Book Review: The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Dark Gods

Publisher: Orbit Books (March 22, 2022)

Length: 512 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Well, I tried, I really did. After all the glowing praise I’ve heard for The City of Dusk by Tara Sim, all I really wanted was to love this book, but unfortunately it was just not meant to be. Despite the lush magic and vivid descriptions that made the world-building stand out, there were a number of other reasons which made it difficult for me to connect with the story.

At the heart of it are four heirs of the noble houses of Nexus—Mordova, Vakara, Lastrider, and Cyr. Each one worships a god from which they are descended, leading to a precarious and tense situation following a catastrophic event known as the Sealing five hundred years ago which forced all four of the houses to exist one plane.

We have Angelica Mardova, an elemental worshipper who has plenty of ambition but is hobbled by her inability to harness the full potential of her magic. Then there’s Risha Vakara, a necromancer who must weigh her family’s hopes for her against what she wants for herself. Next is her friend Taesia Lastrider, who wishes she could wash her hands of house politics, but her brother Dante’s big plans seem to keep drawing her back in. And finally, there’s Nikolas Cyr, whose lack of experience and preparedness for the throne often makes him feel insecure and inadequate.

It is the hope of every house to some day undo the Sealing, and Dante Lastrider feels he’s getting close. But then he gets involved in some trouble, forcing his sister Taesia to step up and take charge. For the first time in centuries, it appears the houses’ connections to their gods can be feasibly reestablished once more, but there will be some dark magic required, and it all comes down to how far each heir is willing to go.

As many reviewers have pointed out, if there is such a thing as a “main” character in this ensemble cast, it would have to be Taesia. The focus seems to lean heavily on her, and her storyline also seems the most eventful and interesting. Unfortunately, this imbalance means the other characters feel neglected in comparison or aren’t as developed, and it was this disparity which also led me to feel dissatisfied with much of the overall story direction. Leaving aside that the fact none of the other characters were all that memorable and failed to make any lasting impression, I was simply not feeling their storylines as much because I was not as engaged.

And to be completely blunt, much of the plot was plodding and dull. That’s not to say it didn’t have its moments, but these little bursts of action and adventure were brief and far too few in between. Part of the problem is that the book’s greatest strength is also the source of its greatest weakness. I loved the rich magic system and the author’s attention to detail when it comes to bringing the world of Nexus to life. That said, all this information also made for an overwhelming experience, not to mention it bogged down the pacing. For a story with a relatively straightforward plot and uncomplicated themes, The City of Dusk felt unnecessarily bloated.

At least the writing style was exquisite, and Sim’s prose is beautiful despite feeling overly dense. There is a lot of exposition, however, and the battle to remain engaged is compounded considering so much of it is frontloaded backstory and explanations right off the bat. In my opinion there was also way too much going on, and the impression I got was that the author was juggling too many ideas and struggled to keep them all in the air. That’s the only explanation I can come up with to address why there would be glaring holes in certain aspects of the world-building, when for the most part everything else was handled so well.

At the end of the day, only the answer to one question matters, and it’s what I always use to guide me when writing a review. Did I enjoy this book? Well, I didn’t hate it, but I can’t say reading it did much for me either. More than once, I found I couldn’t wait for it to be over, just so I could put it away and move on. Despite some things that I really liked about The City of Dusk, I’m sorry to say that I just didn’t have that great a time with it overall, and I likely will not continue with the series.

19 Comments on “Book Review: The City of Dusk by Tara Sim”

  1. yikes, unnecessary bloated? That is so not good, oh and I hate when one plotline is awesome (I mean that is good), but not on the expense on the other ones

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  2. Damn Mogsy! I hate slow paced books or at least when there is nothing really interesting happening!

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  3. I have not heard um glowing praise for this. Mostly I’ve heard that it’s dull, boring, and hard to get through. Not exactly something that I really want to read myself, so thanks for doing the hard work on this one—thank you!! Let me know if you like the second one more, eh;)

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    • I think I saw a lot of positive early reviews, which is why I was so eager to read this. I think the reviews on Goodreads are more mixed now. It does seem like folks either really loved this one or it really didn’t work for them!

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  4. I hate that feeling of just wanting to hurry up and get through it so you can find something more entertaining. I love books with fantastic writing style where the words almost flow like poetry, but that’s never been enough to make up for all the rest. I’m finding that with some classics I’ve been trying. They contain a beautiful flow of words, but the substance of those words aren’t enough to keep me engaged, “classic” though they may be.

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    • I am not in the habit of DNFing, in fact I always insist of reading cover to cover, so yes, I definitely get that “hurry up and get through it” feeling! Speaking of which, I really need to get over that hang up, life is too short for reading books I don’t enjoy. But I’m just too OCD to let it go, I guess 😛

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  5. Oooof….but it’s hard to disagree with your comments lol. What I DID like was enough for me to forgive it the pacing, so it ended up getting 4 from me, but it took me over a week to get through this one. Pacing was not its strong suit.

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  6. Can’t disagree with you at all, but I’ll probably try the 2nd book as I have a feeling the whole story might be good, put together. But then, I doubt I’d want to pay for the slog either.

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  7. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup: 04/24/22: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  8. I love a good book that I can really sink my teeth into and this was exactly that. I started it while vacationing in Europe and read it while basking in the sun on the Amalfi Coast and on the way home on the plane. It took me a couple weeks to read and each day after the vacation I couldn’t wait to finish work so I could get home and dig in. There was great character development as well as a completely new story line . I enjoyed it immensely and can’t wait for the next book in the series!

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