Review: The Sheltered City by John Tristan

The Sheltered City

Once again, John Tristan has created a unique and compelling world. The deeper into ‘The Sheltered City’ I got, the more I wanted to know. Why where they living inside what seemed to be a large dome sheltered by an enormous living tree? Where the dragons outside real or allegorical? What is the halfdeath and what about those elves?

Amon was born with the halfdeath, an affliction that gives him the gift of strength and supernormal healing at the cost of half his life. His skin is ash grey and traced with prominent black veins. He is a large man, a giant, and often possessed by rages. He is well suited to his job as bouncer in a whorehouse, until he assaults an elf, believing the elf had been hurting one of the boys downstairs.

Elves are the ruling class. They live in the Tree. Their word is law and to harm one carries a sentence that can only be determined by the elves. Probably death. Caedian is not a typical elf, however. He is young and naïve. In fact, humans seem to be as mysterious to him as the elves are to humans. Amon, with his grey skin and great strength, even more so. Caedian quickly forgives Amon the broken nose and then hires him to help in the search for his brother.

The search takes Amon to the Rim, the outer edge of the Last City. There, he encounters snippets of a legend he was born to, the dragonhunters. These men and women looked like him, grey, large, possessed of strength and fits of rage. Amon knew he was born of a dragonhunter and was raised by another. What he does not know is why he is the last and why he had never been called to serve, despite being trained. The Order has disappeared.

The event of finding Caedian’s brother is a catalyst of a sort. The truth of the Last City is revealed, in part, and the truth of Amon’s heritage. Facing death, both men chose exile and leave the shelter of the city. The world outside the city lives up to the harsh legends. The air is toxic and the dragons are real. Ill-suited to the environment, Caedian quickly falls ill and Amon devises a way to save him. From there, they stumble across an enclave of dragonhunters who finish telling the story of truth, about their poisoned blood, the elves and the city.

But where Amon was not suited for life within the Last City, Caedian is not suited for life outside the dome, even changed as he becomes. Ultimately, the two men face a series of choices, between themselves, what makes them feel happy and complete, and what they feel is right.

I really enjoyed ‘The Sheltered City’. John Tristan has a wonderful imagination. His worlds always come to life easily and I’m always sad to step away at the conclusion of the book. Despite the scope of adventure, the romantic elements in ‘The Sheltered City’ are more immediate than in his previous book, ‘The Adorned’. The love story feels more central. But what both novels have in common is well-conceived fantasy world that could support more than one tale. Gender and sexuality hold less importance than skin colour and race, a dynamic that I find refreshing. It’s the history of the worlds that has me wanting to read more, however. By the end of ‘The Sheltered City’, it becomes obvious that events are part of a larger cycle. That’s the story I want next. I want to know where the dragons came from and I wouldn’t mind reading about Amon and Caedian eradicating the threat once and for all.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

 

Review: The Adorned by John Tristan

 

The tail end of a war can be as devastating as the first strike, or the most decisive battle. Soldiers become battle fatigued, their leaders jaded and the citizens, those who work to support the soldiers, who suffer privation so that they can continue to fight, are all but forgotten. Families robbed and left to flounder, children orphaned, men and women left alone in the world.

The Adorned by John Tristan tells the story of one such man. After the death of his father, the young Etan journeys to the Grey City where he quickly falls afoul of thieves. Left bleeding and penniless, he is rescued by a bondsman. Soon after, he signs away five years of his life for the promise of food and shelter, both of which are scarce. Before he embarks on a career of indentured servitude, Etan catches the eye of master tattooist, Roberd Tallisk. He is offered a different contract, the chance to become one of the Adorned.

The Adorned are playthings of the Blooded, who are the aristocracy. Imbued with magic, the tattoos of an Adorned appear to breathe and move. They are trained in the art of display and serve as companion and entertainment at feasts and parties. Like any courtesan, an Adorned soon learns to play the game of politics and Etan’s naiveté doesn’t exclude him. In fact, it makes him the perfect tool.

Etan’s heart is tender, however, and he tries to balance his actions to please all, but especially one man, his master. Tallisk is contrary and cantankerous, but his care for Etan is obvious to all but the young man. Their slow journey together is not the only delight in this tale.

Given the pace of modern romance, particularly the steamier variety, I had almost forgotten the pleasure of a love story that takes almost an entire novel to consummate. It’s the most delicious sort of torture. Every look, touch and guarded word coaxes you forward and every set back begins to feel personal. I suppose it is, in a way, as invested as I was in this story.

The Adorned isn’t a heartless tease, however. The plot is worthy and keeps the pages turning. I read every word, which is rare for me. Etan’s voice is compelling, and his slow metamorphosis into a man fully in possession of himself is worth the time.

Then, when things come together, they fall apart.

First, and foremost, this book is fantasy and the story doesn’t end simply because Etan and Roberd finally admit they’re in love. No, the plot continues around them and does terrible things to them. The theme I outlined at the beginning of my review is as important at the end of the book as it is at the start. The aftermath of a war is an uneasy time and often fraught with more danger.

I’m not going to give away the end of the book because this is one you must experience for yourself. If you enjoy simple, yet lyrical prose, richly detailed fantasy worlds, politics, beauty and love stories, then The Adorned is a must read. I found it absolutely lovely and finished it in a single day.

Written for SFCrowsnest.