I really like novels that cross genres, like Carrie Patel’s Recoletta series. It’s dystopian, it’s got a futuristic steampunk yet also almost Luddite feel to it, it involves mystery and suspense, and it’s filled with political intrigue…and all of that works together seamlessly to produce a wonderfully unique experience.
Cities and Thrones, Book #2 in this series, takes us even further into this post catastrophic world that has devolved in many ways back to Victorian life – yet not. A link to my review of Book #1, The Buried Life, appears at the end of this review. Several things drew me to the series initially including the importance that restricted access to books and information seemed to have on this world, that Ms. Patel is a computer game narrative designer, and then there’s the mystery that’s like a blend of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes – that mystery intrigued me. Oh yes, and at least one kick-butt heroine. What’s kept me reading is Ms. Patel’s writing and this fascinating world. I’m hooked. Will you feel the same way? Let’s see…
Background: Recoletta is one of many cities completely underground. Its inhabitants have been led to believe that the surface of the planet has been uninhabitable for centuries, ever since the Great Catastrophe caused by the people who lived above ground. The people accept this because it’s the way it’s always been in their minds. They also accept that access to books is severely restricted to only a select few since books and the information in them is what caused all of this in the first place. But is that what’s actually true?
The population is divided into the haves, called Whitenails, and the have-nots in the service class who do all the work. Think the 1% vs. the rest of us living at various economic levels and you won’t be far off base. Among the “ordinary” people living in Recoletta are a couple of heroines who don’t know they’re heroines, Inspector Liesl Malone and a laundress named Jane Lin, as well as Malone’s oddball almost chameleon-like partner, Rafe Sundar. To learn more about Book #1, you’ll have to read my review (link below). On to Cities and Thrones…
To avoid as many spoilers as possible, which is probably impossible, this may be too vague for some of you.
Since we last left our motley crew, Recoletta has erupted into chaos. A coup has taken place and everyone is suffering, even the Whitenails. The coup seemed like a good idea at the time – let’s have an open and transparent government instead of a dictatorship. Let’s open up the secret archive to everyone. Let’s make a sudden leap into full disclosure. Those were ideals that sounded wonderful but didn’t account for a power-hungry element wanting domination at any cost. Into the seeming vacuum in absolute power this new governing body presented, other oligarchy cities and even farming communes are now all vying for absolute power in Recoletta. In other words, every political entity is seeking homeostasis but with itself as King of the Hill. Sigh.
“[Jane said,] ‘Sato’s people arranged for a catastrophe in the city. Once they’d set it off, they took advantage of the chaos to move into place. They isolated and overpowered the City Guard and took care of the remaining councilors.’
Salazar’s eyes widened. ‘They assassinated them? All of them?
Jane paused, but she saw no reason not to tell him. ‘I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. But I know at least one of them got away.’
…’Does it matter?’ she asked.
His mouth stretched into something that wasn’t quite a smile. ‘It seemed to matter to somebody.’
He was right, but perhaps not in the way he imagined.”
As if that isn’t enough, information about how and why Recoletta was founded is now public knowledge thanks to this new open attitude. That previously hidden information has thrown everything its people have believed for centuries out the window, and they are out for revenge. Someone has to pay and the gods help anyone who gets in the way. There’s nothing like angry masses of people out for blood. Riots and revolt, anyone?
In the midst of all of this mess, Malone has been made Chief of Police. It’s a thankless job since she’s tasked with the impossible, keeping the peace amidst a population run amuck. Yeah, right! It’s like trying to slap miniature Band-Aids on a ship that leaking like a sieve. But she does everything she can to keep damage to a minimum. Oh, and Arnault’s spy ring has now become huge – it’s almost like everyone is spying on everyone else because no one knows who can be trusted anymore. One wrong step and anyone could become the latest victim upon whom the city’s population or political wannabes turn their wrath. Witch hunt, anyone?
“Malone had prowled her ravaged city for six months, and still she barely knew it. The landscape changed daily as the ruin and corruption receded in one place only to bloom in another. The citizens that remained in Recoletta – and out of the shadows – shifted in the scattered pockets of civilization like nervous flocks, colonizing and abandoning new areas of the city each week…
She still didn’t understand the politics of the new Recoletta. It didn’t take more than common sense to know that things were bad and getting steadily worse, but she couldn’t follow the minutiae of gestures, expressions, and inflections in the Cabinet meetings with Sato well enough to know whose fault it was from week to week (even if it was hers) or how promises and bargains were made over a raising of eyebrows and quirking of lips.
But this she knew and relished. Hunting her quarry through tunnels – even tunnels made unfamiliar by new layers of rubble and lichen – and becoming the hunted in a series of shifts and maneuvers every bit as sudden and deft as those that went on in the meetings.”
What about Jane Lin, our heroic amateur detective laundress to the Whitenails? Jane’s hightailed it out of town for good reason. She’s now in Madina with a news reporter friend named Fredrick Anders. Unfortunately, if she thought she could leave Recoletta behind for a new home, she was wrong because she’s uncovered a plot to crush her original home city. Should she help Recoletta despite the way she was treated there or say good riddance? What she decides could mean the difference in whether Recoletta survives or not, that is if she can figure out how to help once she’s decided whether to help at all.
“[They] had been on the run for two weeks…They fled not only the revolt in Recoletta, but also the news that would surely follow it. It was a vague and amorphous thing, but Jane had seen well enough how it sowed panic, suspicion, and violence in its wake. She was not certain what form it would take in the communities, but she knew they would do well to stay ahead of it…By then, Jane and Fredrick were over a hundred miles away from Recoletta, the only city they’d ever known. Untethered from this single-fixed point, it felt as if they were floating through an alien and featureless landscape.”
The cities are entity characters in this series in addition to the human characters, which is one of the things that makes the series so interesting. Malone and Jane are reluctant heroines. Jane is also a reluctant detective while it’s Malone’s job. Malone is overtly strong while the fairly innocent Jane has hidden strengths that even she isn’t too sure about, and that lets her move almost stealthily where others can’t go. Both Fredrick and Sundar help provide balance, and are very interesting and complex characters, as is Arnault the charming yet almost spider-like spy master. No wimps here. Still, it’s obvious the women are making decisions that will drastically affect the world they live in. I loved that – thank you for strong, smart women characters who make a difference!
Carrie Patel’s world in the Recoletta series is captivating and utterly believable, given human nature and the way human beings seem to invariably behave – despite the way I often wish they’d behave differently. Sometimes I don’t think we’ve evolved very much as a species yet individual examples of courage and humane behavior still give me great hope for our future as a species. Contradictory? Maybe but then so is life and so is this series, but in a good way.
Ms. Patel has a knack in Cities and Thrones of providing just enough information for your imagination to grab hold and provide the rest. She’s also a master at nail-biting, non-stop action. Once you start reading, hold on tight because things are going to get really interesting fast. I recommend this series because it just keeps getting better. Should you read The Buried Life first? I think so but then you can dive right into Cities and Thrones afterward without waiting a year like the rest of us had to do – definite benefit!
Can’t wait to read it?
Cities and Thrones was published on July 7, 2015, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). If you download it as an e-book, you can have it to read immediately!
I’d love to get your comments on Cities and Thrones, Carrie Patel or her other work, and/or this review.
Click here to read our review of Book #1 in the Recoletta series, The Buried Life.
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