“Book Review: The Blighted City”
Reviewed by Joshua Bligh
The Blighted City by Scott Kaelen takes you on a haunting voyage to and (hopefully) from a cursed city in a land that is frayed at the edges.
The first full-length novel in Scott Kaelen’s The Fractured Tapestry series plunges readers into a land without kings, a land where survival is eked out however one can. We follow three close friends working as freeblades (individuals something like swords-for-hire) as they travel to Lachyla, a city allegedly cursed and forsaken by the gods, on a contract to retrieve a family heirloom.
What begins as a simple fetch-and-return job soon takes several unexpected turns, and the freeblade companions (Jalis, Dagra, and Oriken) are faced with events that make them question all that they thought they knew. Their arrival in Lachyla quickly shows them that the tales and histories left out some rather important details, and that “a dead city” can be interpreted in more than one way.
What follows is a tale that dwells on themes of life and purpose, on the value of one’s beliefs and how they can be a source of great strength, but also a raw vulnerability. It looks at how your views can hold you together one moment, and bring you to pieces the next. Both Oriken’s skepticism and Dagra’s devotion are pushed to their limits by the horrors they bear witness to, while Jalis’ lifelong commitment to her trade as a freeblade reaches a tipping point.
“But show me a place where there are no monsters, and I’ll show you a place where there are no men.”
Author Scott Kaelen has set this all in a richly imaged world, filled with dangers around every bend in the path, behind (and perhaps under) every hill. The reader gets the sense of a vast world that has held itself together despite the collapse of the great nations before them. While not exactly post-apocalyptic, the land of Himaera is but a shadow of what it was during the Days of Kings. Great forts and cities lie in ruins, reminders of times and follies past.
In addition to the world itself, the characters are fully realized. As we switch through numerous POVs we come to see the depth and care Kaelen took in crafting each of our companions. They are flawed, imperfect individuals, and all the more human because of it. They will get on your nerves, they will make you laugh, and inevitably, they will tug at your heart as they face a set of challenges unlike any they’ve met before.
Though the story takes some time to get going, and some time to wrap up toward the end, the result is that it feels complete. But at the same time, it takes you on an adventure that, even if you come home in one piece, will see you sitting by the fire with more questions than answers. Kaelen’s world-building leaves you wanting more, itching to explore deeper into Himaera and the lands beyond to see what else he has in store for you.
However, the story’s pacing may feel uneven to those looking for a quicker ride; the extended denouement especially takes its time with fully digesting the events of the narrative. But, instead of growing bored, I felt it was taking me on a walk, giving me time to consider what I just witnessed before settling back into my life outside of Himaera.
Scott Kaelen’s novel will take you to some dark places, but it is also an affirmation that life goes on, however it might. Perhaps, most importantly, it will have you echoing one of the characters’ musings: “Is life without a purpose a life at all? Or is it merely an existence?”
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