This is a feature book for LGBTQ+ History Month.
Disclaimer: I received a free e-book in exchange for an open and honest review.
I received an electronic copy of City of Strife by Claudie Arseneault from the author after inquiring about the book through Twitter. From the description, this book is the first in a political fantasy trilogy featuring an entire cast LGBTQIAP+ characters. Most of the fantasy I have read is not political fantasy, but more of an adventure fantasy. This entire book takes place in the city of Isandor, which is a complex society ruled by different powerful families who sit on a council. Each chapter follows a different character with their own story line in different parts of the city. Once in a while these story lines intersect, providing more context to the world and interesting plot twists.
I first need to applaud the fantastic representation through all of the characters in this book. The description of the book advertises a cast featuring all LGBTQIAP+ characters. However, you should also know there is a variety of other forms of diversity represented in the book. The cast was racially diverse and led to the a solid and very integrated dialogue on racial (skin color) relation among the different folks in Isandor ON TOP OF the relation of different [types?] of people – elves, humans, wizards. What I really appreciated was the fact that elf or wizard or other magical type of person was not considered a race, but there was racial diversity within each of these groups. I also found representation of difference in ability and socioeconomic status. All of these divergent identities were presented and vital to each character’s identity; however, their identity did not define them. A good example of this is how sexual orientation was presented. The author talks about the different romantic and platonic relationships (or lack of relationship) between different characters naturally in the writing. When it was appropriate to mention and added to the depth of a character or commentary about social justice within the world, identities were mentioned and discussed. In a fictional fantasy world, this is how I want diversity to be represented. In addition to representation of identity, this book also addresses systemic issues such as The book tackled issues like gender dynamics within “traditional” male/female gender roles, the rampant homophobia in Myrian society, racism and colorism, and the different parts of the city based on socioeconomic status.
City of Strife is book one in a trilogy. Consequently, there were a lot of chapters of meeting characters, learning about their back stories, and building the world around the city of Isandor. Authors undergo a huge challenge when building a new high fantasy world and must consider possibly hundreds of years of history, a myriad of family lines, and relationships between not only major characters but minor characters as well. And, the author must do this in a way that feels unobtrusive, slowly integrating this history and information within the flow of the story. Claudie Arseneault has the talent to do this very well, keeping the reader engaged with the active story line.
One aspect of the novel I found myself struggling with was a few pieces of the dialogue between characters. In certain instances, lines sounded out of place or unnatural when taken into context of the situation happening and the characters involved. Most of the time, these instances were due to the specific phrasing of the dialogue that seemed off to me. I am finding it hard to articulate; however, I found myself rereading passages to make sure I read the dialogue correctly. This unfortunately took me out of the the story at some points as I was trying to immerse myself in the world of Isandor. Ultimately, I found these situations to be minor in my overall experience with the book.
Overall, I am really excited for the rest of this trilogy. Author Claudie Arseneault has created a compelling world with political intrigue and deep characters. This is a book that gave me the same feeling that I get when I read huge high fantasy series. There is so much potential for every character, each with separate motivations and long term goals. At the end of the book, I finished feeling excited! There were many story lines that still needed more exploration, which made me want the second book right away! I am interested to see what happens in Isandor AND I also want to know more about different parts of the world – like where was Arathiel the whole time before this book takes place and more information about the Myriad empire. I commend Claudie Arseneault for a fantastic book one to her political fantasy trilogy. Look out for City of Strife, set to be published in early 2017!
Final Rating: 4.7/5