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.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Dark Gods
Publisher: Orbit Books (March 22, 2022)
Length: 512 pages
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.