Martha Wells
City of Bones
Tor Books 1995

In a titanic catastrophe, the rocks melted and started rising, destroying the fertile earth and leaving a few cities on the fringe of the Waste. Among these Fringe Cities, Charisat is the biggest and most important, because it controls the trade routes over the Waste, to the coast cities where it is still possible to cultivate the land. Charisat - an enormous tower, where how high up in the city you live show how high up in society you are. On the First Tier lives the Elector, ruler of the empire, and the Warders. On the Eighth Tier lives the lowest of low, those who at any time might be chased out in the Waste to become pirates, or eaten by pirates.

Khat is one of Charisat's many relic dealers - making his living out of finding and valuating things from before the Waste rose. If he hadn't been a krismen - member of a race created by Ancient Mages to survive living in the Waste - he would probably be a scholar at the Academia, but now he isn't even allowed to trade relics, just to "deal" with them. This means living a struggling life on the Sixth Tier together with a couple of families, among them Sagai's.

Sagai is a poor scholar from the free city of Kenniliar, the only Fringe City not dominated by Charisat. To become a member of his home city's Scholar's Guild, he needs money - and Charisat is the best place to get it. Driven by their passion for history and need of money, Sagai and Khat search for relics, when Khat gets an offer he cannot refuse.

Elen is a Warder, a sorcerer sworn to protect the Elector. Unfortunately, she is not a very good one. Now she needs to get out to a Remnant, a strange building out in the Waste. And she wants Khat to show her the way. Khat agrees to, knowing that he probably will not survive, but also that he would be killed even faster turning down the offer of a Patrician. Together, they get involved in a mess involving bad guys, mad guys and connections to the very top of the class pyramide of Charisat.

Fast-paced, spiced with sarcastic one-liners from Khat, it would be great as a movie, but it's excellent as a book, too. The action doesn't stop it from having a serious message, about the disastrous effects of greed for power and knowledge, but basically it is a novel about finding the history, saving the world - or destroying it.

It is set in an interesting world, inspired by the ancient Mesopotamian city states. Inspired, but not at all copied. It is a world where steam wagons, railways and even air guns fit in nicely, together with different magical devices and abilities and a quite believable (and colourfully described) city society. Where the scholars can be heroes. And where the prose is modern American English without feeling anachronistic - which in my opinion is quite an achievement. All in all, it is a great book which you won't put down unless you absolutely have to eat or sleep or work.

Karl Henriksson

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Henriksson & Henriksson 1996.