(2016) Stella Gemmell, Corgi, £8.99, pbk, 732pp, ISBN 978-0-552-16897-7
Stella Gemmell's epic fantasy novel, The Immortal Throne, is described as a sequel to The City, but rather than following directly on from that book it is written to overlap with events in that novel giving a new character perspective of that time period as well as continuing the tale. This adds an extra depth to our understanding of the fantasy setting.
The book is written in the second person, so describes the actions and scenes, but does not always give insight into feelings, thoughts or motivations. There is a strong authorial narrator who takes you through the tale, this is not a character of the book, but simply an external viewpoint. The story is split into seven parts, each part having up to five or six characters which the narrator follows, but avoiding a sense of 'head hopping' as the narration is never inside their head. Some of the characters return in each section others fall by the wayside for one reason or another. The effect is almost cinematic in our minds and meets that despite the plethora of characters we are not overwhelmed by their thoughts feelings, plans and ambitions and only learn of these as they are acted upon.
The one character we keep returning to is that of Rubin Kerr Guillaume, we follow him from scenes of his childhood to his adolescence hidden in the underground Halls through to his life as a spy in the army. These scenes are not necessarily presented entirely in chronological order and are interspersed by action and events, but the reader is able to build a strong picture of this young man, his trials and loyalties.
Those loyalties are complicated. Those who live in the city are generally loyal to the city itself and extend that loyalty to its rulers and leaders even if that changes. Those who killed the previous Emperor are condemned by the new Empress even as she continues to benefit by their actions. Those who served the previous Emperor swap allegiances to the new ruler without considering that an issue. This is an entirely consistent approach but can catch the reader unaware.
The vast majority of characters in this setting have no access to magic at all. Only members of the seven noble families of the city have a variety of individual gifts, which appear to become weaker as they are passed down the generations. The founding member of each house or the 'Firsts' seem to have access to more powers and an immortal life, by which I mean they seem to survive until killed rather than being invulnerable. Only one character outside of the city seems to have these abilities.
Gemmell is pretty ruthless with many of her characters, the tale is one of constant fighting and war, most of the characters are in violent situations and she does not shy away from the often-grizzly consequences of that. Readers beware becoming attached to any one character as they might not survive the scene.
This is an epic fantasy in every sense of the word, the wide geographical and political scope of the tale, as well as the feeling the reader gets that they themselves have truly been on a journey.
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