Michelle West – City Of Night

An ever ongoing question when starting on a sequel to a great first novel is if it is able to stand up to it. Such a case is also City Of Night (2010) by Michelle West, the second book of The House War series, a fantasy novel taking place in an urban setting while not being a typical urban fantasy. I had very little negative to say about The Hidden City and very much praise. The situation is alas different for City Of Night.

Several years have passed since the first novel and not much has changed. The group that has formed in the course of the first novel is still pretty much the same albeit that they are older. More than a third of the novel is spent on the daily lives of the group in which West gives several attention and introducing a new character. The male protagonist, Rath, leads a separate life and his activities are far more interesting as they are a continuation from the final events of The Hidden City. His story moves up around the second third and the overall everything picks up pace in the second half of the novel when the group gets caught up in greater events leading to a number of dramatic conclusions.

It is the first half of the novel that holds most of the weakness of the story. Very little of significance happen. We see a group of children struggling with daily life. Despite the older age they have barely changed or developed. The more stronger characters were livelier in the first book. That change is too be expected as they have adapted to a more normal environment with far less issues. It does result in less character dynamics. The minor events in this part have no impact on the second half although it does get the reader back into the familiar atmosphere. The second half makes up a lot for the weaker first half but it also increases the contrast between the two halves.

There were a few notable flaws in the novel. In the first half there is a moment of infodumping by a side character which, to my feeling, came too early as it also was quite extensive. Technically the disclosure was allowable as the characters had worked together for several years but the moment and presentation fit less well. Another flaw was near the end where Jay, the female protagonist, suddenly had an object which I had not have seen her getting it. Perhaps I overread something. I am a fast reader and it does happen, but there were some constraints to it.

City Of Night is still a good novel. It is not as strong as the first one and it also lacked the many strong character development sequences as most characters were more ‘finished’. However, maintaining the high level of the first novel was hard and overall the quality remained solid. The second half was certainly mostly on par. I enjoyed the book a lot and I enjoyed the great atmosphere West was able to create, keeping me turning the pages with a great driving force. Recommended.

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