what he’ll do when he gets to his goal.

The plot is an interesting study in how people can focus on smaller concerns (such as petty feuds and the fate of a single person) in the face of overwhelming evidence that something larger should be holding their attention.  It’s a classic case of “Nero fiddling while Rome burned”—many of the characters just can’t put aside their own issues to do a little thing like save the whole world.  It can be frustrating to watch, because you’ll probably want to shake sense into a few of these characters, but that’s just a sign of how well-written they are.  Be prepared for some sweeping politics, but also be prepared to watch little matters wrestle with the big ones for center stage.

There’s a lot going on in this story, but by the end of this book you can see the shape of things to come, and I for one can’t wait to dig into the concluding volume.  The Ruined City avoids the problems of a trilogy’s middle novel and delivers a heaping helping of action, romance and magic.  This series hasn’t gotten a tenth of the attention that it deserves.

Also by this author: The Traitor’s Daughter, The Wanderers

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on October 11, 2012.

Series: The Veiled Isles
ISBN: 9780553583823
Publisher: Spectra
Page Count: 384
Publication Date: February 28, 2012
Acquired: Provided by the publisher
Read an excerpt