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The Etched City

3.64  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,843 Ratings  ·  168 Reviews
Australian author K.J. Bishop's impressive first novel, The Etched City, draws deep from the well of dark fantasy to create a bruised and battered realm which invites comparison with Stephen King's Dark Tower series and China Mieville's twisted imaginings.

Set first in the dustbowl wasteland of the Copper Country, Bishop introduces the battlefield sawbones Raule and her g

Paperback, 336 pages
Published January 16th 2004 by Tor (first published 2003)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dan Schwent
Jul 24, 2012 Dan Schwent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Etched City is the story of gunslinger Gwynn and doctor Raule. Together, they flee the wasteland of the Copper Country and make their way to the city of Ashamoil. Raule starts treating the poor of Ashamoil, occasionally delivering crocodilian babies, while Gwynn gets a job as a guard for a slave trader and has a heated affair with an artist.

The Etched City is definitely atmosphere over action but when the action comes, it's hard and fast. Bishop knows how to build tension as well as create a rea
Apr 06, 2009 Jacob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
April 2009

Gwynn, a mercenary gunslinger, and Raule, a doctor, both of them outlaws from the losing side of a bad war, escape their decaying homeland for the city of Ashamoil, where they discover blurred realities and monstrous births in the hospitals, taverns, and private rooms of the city's people.

I almost read The Etched City four years ago: saw an advertisement for it in Realms of Fantasy magazine, checked it out from the library, and almost read it...until I noticed the blurb on the cover w
Dec 31, 2011 Zach rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
You know, I just read another story of Bishop's in THE WEIRD and it struck me that I am dying for her to release another book and I'm not sure why I gave this one four stars instead of five so I am retroactively bumping it up.


It took M. John Harrison years and a good number of novels and stories to create a secondary fantasy world and then get disgusted with the idea of a secondary fantasy world and subvert and deconstruct the whole thing by reducing the characters to ghosts and surreal p
Dec 19, 2011 Kim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011booksread
A blurb on the cover informs me that this book is "fantasy as high literature." Or "high fantasy as literature," I can't remember which. I think the book has to be judged separately as fantasy and a literary novel. As a fantasy, it's a failure. The world-building was vague, perfunctory, and confusing. There was no plot. As a pretentious literary novel, in which unpleasant people collide with each other and talk about the nature of reality, I guess it's a success. I happen to really dislike that ...more
Daniel Roy
May 09, 2012 Daniel Roy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, favorite
Books are quite often like a meal. Some books I read I labor through like a meal of broccoli and liver, hoping there's something good for desert. Other books I gulp down avidly, like a starved man given tiramisu. But The Etched City is in a rarer and better breed still: it's the kind of novel you read like a fine wine.

After a few pages of reading K.J. Bishop's first novel, I was already lamenting the fact that each page I read was bringing me closer to the last one. I read the book in small dose
Ross Lockhart
Jun 27, 2007 Ross Lockhart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up The Etched City because it was name-dropped in the jacket copy of Jay Lake’s Trial of Flowers, along with texts by China Miéville and Jeff VanderMeer. Like Lake, Miéville, and VanderMeer, Bishop's novel is Fantasy, but a branch of Fantasy that owes more to the Surrealist, Magical Realist, and Noir literary movements than to the swords and sorcery of epic fantasists like J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. Although it does occasionally get bogged down, particularly near the novel's m ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
If one was to argue this was a pointless exercise in story-telling, there would be plenty of evidence from the book to make such an argument, as it covers familiar ground in such a vague, spiritless journey. There is no clear Who, What, When, Where and Why - at least, not anything truly fleshed out except in vague dream-like descriptions. It seems to take place somewhere on Earth, maybe the Eurasian continent, but the mash-up of science, weapons and technology either puts it outside of our timel ...more
Apr 03, 2008 Dfordoom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
Australian author K. J. Bishop’s first novel, The Etched City, reminds me somewhat of M. John Harrison’s Viriconium stories. There’s the same sense of a world that has decayed, and there’s the same lack of moral certainty or moral absolutes. It also has some of the melancholy of Harrison’s work. It tells the story of two former revolutionaries, one a gunfighter and one a doctor. They are drawn to the city of Ashamoil. Raule gets a job in a charity hospital, and she observes what seems to be an e ...more
Sep 28, 2008 CAW rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ah, I'll seem star-happy, but I think this is one of those books everyone should read. It is made of layers on layers of shiny.

Also, a man and a woman who *remain friends* throughout the book without any kind of sexual tension! Dude.
And a sword called Not My Funeral.
Jan 31, 2013 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't remember exactly what I heard about The Etched City before I bought it. I may have just bought it on a recommendation, because I don't remember reading about it being New Weird, or in any way akin to China Miéville; I had heard that it was gorgeous, which is true in many ways. It is a weird story, displaced in time -- is it the Wild West? Medieval times? Or the nineteenth century? to me, it seemed to slip between them all, inhabiting none of them but taking something from each -- and hov ...more
’La ciudad del grabado’ (The Etched City, 2003), de la australiana K.J. Bishop, es una novela de fantasía oscura, aunque es difícil de encasillar, ya que conjuga el spaghetti western a lo Sergio Leone, de ‘Por un puñado de dólares’, por ejemplo, con toques de fantasía New Weird a lo China Miéville.

La novela empieza en el País de Cobre, donde la doctora Raule y Gwynn, ex capitán de una compañía de soldados, huyen a través del desierto. Tras el fracaso de la revolución, sus cabezas tienen precio.
Jan 19, 2012 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book took me a while to get into.

It starts out as a somewhat typical western, albeit set in a fictional realm. This is why it took me so long to get into; I hate westerns.

However, having read rave reviews about the book from blogs that highly recommend some of my favorites, I decided to stick it out. It is, after all, only a 300 page book. I can whip through 300 pages in no time. I mean, I read the last Song of Ice & Fire book in 2 days and it is a tome.

WRONG. This book is thick, and if
Jan 02, 2013 Serene rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Probably wouldn't recommend. I had this off another fantasy rec list, and I was severely disappointed by the perfunctory, listless world building, meandering plot, and lifeless characters. I think the synopsis is rather generous... Raule barely sustains a presence at all, and when Gwynn and Raule go their own ways, Gwynn takes over so much of the story's focus with so little interesting character development that she becomes invisible. The evolving dynamic they had was more or less thrown away, ...more
Aug 13, 2014 Paul rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The strongest impression this book left me is that it is wildly uneven. The first 15% or so, with Raule and Gwynn on the run in the desert, is well done and fascinating fantasy with a Western flair. Then we jump to the city, where we spend far more time with Gwynn, a somewhat clichéd rapscallion/thug and less with Raule, by far the more interesting character. Just as I was losing interest and nearly quitting, it turns surreal and introspective and picks up a few strong moments, before tying thin ...more
Katie M.
Apr 01, 2013 Katie M. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: high-fantasy
Given the wealth of glowing reviews on the cover, I went in hoping to like this book, but I couldn't. The main problem was that I couldn't connect with any of the characters. I can deal with morally grey characters and anti-heroes sometimes, but Gwynn is outright despicable. I spent most of the book wanting to be out of his company. Raule is more sympathetic, but never really pulled me in.

The plot has sections where it's gripping, but mostly it meanders way too much. I don't refer to the surreal
Tamara Romero
Jun 07, 2009 Tamara Romero rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: weird-oriented
And so I’m done with The Etched City. It took me a while but don’t get it wrong, it’s a an amazing story that worths taking its time. It’s a story about fantastic details that build up a srange city. A few spots in the plot didn’t convince me though: Raule, the doctor who seems the protagonist in the beggining, does not appear much in the story. Also the story takes about 80 pages to start but, as I said, I dont think the important here is the plot. Gwynn is an excellent character, full of nuanc ...more
Aug 14, 2007 Peggy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Jeff VanderMeer or China Mieville
Wow. No, really. Just…Wow. I had heard good things about Bishop’s book, but nothing I had heard or read prepared me for the book itself. Rich detail, fabulous characters, and a very compelling story come together in just the right way to create a dark and subtle magic.
Sep 20, 2012 Ghostsoup1313 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: I would not recommend this book
Recommended to Ghostsoup1313 by: Someone online
There is no doubt that the author of The Etched City has created an interesting world. Or that the author is an excellent descriptive writer. But this book lacks any coherent story. The main characters are, for the most part, passive and don't seem to have any specific goals. There is no antagonist, no conflict and no action and reaction on the part of the characters. They simply exist. And have long pointless conversations.

This book reads more like a travel guide with description of the setting
Slap Happy
Apr 06, 2011 Slap Happy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
K.J. Bishop's The Etched City fits into the fantasy genre due to its elements of the fantastic (of course!) and emphasis on world building, but has more in common with other modern fantasists like China Mieville, Jeff Vandermeer, and other authors who are included in the New Weird circle than traditional fantasists. And it is a delicious novel. It is about metamorphosis and the gravity some individuals possess that can slowly draw another into their orbit, exerting a force which reshapes them in ...more
Mar 03, 2016 Lanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Etched City is a beautifully surreal book, In it we follow two world weary adventurers as they move through a dreamscape of bizarre characters and inexplicable events.
The barren Copper Country and the lush city of Ashamoil are brought to life by vivid prose. The two main characters are sometimes painfully real while remaining essentially enigmatic. The plot meanders down a strange and discursive path to something that, in the end, approaches a resolution.

This is is a book that seems to have
Jul 28, 2012 Xdyj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: o, poc, fa, sfhf_challenge, rtw
A noirish, surreal & enchanting story with lots of metaphysical contemplation & an (IMHO) original & wonderful world-building that reminds me of Tanith Lee's Gothic European cities w/ some postcolonialism.
Jun 29, 2012 Chris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wouldn't consider myself a slow reader, but this book took me nearly two years to read - and I only finished it because I'm stubborn and I paid for it. It's not that the book wasn't well written, but it lacked a lot of good story telling. The prose were certainly literary, but it came off as long winded and boring. There was a lack of overall plot. Do things happen? Yes, but that doesn't make a cohesive story. But the most glaring problem with this book is the characters. The two main characte ...more
hmmm, this book is kind of a puzzler.

it's very well-written. our two sort of dichotomous heroes, Gwynne the lowlife and Raule of the high road, complement each other well, if sometimes a little too neatly. there is a plot, and themes, and great descriptions and poetical writing both good and over-the-top. it's even got a couple of intellectual puzzles and a few symbolic ones. oh, plus theology and mysticism.

what more could a person ask for?

it's even funny here and there.

but somehow it leaves me
Tim Hicks
Dec 08, 2012 Tim Hicks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First novel? Wow. This book starts off so casually, just two lone wolves meeting up and figuring out what comes next. They start new lives in a perfectly ordinary city, as in so many stories. There's the mob boss, here's a corrupt official, here are the desperately poor.

Then it gets interesting, a little bit at a time. This character is an interesting fraud. Oh, wait, he's not a fraud. In fact, he's ... holy cow! And this .... ah. Ewww. This is not a perfectly ordinary city. Not at all.

And our
Oct 17, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing
This book took me a while to get into, but I became so engrossed in the superbly-drawn world and characters that I didn't really care.

This is a must for the sci-fi enthusiasts. The amazing city jungles and convoluted characters are so delicately portrayed that you won't stop reading this until you reach the back cover.
Miquel Codony
Etched City és una novel·la claustrofòbica que m’ho ha posat difícil però que he acabat amb un balanç positiu. Plena de personatges desesperançats i amb un pathos trist i cruel, el llibre es recolza fortament en les al·legories per a descriure la vida i la filosofia d’una sèrie de personatges amb una permanent recança sense objectiu clar. Tot i ser un llibre de tipus fantàstic, diria que no té voluntat de gènere, o com a mínim ignora (més que trascendir o reinventar) les seves convencions. En aq ...more
Althea Ann
Sep 26, 2013 Althea Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book because I had read reviews that recommended it for fans of China Mieville. While I can't really see much of a similarity in the two authors' writing styles, I did definitely like The Etched City very very much. I'm impressed that it's a first novel (and disappointed that there's not yet any more books by Bishop to read!) I hope she's busy writing right now!
The Etched City is the story of two ex-mercenaries, companions who life threw together - but who are two very different
colleen the fabulous fabulaphile

This book reminds me a bit of China Mieville. Unlike a certain someone of my acquaintance, this does not fill me with instant dread. *grins*

However, it does fill me with some mixed feelings. Like Mieville's book PSS, this book has some weird and interesting ideas, which is one of the things that drew me to it. I love the idea of the "new weird" type books - where dream and reality intersect in strange and wonderful and terrible ways.

Also like that book, though, there seems to be not a lot of
Robert Beveridge
Jan 20, 2008 Robert Beveridge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
K. J. Bishop, The Etched City (Prime, 2003)

Aussie author Bishop turns in her first novel, and what a first novel it is. The language in The Etched City demands to be savored, lingered over. It is beautiful to the point of astonishment. This is, basically, the fastest way to get a top review from me.

The problem being that when held up against such masterpieces of perfect prose as Walker's The Secret Service, Mieville's Perdido Street Station (to which The Etched City is oft-compared), or McCarthy
Jul 24, 2013 Morgan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is exactly the type of fantasy I search for and so rarely find these days. The shelves are full of crappy vampire romances or that same old story about a "reluctant sorceress" who must risk everything to save her people but who finds true love along the way and marries the prince and everything ends happily ever after (ever after the publisher has drawn the cliche story out into four or five books). But here is The Etched City where there are no vampires, but there might be Sphinx and Basil ...more
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I'm a spec fic writer and artist. Wearing either hat my work tends towards the strange. Sometimes it's dark and decadent strange, sometimes more whimsical.

As a reader I look for vivid characterisation, great prose, and writers with original insight into human nature and relationships. Surrealism is always welcome on my shelves, and I love comedy.

My influences include everything I've ever read, wa
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“Somewhere there are gardens where peacocks sing like nightingales, somewhere there are caravans of separated lovers traveling to meet each other; there are ruby fires on distant mountains, and blue comets that come in spring like sapphires in the black sky. If this is not so, meet me in the shameful yard, and we will plant a gallows tree, and swing like sad pendulums, never once touching.” 25 likes
“At that moment, he realised that he did not exist to her in the same way that he existed in his own perception. She held a copied version, an interpretation of him, filtered through the matrix of her priorities and desires.

Therefore, surely, he only held a copy of her.”
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