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City of Spires #1

City of Strife

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Isandor, City of Spires.

A hundred and thirty years have passed since Arathiel last set foot in his home city. Isandor hasn’t changed—bickering merchant families still vie for power through eccentric shows of wealth—but he has. His family is long dead, a magical trap has dulled his senses, and he returns seeking a sense of belonging now long lost.

Arathiel hides in the Lower City, piecing together a new life among in a shelter dedicated to the homeless and the poor, befriending an uncommon trio: the Shelter’s rageful owner, Larryn, his dark elven friend Hasryan, and Cal the cheese-loving halfling. When Hasryan is accused of Isandor's most infamous assassination of the last decade, what little peace Arathiel has managed to find for himself is shattered. Hasryan is innocent… he thinks. In order to save him, Arathiel may have to shatter the shreds of home he’d managed to build for himself.

Arathiel could appeal to the Dathirii—a noble elven family who knew him before he disappeared—but he would have to stop hiding, and they have battles of their own to fight. The idealistic Lord Dathirii is waging a battle of honour and justice against the cruel Myrian Empire, objecting to their slavery, their magics, and inhumane treatment of their apprentices. One he could win, if only he could convince Isandor’s rulers to stop courting Myrian’s favours for profit.

In the ripples that follow Diel’s opposition, friendships shatter and alliances crumble. Arathiel, the Dathirii, and everyone in Isandor fights to preserve their homes, even if the struggle changes them irrevocably.

--------

City of Strife is the first installment of the City of Spires series, a multi-layered political fantasy led by an all-queer cast. Fans of complex storylines criss-crossing one another, elves and magic, and strong friendships and found families will find everything they need within these pages.

375 pages, ebook

First published February 22, 2017

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About the author

Claudie Arseneault

16 books388 followers
Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic-spectrum writer hailing from the very-French Québec City. Her long studies in biochemistry and immunology often sneak back into her science-fiction, and her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders. The most recent, City of Strife, came out on February 22, 2017! Claudie is a founding member of The Kraken Collective and is well-known for her involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro and ace characters in speculative fiction, and her unending love of squids. Find out more on her website!

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 139 reviews
Profile Image for RoAnna Sylver.
Author 23 books263 followers
May 2, 2017
"How long had Arathiel hung to the side, a spectre watching events unfold, uncertain he deserved to participate? Not anymore."

* * *

This is another book where I'm not even certain how to begin. There is so much good, so much importance.

This is not a ghost story. But this is a story about what it is to be a ghost. To live on the fringes (of society, disenfranchised and ignored), of human interaction (keeping to the sidelines, the shadows, keeping silent, watching as others live their lives but never joining them), and of enormous times of upheaval. In all of these cases, there comes a time when the invisible are seen, when the silent speak, and when ghosts become vitally, desperately alive.

And that is my abstract, borderline-incoherent description of the emotional heart of City of Strife.

The less-figurative heart would probably be Cal.

I loved him before I even read the whole book. Snippets were enough to convince me of his awesomeness, and made me very much want the entire thing. I love this sweet, warm, funny, chubby, adorable, perceptive, welcoming, clever, brave luck-priest so much. I love the fact that he subverts just about every awful preconception and stereotype of aromantic asexual characters as being cold, aloof, uncaring, un-living, "inhuman." (He's not human, but a lot of people aren't in this book - and a lot ARE aro/ace and amazing.)

I hate how he's often treated by the people around him (though I'm confident Larryn at least will get better about this and at least he's actively Trying), and in a couple updates said I should just make a sign that reads "STOP BEING MEAN TO CAL" and hold it up at opportune moments. (I STILL MIGHT.) I hate the stark injustices and pain inflicted (often by unequal, unbalanced and un-compassionate systems) that so many people in this book have to endure, whether from institutional prejudice, or outright abuse.

But I love how they're portrayed. (As things to be overcome not by sucking it up and enduring, but by coming together and sharing strength, resources and support.) I love how everything is so very connected, and the smallest and most disparate events turn out to be integral. A city's civil war nearly starts because a cruel wizard abuses his apprentice. The place was a powder keg already, but this IS the final straw, and it very well should be. "Small" evils like this are no less deadly than the "big" ones. They should mean war. There should be revolution. Ghosts should be revealed and dirty deeds done in the shadows dragged to the light.

I just can't gush enough about the character interactions either. The friendships, established and growing bonds are so wonderfully tangible and sweet and *important.* A good piece of the core cast is aro/ace and their connections (growing queerplatonic and otherwise) are shown as every single bit as important as romantic and sexual relationships.

(Speaking of romance though, Diel and Jaeger have my heart entirely and I can't get enough of them. I don't think I ever could! For a while I was actually worried something awful would happen to them simply because I've been burned so badly by so many books that when I love a ship TOO MUCH, I start to worry. This can't possibly be real, we can't possibly get to keep them? But we do. And I'm honestly more grateful than I've been in a long time.)

I just love everyone so much. I love Arathiel's searching and trying to regain equilibrium and find pieces he recognizes of a life interrupted. I love Hasryan's fragile trust and determination to power through horrible pain, and even his reluctance to believe he's safe, and doesn't have to. I love Branwen's brilliance for disguises and subterfuge, changing the course of a city without confrontation or bloodshed, and I love HER powerful love for her family. I love Nevian and Varden and Vellien and Camilla (AND LARRYN, YES) and all their brilliant, interwoven connections, and if I started on any of them I'd never stop.

I just want more. And I hope you read and want more too.
Profile Image for Linda ~ they got the mustard out! ~.
1,523 reviews97 followers
February 2, 2022
3.75 stars, rounded up

This is like if George R.R. Martin and Mr. Rogers collaborated on a fantasy novel. I really can't think of any other way to describe it. Multiple characters, multiple races/humaniods, multiple POVs, and a steady buildup to political shenanigans in a magical world teetering on war. No dragons, but there are humans, wizards, elves and some type of humanoid called halflings that I think are meant to be dwarfs. There's a terrible threat and sufficiently creepy antagonist and torture. But it's written in a way to be nearly pleasant most of the time. Except when it wasn't.

Isandor is an interesting city, run by the noble houses. There's strife between some of them, and class divisions, and all the usual stuff. I'm pretty sure that the feud that started when I really liked most of the POV characters, except Isra who was just a self-centered brat. But even she, like the others, are presented as fully developed characters. They all have their own insights and motivations, fears and strengths, and the narrative didn't take sides. Well, except that everyone agreed that .

This is not a self-contained story, so there is a cliffhanger of sorts. I did figure that , but it's going to be awhile yet before that happens.

There are lots of LGBT characters, from all ends of the spectrum. It's all pretty casual and not the focus of the story. There is one gay couple, but that's just one tiny part of their relationship. This is first and foremost a fantasy story.

However, there were some instances where I felt the world building could have been better addressed. There's some repetition also that could have been trimmed out to focus on other aspects of this world that weren't fully explored. For instance, other than Isandor and Myria, we don't learn much about the rest of this world, and some things aren't really explained, like what exactly does "halfling" in this world mean. Because the only halflings I know are of the hobbit variety. But there are three more books, so there's time for that later, hopefully.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,892 reviews1,210 followers
April 29, 2018
Magical cities are one of my favourite tropes in fantasy novels. I think I could read nothing but magical city fiction for a while and take a long time to feel sated or bored; there is so much room for variation. Camorr from The Lies of Locke Lamora is an example that readily springs to mind, but this is a very old trope. As its title implies, City of Strife is very much a story about such a city, Isandor, essentially in the path of the ambitious and violent Myrian Empire. Claudie Arseneault skilfully weaves the lives of various characters into this political drama.

This is an ensemble cast situation, so it’s difficult to know where to begin. The novel opens with a human, Arathiel, returning to Isandor after 130 years away. Normally he would have, you know, died in that time, but he went looking for a cure for his sister’s illness, and he ended up at some kind of “Well” that didn’t let him age but robbed him of his tactile senses. Arathiel was a member of one of Isandor’s noble Houses, but he is ambivalent about reclaiming his title and identity. He falls in with a group of philanthropic nobodies trying to run a Shelter in the lower city for Isandor’s least privileged. He spends much of the novel vacillating over how much he should get involved in his nascent friendships with these people—and this decision has a huge impact on the course of the story.

Meanwhile, it what feels like an entirely different city sometimes, Lord Diel Dathirii has insulted the head of the Myrian Enclave, a nasty magician by the name of Master Avenazar. This would normally only be a minor political incident, but Avenazar is the type of person who doesn’t just hold grudges—he nurtures and irrigates them like a hothouse flower. Diel may just have set Isandor teetering on the brink of war, but the other Houses don’t see it that way and refuse to present the Myrians with a united, resistant front.

So there’s a lot happening in this book, but at no point did I feel overwhelmed or pitched into a situation where I had no idea what was happening. At the same time, Arseneault avoids the temptation to bludgeon me to sleep or death with the cudgel of heavy-handed exposition (+1 melee, -2 charisma). She drops in enough occasional references to other geography, etc., that I get the sense there is a wider world out there, one that she has figured out at least to the extent that its politics affect Isandor. But the eponymous City of Strife is the story here, and Arseneault keeps the plot tightly focused on its problems.

I’ve been watching a lot of The Expanse lately, and also replaying Mass Effect 3 in preparation for Mass Effect: Andromeda, so a lot of my thinking has been filtered through these two stories. Particularly in the case of The Expanse, the writers have done such a great job alleviating the feeling like this epic political drama is a narrative on rails: seemingly small actions by characters can have major repercussions that perhaps throw the entire story onto a new, unanticipated course. I really respect it when writers can create this kind of atmosphere in their stories, and it’s something that Arseneault succeeds at here. Every character’s actions flow from their own, deeply personal motivations: Larryn is hell-bent on rescuing Hasryan, damn the consequences; Diel is hell-bent on rescuing Branwen, damn the consequences; Avenazar is hell-bent on vengeance, damn the … huh, I think I see a pattern emerging here.

In any case, it’s nice to see a fantasy novel with an ensemble cast where you actually get to know the various members of the ensemble instead of seeing them reduced to usable, plot-ready archetypes. As the title might imply, too, Arseneault is not afraid to sow as much conflict as she can among the characters. Even so-called friends and allies rub each other the wrong way half the time. For example, Larryn and Cal come to loggerheads over what the former sees as a betrayal of their friendship with Hasryan when Cal gets distracted saving a stranger in need. In this case, I actually found Larryn’s behaviour a little over-the-top—believable, yes, but somewhat melodramatic in its execution—but I enjoyed watching these characters screw things up. The same goes for Varden’s attempts to gain Nevian’s trust and the latter’s bleak cynicism. There was something inside me that was just pushing back against the book and going, “This would all be so much simpler if people trusted each other! It’s so obvious what they should do!” But they don’t, because they are human (or elvish) and therefore flawed and, let’s face it, sometimes rather daft. And as easy as it would be to write a story where everything is a straightforward and linear narrative, that isn’t much fun at all.

That’s the bottom line, basically: City of Strife is a lot of fun. For the first half of the book I was just enjoying the atmosphere; once I hit Chapter 26 or so, and everything went to hell, I literally didn’t want to put the book down. I’m glad I had March Break off and didn’t have to stop to, you know, work.

A final note about the portrayal of sexuality and romance in this book. Arseneault identifies as asexual and aromantic-spectrum and promotes City of Strife in part as boasting a diversely LGBTQIAP+ cast. If you’re going into this book looking for heavy LGBTQIAP+ plotlines you might be disappointed, because they aren’t a thing. Rather, Arseneault just telegraphs various characters’ sexual and romantic orientations as and when that information comes up. There are no explicitly romantic or sexual situations in the book (which is good for any arospec people who don’t like that stuff), although some of the characters meditate on the possibility of using sexual liaisons for political gain. While books that focus on characters’ gender, sexual, and romantic identities are truly important, I also appreciate books like City of Strife that seek to normalize LGBTQIAP+ identities by not foregrounding those struggles. Rather, these identities are simply part of the characters, and various characters are totally fine with that (yay!) or, if they are raging bigoted monsters like Master Avenazar, predictably not so much. In which case, you know, Fireball! (That’s how that works, right?)

Finally a final final note on Isandor’s origin story. The use of humans, halflings, elves, and the generic medieval European-esque fantasy city setting reminded me a great deal of Dungeons & Dragons, and indeed, Arsenault explains in her acknowledgements that this world is based on an RPG she DMed. So … yay me for being perceptive? This origin isn’t really surprising and is, I suspect, a lot more common than authors might admit. Once upon a time I read a truly awful attempt by someone to turn their D&D campaign into a story, so it’s good to see that it is possible to weave a great story out of what was probably a fun campaign.

A word of warning, though: City of Strife ends on a damn delectable cliffhanger, and if I had access to the second book, I would have started it immediately after I finished the last page of this one. This is a book I highly recommend, but if you’re the type of reader who needs closure and certainty, maybe hold off on reading it until the next book is out.

My reviews of City of Spires:
City of Betrayal

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Profile Image for Anne (ReadEatGameRepeat).
570 reviews47 followers
May 29, 2021
This book had such a strong start. I loved so many things of this book so much - first and foremost how inclusive the book series was. I loved how there was a lot of casual queer rep and how characters could just go "well actually I use these pronouns" and then the other characters would be like "oh yea that's cool sorry bout that bud" and then they would all just get on with their days and just use the correct pronouns - also I liked that there wasn't any outright homophobia in the book - it was implied that the bad guys are quite homophobic but I don't recall them saying anything homophobic on page. It is also heavily implied (and also straight out said) that the people who hold these beliefs are very backwards and dumb and that they aren't rational beings for holding these beliefs.
I also really liked the world and I loved most of the characters from page one, like, I think I t old my boyfriend after maybe 4 or 5 chapters "I think this might be a new favorite" and let me tell you reader - it really is.
So now you might be wondering, hey if you love this book so much - then why aren't you rating it 5 stars. Honestly, there were a few moments where things were just, awfully convenient, and the characters had some out of character moments and there are a few moments where characters are like "well fuck this character I hate them now" for no logical reason, like sure there are high stakes but these people are supposed to have been friends for years, surely the first instinct when something goes wrong isn't to drop a friend like a sack of bull dung.
That being said - outside of these moments (that are minor tbh) I really really loved the characters, I loved the discussion of trauma and the discussion around recovery. Anyway, I loved this book, please read it.
Profile Image for Sarah.
832 reviews231 followers
June 27, 2017
Trigger warning: abuse

I picked up City of Strife because I heard it was a second world fantasy that had a lot of aro and ace characters. Turns out the entire main cast is queer!

In the city of Isandor, merchant families vie for power. But a new threat looms… The Myrian Empire aims to expand, and the first step is to conquer the city-state of Isandor. Yet the merchant families will not recognize the threat the Myrian enclave poses. The only one willing to fight the Myrians are the House Dathirii, led by an idealistic young lord. People throughout the city — from the noble’s towers to the slums of the lower city — will find themselves charting the course for Isandor’s future.

I generally liked the characters, which was a good thing because oh boy were there ton of characters. Not just characters generally, there were tons of POV characters! Off the top of my head, I can count twelve, and I think I may be missing some. At times it could be a bit overwhelming. While I may have liked most of the POV characters, it doesn’t mean they’re all good people. My favorite was probably Nevian, an aro ace wizard student with an abusive mentor. Yet, he’s probably one of the most morally grey characters of the bunch, willing to throw others under the bus to ensure his own survival.

On the other hand, I did find the character cast slanted male. And most important relationships in the book (which are all largely platonic — important doesn’t equal romantic) are between male characters or characters of different genders. The only relationship we saw between women was a wizard in the Myrian enclave trying to protect her student from Nevian’s sadistic master. It’s implied that Branwen (House Dathirii’s spymaster) and her aunt Camilla care for each other, but they only have a short scene together. I really hope the sequel pays more attention to female characters and the relationships between them.

Whenever I read a second-world fantasy book, I try to figure out what the gender norms are. I had a bit of trouble doing so for City of Strife. At first I read Isandor as egalitarian, but then one character says sexist insults to a female guard and gets called out on it. Since sexism is clearly present, it’s obviously not egalitarian. My best guess is that Isandor’s mostly like our world in that regard — it’s someplace that likes to think of itself as egalitarian when it really isn’t.

My confusion over cultural gender norms may be a result of the generally thin world building. There’s some interesting ideas at play in Isandor’s setting. Particular highlights include the fire magic and religion of the Myrians and the city being built out of towers, bridges, stairs, and walkways. It gave a whole new meaning to “upper” and “lower” class! However, while City of Strife has some interesting world building ideas, the setting never felt fully immersive. It’s hard to describe, but the best fantasy settings feel almost like they’re real places, so vivid they leap off the page. Unfortunately, City of Strife never quite got their for me. Apparently it’s based on the author’s RPG campaign? It made since in hindsight, given the elves and halflings and what not. Maybe that explains some of the trouble I had with the world building.

A topic that continually interests me is use of language in fantasy novels. What words do fantasy authors use? Should “modern” words be avoided? What constitutes “modern”? And how does this relate to identity labels for concepts such as gender and sexual orientation? Presumably, the fantasy characters are speaking in a different language, so is the story being “translated” into modern English? It’s an interesting topic, and one I’ve thought about exploring more in depth. Based on City of Strife, Claudie Arseneault comes down on the side of using language regardless of how modern it feels. This includes everything from slang such as “okay” to words such as “bisexuality,” “sexism,” and “transphobia,” that I don’t know if I’d ever seen in a second-world fantasy novel before.

In the end, the most important thing is that I had fun with City of Stife. It was easy to read, maybe a bit of a popcorn book. Plus, I really enjoyed reading a fantasy novel with a predominantly queer cast, particularly one that was aro and ace inclusive. I’d like to read the sequel, and since City of Stife ended on a cliffhanger, sooner is better than later. It’s a book I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for queer fantasy novels.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page.
Profile Image for Andy.
2,354 reviews176 followers
March 24, 2022
Thank you to Kraken Collective for an ebook in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I had so much fun with this book!! I need more queer epic fantasy like this one!

City of Strife centers around Arathiel's return to Isandor. He has been gone for over a hundred years and he doesn't know what to expect. Rather than returning to his family, he hides in the Lower City and meets Larryn, Hasryan and Cal. The four quickly kindle a strong friendship and when Hasryan is accused of a crime he didn't commit, Arathiel and his friends will have to figure out what lengths they'll go to save him.

Besides that storyline, the Myrian Empire is trying to get a hold in Isandor and they've sent one of their worst commanders to do it. The Noble Houses are attempting to prevent the Myrians from gaining a foot hold, but they spend more time fighting between houses to present a strong front. However, there are people on each side that want to get out of the conflict. Nevian, an abused apprentice, just wants to learn enough magic. Branwen, a spy for House Daithrii, is trying to stay alive. And Varden, an Isbari priest of the Myrians, is entangled in a traitorous web that's one string from falling apart.

I freaking loved this story so much. All of the characters were well rounded dynamic characters. I constantly wanted to know more about them all. I loved the friendships that formed in this book. The way platonic relationships were given the most importance was chef's kisses. I seriously loved seeing all of these characters lives entangle and see these relationship progress from strangers or enemies to friends.

Then there's the magic and the politics! The stakes always felt high and the tension that surrounded the whole book kept me engaged and flipping pages as fast as possible. I hated having to put this down at night! I loved all the magic in this book. There are so many different types and then Arathiel's strange inability to feel pain, cold, heat or taste. I really hope we find out more about the well that did that to him.

The main cast is so queer. Even though there was a line about the world being generally queerphobic/queermisic, everyone was basically like fuck that shit I'm gay as fuck. There was also amazing trans and nonbinary inclusion, including a character with they/them pronouns and several side characters and a deity that use neopronouns! I just loved it all so much.

I can't wait to get back to the world of Isandor and see what happens next!!

Rep: Brown cis male MC who can't feel pain, cold, heat or taste, Black demiromantic cis male MC (Dark elf), white aroace cis male MC, Brown gay cis male MC, white sapphic female MC, fat aromantic halfing cis male MC, bisexual cis female side character, lesbian cis female side character, trans female side character, white nonbinary side character, MLM side pairing, female side characters with chronic illness (brief mention).

CWs: Torture, child abuse, physical and emotional abuse, xenophobia, violence, blood, racism. Moderate: murder, death, looming execution, police corruption, generalized queerphobia/queermisia.
Profile Image for Kaitlin.
516 reviews18 followers
Read
March 16, 2022
DNF @ page 95

There was literally a different POV every single chapter for the first 100 pages (at least 10 different ones)..this book is only 425 pages...

CW - SA.
This was so unnecessary on page 77. "Not to mention the very thought of Avenazar touching her apprentice - or any young girl, especially one who disliked men - made her stomach turn." - Let's not, SA is terrible for everyone.
Profile Image for Mel.
646 reviews79 followers
May 11, 2017
City of Strife, the first instalment in a new fantasy series, masterfully combines a tale of city life with its politics, merchants, and assassins with the danger of an evil outer force. The story is told through different point of views from a huge cast of characters, thus giving insight into the world of both the nobles and the poor and homeless people within the city as well as the ongoings in the hostile enclave of a foreign empire that has settled outside the city Isandor.

The cast of multiple characters, fortunately, was in no way tiring or challenging, since I could connect to all of them and it was easy to tell them apart because they were all three-dimensional and distinct. The switches in point of view are not too often but also frequent enough so I didn’t lose track of any of them. I think it is pretty amazing how the author managed to bring so many different characters alive on the page.

Moreover, the cast mainly consists of LGBTQIA* characters. At no point did I think that this seemed forced or over the top and the way the characters are written seemed very natural to me. There are also characters of color and a disabled character. I especially like that the latter, Arathiel, is the hero in the story when he, near the end, realises that “[t]oday, his numbed senses would be his blessing. Today he stopped hiding, stopped pretending his body worked perfectly, and just accepted it didn’t.” I thought this was really lovely.

It was great in general that the focus of the book was not on the nobles, as is often the case in fantasy books, but more on the lower city where many of the disadvantaged people in life find their home in the Shelter. An additional plus is that many characters can not simply be divided in good or evil – apart from the wizard Avenazar, that is – which makes this read a more believable and also relatable one.

The first half of the book progresses a little slowly but once I hit the halfway mark I couldn’t put the book down and was completely engrossed in fearing for everyone’s lives. Having read Viral Airwaves by the author, in which not all of the characters survive, I have to say that I was really worried here for one of the character’s life for some time While the book develops this story arc to a kind of satisfying point, this thread and all the others are still open, some of them precariously so. The ending didn’t leave me reeling or utterly frustrated but, to be honest, I don’t like that I have to wait for the sequel to find out what is happening next. I asked the author today, though, and she’s planning on a release for fall 2017, so that’s not too long.

Concerning the content warnings of the story that I provided from the author’s website, I want to both elaborate on them and to mention that I personally didn’t think that this book was heavy or laden with negativity. Most of the cruelty takes place off-page and it is not bloody or very physical. The mental abuse, however, is rather prominent. Not only regarding the oppression of the people in the enclave but also regarding the torture that is unleashed on their minds. Interestingly, I didn’t have much trouble with this kind of torture – probably because it is not possible in our lives – while I usually cannot stomach any physical torture in books. So if none of the content warnings from above is a trigger for you, then I think the thorough list should not sway you from reading this book.

I recommend this book if you like fantasy with a complex world building and many characters, and the diversity of this book definitely speaks in its favour.

_________________________________
Genre: High Fantasy
Tags: Multiple Character Cast, Lesbian Character, Gay Character, Bisexual Character, Transgender Character, Nonbinary Character, Asexual Character, Aromantic Character, Characters of Colour, Magic, Disability, Friendship/Family
Content Warnings*: Abuse (physical, emotional, mind control — seriously, if depictions of abuse trigger you, please be very careful when approaching this novel/avoid it.), torture, homelessness, child abandonment, police brutality, racism, family death, memory loss, death by fire (mention), hanging.
*from the author’s website; more information in review
Blog: Review for Just Love



Profile Image for Cynthia.
837 reviews19 followers
March 26, 2018
I have to admit I am sorely disappointed by this book, given the glowing praises I've read. The author certainly has good intentions, but I found the story and characters trite in their self-convinced originality, the writing lacking in general, and especially for such a sprawling, ambitious setting and story, the characters not developed enough, and the commentary on racism, sexism, and queerphobia more than a little unsubtle, while still showing unchallenged overarching undercurrents of racism, sexism, and queephobia within the writing itself.

To be honest, I never got into it, and never cared for any of the characters. I think this is mostly due to the constant change in narrator between...idk a small dozen of characters maybe?, which rendered them all one-dimensional. It took me an entire week to read this book, because I never found the motivation to come back to it, until I decided to skim it, to get it over with. And the story isn't even self-contained...
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,544 reviews2,931 followers
July 22, 2022
I picked this book up years and years ago in a little indie bookshop and I have meant to get to it ever since. I am glad I finally got to try it out as I found that this series ticked a lot of boxes for me with a lot of magic, scheming of factions, fun characters with good banter and friendship and lots of LGBTQ themes too. I felt like it has some classic fantasy vibes but it felt fun and new and although there’s some troupes employed I did find it an easy and solid read. I’ll definitely continue.

We follow quite a cast of characters from a character who feels no pain, a band of friends loyal to a fault, a young woman who spies for her family, an apprentice with a nasty master and more. Each character added to the story and it slowly builds up the politics and layers of the world.

I very much liked the style of this and have downloaded the next on my kindle. I hope that soon I’ll be able to get to trying that one, and I’ll keep an eye on this author going forward I’m sure. 4*s.
Profile Image for Pantaruja.
154 reviews4 followers
November 7, 2020
A book about some good characters sacrificing for mediocre characters. I don’t want to give a star rating because mi BFF loves it a lot and I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but there were just two good things that I liked in this book. The first one being the diverse representation and the second the presence of Branwen, Cal and Varden.

The plot is non-existent at times and a mess at others. Absolutely nothing happens until maybe the 60% of the book. I supposed this was because the author wanted to make the characters presentations but, in my opinion, not even this was well done because I didn’t care for any of the main (except Varden). I hated the majority of them, especially that Navian or whatever horrible egoistical kid whom we had to like because everyone, ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE, adored him and I was reading like “why is everyone sacrificing their safety for this absolutely shitty brat!?”. I wanted him to die when that thing happened, yes. And let’s not talk about the other horrible, egoistical serial killer Hasryan. Really one of the most self-centered characters I’ve ever read about. I cannot stand them. And the only hint of a plot we get is that everyone has to sacrifice their safety to protect/safe those two characters!!!! I would’ve liked the book if it was about Varden, Cal or Branwen. But it was not. They were just there so that people would treat them like shit, abuse them, take advantage of their goodness and then continue to abuse them without giving them gratitude and you know what? I’m not one that enjoys genuinely generous characters being abused to protect others characters’ safety. It didn’t even serve to develop the others characters’ personalities. I mean, they had none apart from being egoistical shits.

Another thing about the characters is that, coincidentally, the difference between the women and men was astounding. Not a single female character was important. I liked Branwen, but she was not important in the least and her aunt just serve to save that serial killer. And then what did we had? Let’s make a list:
• The racist egoistical brat.
• The racist cop.
• The racist teacher. Who also said a thing similar to “It was horrible to let that man sexually abuse her, especially because she didn’t like men”. Like… is this even a thing? It’s especially bad to sexually abuse women when they are lesbians!? Does that make it less horrible if a woman likes men!!!? DID I REALLY READ THAT IN A PUBLISHED BOOK!!!!? REALLY!!!!?
• The racist boss.
And that’s it for the women.

OK. There was not a good plot and the characters were in their majority horrible, but was there a good world building? I don’t think so. There was a really really really bad country where it was practiced slavery and everyone there was super bad people and another were there were good and bad nobles that had to resist the bads but money. That was it. Oh, and two Gods who made one fire and the other good luck. And there were elves. I’m sorry but that’s not enough for me when the rest is also lacking.

Well, BFF, I’m sorry I didn’t like it.
Profile Image for Alice .
509 reviews37 followers
November 8, 2017
2.5/5
I really wanted to like this but the writing, mostly, wasn't for me.

Aside from the style my main gripe was around the beginning. the bad guy is basically threatening to rape a girl and there, the POV character thinks that because that girl is a lesbian, it would be even worse for her.
"the very thought of avenazar touching her apprentice - or any young girl, especially one who disliked men - made her stomach churn."
Eeeh so rape is worst for lesbians than straight girls? I don't see how as RAPE IS NOT SEX. What was the point of adding this" especially... "? It didn't make me very happy right at the start of my reading. It's too bad, especially for a book that really tries to be (and is) super diverse.

Every other paragraph was a back story, and sometimes it was just repeating what had already been said. But mostly those backstories were often weirdly brought up and made the whole story confusing.
Like a fight would happen and then a character would heal one of the fighters, and the fighter complains at the pain of the healing so the healer tells him that he didn't seem to feel so much pain when he was breaking his hand fighting. And there, the fighter says something about not feeling anything while his father was being killed... Except the previous fight wasn't involving his father... Or was it? Is it a reveal that the other fighter is actually his father? No, the author just thought it was the right time to tell you about the guy's father. I was super confused. And it happened a few times.

Also, I might have read this wrong and please tell me if I did, but it also felt like 2 cousins were flirting with each others ? Some dialogues made me a bit uncomfortable.

On a side note, I would love to know what is the point of a spy and spymaster when absolutely everyone knows she is a spy and more details of how she work ? And by everyone I mean their main enemy.

I liked the 4 guys from the shelters and their dynamics, I liked a few characters like most of the Dathirrii when they weren't being weird between cousins... But unfortunately it wasn't enough for me and I won't continue :(
Profile Image for Chasia Lloyd.
699 reviews56 followers
June 11, 2017
Lush worldbuilding and a wide variety of characters, this book has it all. If queer political fantasy is your jam, you need this.

I struggled a lot with the opening because of the enormous cast of characters being introduced in a hurry, but I cared for everyone almost instantly and wanted to push through. I got through the last 2/3 of the book swiftly though!

*** also this is VERY aro and ace friendly !! ***
Profile Image for Lucille.
996 reviews198 followers
April 11, 2017
[Actual rating : 4,5/5]

I decided to buy and read this book after finding out it was from the person who had created the Aromantic or Asexual Speculative Fiction Database. I always feel more inclined to read a book when I have followed an author on social medias for a while and seen what a nice person they are (nobody wants to support bigots right?)
So I was super excited to get this book and I ended up reading it in a week! It could have been less but unfortunately I had some exams. To be more precise, I read half of this book on a Saturday morning, tucked in bed, only getting out when I was almost done and because eating had become imperative.

This novel is sold as a “multi-layered political fantasy”; I almost didn’t picked it up because I’m not a big fan of politics in books, but this first instalment wasn’t too heavy on this! Since the story focuses on different characters across the city, the political aspect sure plays a part but it was never too much of it. There was actually only two characters whose life where really intertwined with the political aspect (so far).
It also is sold as a book “led by an all QUILTBAG cast” and that was AWESOME! The author is on the aro-ace spectrum and so are some of the characters (though, never using the label, but putting into words their identity in a clear and casual way). The novel isn’t focusing on the characters sexual or romantic/platonic orientation, but it does come up in the story at some point, because that’s a part of who they are. There is diversity everywhere, such as a minor character whose chronic pain is mentioned, a healer who prefers people to use the pronoun “they/them” to refer to them, a colour blind person, etc.

“But if Nevian didn’t correct Isra’s racist mistake, was he any better?”

The found family theme is one of my all-time favourites and it is strong in this novel. There were really a large number of characters but they aren’t introduced all at once, it was very well done and I never got confused on who was who and what was their part on the story. Some were more present than others, some felt like they would get a more important role in the sequels, but overall I liked to learn about all these diverse characters from all over the city. I liked how their storylines met, how deep friendships formed and their compassion. It’s really the ingredient that a book needs for me to call it a favourite and for me to want to read it again someday. A welcoming team of friends, a great diversity of characters and acceptance of everyone above all: you get me as a loyal reader 4ever. Not saying they’re all perfect cinnamon rolls, some have prejudices, others are hostile to new of different people. But you get a feeling that their prejudices are going to be challenged enven more on the next instalment.

“You’re a lady. You should find a nice decoration to brighten up this place.”
“Charming. Your sexism is an appreciated change from my favourite colleague’s repeated transphobia. I’m glad the bigot club is diversifying a little.”


City of Strife ended up in a kinda abrupt way. I didn’t remembered there was going to be a bonus short story at the end of the physical copy so I thought there was going to be more things happening and… it didn’t. But it was a way for me to realise I really wanted to know more, to know what was going to happen to those characters and how the fate of this gorgeous city was going to play out. Stressful things happened, but this nice addition at the end about the way two characters met years and years ago is the perfect way to let the reader close the book with a smile on their face nonetheless.

“Nevian would never understand that kind of desire – he had never even experienced attraction and doubted he one day would – and physical proximity unnerved him. He waited, wishing people were more reasonable about this whole sex thing. Because, really? The middle of the day?”

This novel is all-indie, like the author says in the Acknowledgment, which explains the slight editing mishaps I saw. For instance, at times the spaces between the full-stop and following word was missing, sometimes –but less often – it happened between words. Like “and he” became “andhe” and I was a little bit lost, ended up checking wordreference because I thought it was an English word I didn’t know haha! Anyway, nothing serious but I felt I needed to mention it in this review.
I asked the author on twitter what had caused those mistakes, and she told me something happened during formatting, she is checking everything and it should be back to normal in a few days. People who bought the kindle edition should even get a warning to update to the clean version once it’s done!
Once a mistake has been made once, it won’t happen twice 😉
Still, this is not something that will deter me from buying the next instalments of this trilogy, and the other books from Claudie Arseneault!
Really looking forward to read Viral Airwaves next! Which also has a gorgeous cover!

Trigger warnings can be found on the author’s website (there are quite a few!)
Profile Image for Lia.
340 reviews91 followers
August 14, 2017
I had the opportunity to read the two first books in the Isandor / City of Spires series by Claudie Arsenault. I will mostly mix my opinions of both the books, since they were both quite similar in build-up and characters and things like that. So this is a double-review! There will be no spoilers!

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It took me a while to really get into the first book. This book features a lot of perspectives and for me, that was quite hard. In the first part of the book you get constantly introduced to new people and keeping up with everything was a bit of a struggle. Sadly, that also slowed down the story overall. However, after the beginning, it did pick up and a lot of things started happening. To my tastes, it could have been a little more fast-paced but that's just a personal preference. In the second book, I did not have that problem, because I already knew all the characters, so therefore I enjoyed the second book more from the start.
"He found reasons to grin even when there were none, in defiance of the never-ending hardships and the world beating down on him. Maybe if he smiled enough, the happiness he projected would stop being a lie and coalesce into the truth." - City of Strife

The story is about a city (duh) and the city is lead by a group of noble families. Some of the characters are part of this family and some aren't and you can get to see the situation from many eyes. There is danger and intrigue, but this story is mainly about family and friendship. The characters form strong bonds and care so much about each other. I loved seeing them come together and especially in the second book, where almost all the characters get to know each other. In those final hundred pages of the second book, I have laughed with them and cried with them. They were amazing.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and I could write pages and pages about all of them, so I will only focus on my favourites. My favourites are definitely Cal and Arathiel. Cal is aromantic and he is just very sweet and kind and caring. He loves his friends and would do anything for them. Arathiel is the outsider in the story. He is strange, mysterious, quiet but also very caring. Besides these characters there were plenty more amazing ones. Hasryan and Vellien would get a shared third place on my favourites ranking, because they deserve to be mentioned. I could relate to so many of the characters in very different ways and I loved that they were all so different from each other.
"Arathiel is a warm blanket: simple, reliable, soft. He's the friend you kind of forget, but when it really matters he's there. Leaping of bridges to save your neck from the noose, even though you expect nothing of him." - City of Betrayal

I cannot end this review before discussing the amazing diverse representation in these books. There were characters of almost every sexual orientation you can imagine and there were characters of different descents and different skin colors. I loved in particularly, Cal's aromanticism because usually aro characters are described as unfeeling or cold and Cal was the absolute opposite. I also really enjoyed the non-binary/enby representation (because whenever I read about one of those characters I just can't help but love them).
"You can't always choose your fights. Some battles need to be fought, whether you want to or not -- whether they can be won or not." - City of Betrayal

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For the first book, my rating is 3,5 stars. But after writing this review, I am really tempted to move up my rating for the second book from 3,5 to 4 stars but I think I'm going to just leave it in the middle: 3,75 stars! What I loved most about these two books was the representation of diverse characters and the characters in general. The only thing that could have been improved, to my opinion, was the pacing of the first book. It took me a long time to get into the story (mainly because I struggled with the many perspectives), but after that it was great. I would definitely recommend these books if you like political fantasy, I don't know if that is a genre but oh well
Profile Image for Elle Maruska.
232 reviews89 followers
August 8, 2017
I really enjoyed this book!

It has all the elements I love in second-world fantasy: a city with various political & economic elements, all at each others' throats; a wide-ranging cast of characters; an interesting premise and not too many infodumps; and creative systems of magic.

The characters are well-drawn and distinct for the most part. Whether you love them or hate them, you definitely understand why they're acting the way they act and how they think they're doing what's best. My only exception is the main villain, Avenazar. He's left fairly one-dimensional but this is the first installment of the series so I hope we'll get some more inside info on him and why he acts the way he does. He certainly does function as a terrifying antagonist though, and in his impulse to destroy and dominate her reminds me of a certain US president who's name I won't mention...

Anyway, I enjoyed the relationships between the characters very much. I enjoyed how even to protagonists are called out when they make mistakes, how they are forced to reckon with the consequences of their actions. The diversity of this world is incredibly well done and it's so nice to see a fantasy work where so many different facets of gender, sexuality, disability, and race are explored.

I can't wait for the next book, I'm very intrigued and excited to find out what happens next!
Profile Image for ElmoVsBibo2.0.
92 reviews2 followers
May 6, 2021
I loved this book. It had so many things I love about a fantasy story and I have to read the second book soon.

Profile Image for Hélène Louise.
Author 17 books80 followers
June 7, 2017
This book was a very nice read, fluid and interesting (note : the presentation of the book is quite obscure and unappetizing; you may ignore it). I was a bit afraid by the numerous characters in the beginning of the book, but the writing makes the story very clear, nearly effortless. I had just sometimes a tiny problem in one paragraphe or another knowing whom the pronom was referring to. A trifle.

The characters are engaging, it was comfortable to have so many good people to follow. The villain is quite your classic psychopath but I also appreciated to have some ambivalent characters, as the feminine Mages.

The author has wished to present characters belonging to some minorities (color of the skin, sexuality - particularly asexuality which isn't frequently openly represented in fiction, even if some fictionnel characters clearly are - old ladies with still - shocking!- some nerve and personality to boot) and the result is very smooth. I never had any impression of pressure, all is well blended, very naturally (with the possible exception - for me - of the healer who wanted to be refereed as "they". It may have been because the character doesn't feel any appartenance to any sexe, I'm not sure about that, but it was quite weird to my ears).

The story is quite classic, with some alternative elves and a "halfing", a short person, a bit hobbit-like.
The ambiance has a clear young adult vibe for me, with a bunch of young people (the elves are old in years but still in their teens for their specie) bounding together to save the world. Ordinarily I'm not very enthusiastic with this new trend, as the characters keep very often an anormal modernity (the worst was Rebel of the Sands, which annoyed me, and also, slightly, Six of Crows and An Ember in the Ashes, which were good reads but not perfect ones for me). But it was quite discreet here, just a flavor, and my reading was easy and comfortable.

All in all a nice read, but not an unforgettable one.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
347 reviews23 followers
January 8, 2022
CW: I enjoyed this book but there were parts that weren't quite there for me. When I got to the 6th POV character in 6 chapters, I was confused about why there were so many POV characters in a book of this length. It was difficult to get into for that reason. I loved the premise and the opening, but we never delve much into that mystery (maybe in later books?).

I also would have liked to see more depth to the elf-human relationships. The only thing different about the elf family seemed to be that they are long-lived. Is that truly the only difference between elves and humans? It seemed like there should be more nuance, cultural differences, power imbalances, etc.

At times the story felt overwritten. I already understood a concept or a character's feeling, but several more sentences or extra dialogue were there to hammer a point home. It felt unnatural at times.

Some of the scenes that warranted the CW were quite heavy. While this Evil character is not the only bad character, this particularly character is 100% bad with zero redeeming qualities.

Isra was a frustrating character who made terrible choices, despite the warnings of others, and it was difficult to read because her motivations weren't clear or understandable. To be honest, she felt like a plot device. Her mentor Jilssan was similar though she had more understandable motivations. She was not a very likeable character, either.

This brings me to another disappointment I felt; there were far more male characters than female, and the female characters typically felt much less important and did not often interact with one another.

I did love the representation (aro/ace characters, a trans character, gender non-conforming characters) though I was a bit dubious about the depiction of racism. Is there really only one character with dark skin, or am I reading it wrong? The constant repetition of the "dark elf" being treated differently made it feel that was the case.

I did enjoy the story and may read the sequel in the hope that some of these things were addressed.
Profile Image for Mo.
604 reviews15 followers
November 19, 2017
Queer elves, queer elves, queer elves, queer elves!!!!

Hey, I take my joy where I can find it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ And this wonderful fantasy lifted me out of a reading slump with its magic, heartbreakingly lovely characters, intrigue, really good caper, multiple story lines centered around friendships, and delightful LGBTA rep.
Profile Image for Bryn Hammond.
Author 11 books337 followers
May 16, 2018
I was uncertain for the first third, convinced for the second, and way into it for the third. Far too often novels happen to me the other way around.

Populated by interesting ppl, and with a shelter for the homeless at the heart of the story.

I got this off a Twitter list of SFF-with-maginalized (not YA). I went and bought half the list. Off to a fine start.
Profile Image for Nicole Field.
Author 18 books142 followers
April 9, 2020
I don’t often start fantasy trilogies when there’s such a break between the second book and the last one, but then quarantine happened and here we are. And boy am I glad for that! This book was so good I'd be worried about a book slump if I didn't have the sequel to immediately after dive into.

For me, this novel had the best parts of world building from Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice and the queer fantasy cast out of such books as My Heart Will Grow by Chace Verity. That said, it was completely and wholly its own piece of work as well.

I should have known that such world building was not outside of Claudie's scope of ability after reading and loving Baker Thief. Although this was an earlier work, it didn't show any less skill or craft.

At first, it appears as though Arathiel, returning to Isandor after 130 years, was going to be the main character. However, this is a thoroughly ensemble cast novel. I don't even think we return to Arathiel's point of view again for another six chapters. In that time, we learn a lot about Isandor as it is today, as opposed to Arathiel's memories of it.

We meet Larryn, Cal and Hasryan from the slums of the Lower City. Larryn runs the Shelter which is a haven to those who don't have homes of their own or the ability to feed themselves.

On the other side of things, there is the Dathirii family, a family of elves who are also a leading house within the city of Isandor. They include Branwen the kickass lady spy, Lord Deil who is head of the house and in love with his manservant, Jaeger (which everyone is fine with!!), Camilla who is the matriarch and lover of tea, Garith who is a complete womanizer but also fantastic with house finances, the non-binary healer Vellien, and the step brother/uncle who seems to be a bit of a diplomat? At least outside of the family. He's kinda a black sheep within.

New-ish to Isandor, there is the Myrian influence, led by the absolutely awful Avenazar. This book has a coupld of trigger warnings, such as abuse and torture and both of these things come from Avenazar. But in a cast of such loveable characters, we really did need some conflict, and Avenazar's treatment of Nevian--which starts the beginnings of a feud between Deil's family and the Myrian Empire that we're sure to see in future books--is exactly the balance that this novel needed.

Honestly, this is a rave. I loved every bit of this book.
Profile Image for EmpressKoh.
75 reviews5 followers
May 5, 2020
The Bad:

I had problems with this book on a few subjects. First, as much as I loved a total of 3 characters, that also ends up backfiring when this book has a numerous array of characters to read through- I am tempted to skip through the other characters just to read about the characters I enjoyed. This is also in part due to points of view that seemed pointless; not only did I not like Isra or Jilssan, they're points of view were hardly worth anything to the story and were frustrating to read. In addition, this book has every minority in the book- which is obviously a great thing, but only done right. In this case, it was done right only in a few cases. Most of the characters I did not enjoy reading were done wrong- sexuality and gender shouldn't be a personality trait explained in length when a character is introduced. This is not to say the knowledge is unappreciated, but a lot of the characters were only known through it, which leads me to ask what else I know about them, which is often nothing else. In addition, sexist and other derogatory remarks are said throughout the book, but some are not even addressed properly, but more than that, they are even said by characters who themselves are apart of the minority, which seems odd but not implausible. I think I was more upset that for a novel filled with queer characters and racism, the resolutions to those problems- if there was one- was not fulfilling. I'm not sure if the author did that intentionally to be like the real world (unfortunately) or not.

The writing: there were mistakes in the writing that I caught a few times that was quite significant. In one case, it was not yet known that Ara was 'not human' and had last lived in the city 132 years ago. Yet, he said it to Larryn, which went largely ignored till his arrest scene at the end of the book, which he then admitted to, wherein Larryn was pleasantly surprised, as if the first time it was mentioned was clearly a mistake on the author's part.

The world building seems extensive, however, there is also just as much left unknown. Due to the large cast of characters, the knowledge about what I want to know most - such as what happened to Ara in The Well, or how extensive there magic/ science is would help extensively in building characters and plot. However, I believe these to be answered to book two so we shall see.

The Good:

The few characters I did like, I Really loved them to the point where I actually went on an emotional roller coaster with then, which rarely happens.

The politics incorporated into the world building was extensive, and it was quite phenomenal to see the author slowly connect events together.

The two points above is what made this so compelling to read and why I need the mysteries of this book solved in the second installment.
February 18, 2017
City of Strife is set in the bustling city of Isandor and stars a huge cast of characters, each with intersecting storylines, histories, and paths. A few examples:

- Arathiel, a human whose ill-fated journey to find a cure for his sick sister transformed him, dulling all his senses and giving him a much longer lifespan. It’s been over 130 years since he last set foot in Isandor, and he now feels like an unwelcome stranger there. The one place he feels comfortable: the Shelter, which provides food and a place to sleep to anyone who needs it. It’s there that he becomes friends with Larryn, the Shelter’s owner, Cal, a halfling, and Hasryan, a dark elf.

- Nevian, an apprentice mage in the Myrian enclave. He lives in constant fear of Master Avenazar, who killed his previous tutor and now regularly abuses him. Nevian’s only ally is Varden, a High Priest of Keroth and former Myrian slave. Unfortunately, Varden, too, must tread carefully around Avenazar.

- Lord Diel Dathirii, an elf and head of the Dathirii family. When he witnesses Avenazar publicly torturing Nevian, he decides that it’s time to finally take a stand against the Myrians, who have thus far been permitted to live by their own laws while in their enclave in Isandor. The rest of his family will stand by his decisions and support him, but that may not be enough if Isandor’s other noble families decide to abandon House Dathirii to face the Myrians alone.

City of Strife is one of the very few (perhaps only?) ARCs I’ve ever requested from an author. I was interested in the book’s LGBTQIA+ cast and “found family” aspect, and the author had a nice online form that, if I remember correctly, only asked for interested reviewers’ email addresses (easy! low stress! didn’t require NetGalley or a Twitter DM!). The long book description concerned me a little and made it difficult to tell what the book would be like, but I figured I’d give it a shot.

I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed it immensely, although I’m now unhappy that I’ll have to wait who knows how long for Book 2 to come out. A word of warning: City of Strife ends with lots of things still unresolved and several characters in peril. Crossing my fingers that none of the characters I care about get killed off in the next two books.

One thing that dismayed me when I first started reading: the many, many POVs. The book was written in third person, but chapters/sections focused on different characters’ perspectives. Almost every named character had a chapter or section written from their POV, and it wasn’t until I’d gotten 15% into the book that a POV repeated itself.

The POVs turned out to be both the book’s strength and its weakness. I loved gradually learning how the various characters’ stories were interrelated - what the stuff at the Shelter had to do with House Dathirii, who Nevian was secretly visiting for magic lessons, what would prompt Arathiel to reveal his noble blood to his friends at the Shelter and/or Isandor’s noble families, etc. However, all those POVs and complex and interrelated storylines meant that some of my favorite characters and storylines didn’t get as much page-time as I’d have liked. For example, Arathiel and, eventually, Hasryan ended up being my favorite characters, and I particularly looked forward to seeing Arathiel find a place for himself at the Shelter with Larryn, Cal, and Hasryan. Unfortunately, there wasn’t nearly as much on-page friendship-building as I expected, and one character’s actions near the end of the book destroyed my impression of the trio as an overall warm and welcoming group.

I much preferred House Dathirii, which, aside from a couple exceptions I’m hoping that one of the next couple books will cover in more detail, was largely just as warm and welcoming as it initially appeared to be. I particularly loved Camilla. Everyone could use someone like Camilla in their lives.

House Dathirii brings me to another aspect of the book I both loved and had problems with: the politics. I love fantasy and sci-fi books with lots of politics, and this one had House Dathirii clashing with the Myrian enclave and struggling to get support, a 10-year-old murder that was relevant to current politics, and more. Fascinating stuff. Unfortunately, I prefer when there’s at least one character who’s incredibly skilled at navigating politics, and this book didn’t have that, at least not front-and-center. Avenazar was so lacking in self-control that I was amazed he’d never done anything in Myria to earn himself an execution. Maybe he had really good family connections protecting him? And then there was Diel: principled, idealistic, and almost completely lacking in the ability to sit back, pick his battles, and maybe go at things a little more subtly and indirectly. At least he recognized that it was other members of his family who did the heavy lifting when it came to making sure the family survived whatever fight he’d chosen to involve them all in.

All in all, despite my complaints this was a riveting read, and I wish the next couple books were out already. In the meantime, I plan on getting myself a copy of Arseneault’s Viral Airwaves.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
Profile Image for bsolt.
100 reviews13 followers
October 28, 2016

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


About the Author

Claudie Arseneault is an asexual author from Quebec City, a biochemistry nerd, lover of squids and balloons, and relentless gamer. Her first novel, Viral Airwaves, was published in February 2015. Since then, Claudie has edited Wings of Renewal, a solarpunk dragon anthology, and published several short stories. You can find out more on her website, http://claudiearseneault.com .
Profile Image for Amy Aelleah.
798 reviews6 followers
February 14, 2022
I had a very rocky road with this book before I even ever started reading it.

I first came across the book about three years ago, when it was recommended to me upon my request for a LGBT+ friendly fantasy book. At the time I was looking for a good, solid fantasy book that wasn't about the usual cishet cast (because I love fantasy, but it seems to lag behind literally every other genre) and nor was it a romance badly disguised as a 'fantasy.' This book was recommended to me. I promptly put it on my TBR and then just as promptly…ignored it.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2021 and cue me looking at my TBR list and realizing I have four years worth of books on it that I thought 'oh, I have to read.' I finally made it up to 2018 books and came across this one. Now, my funds to spend on books these days is very tight. Most of my reading is done thanks to my library. Those books that my library doesn't have, that are new-to-me-authors, get a very rigorous look at them to decide if they are worth spending my hard earned cash on.

One way I do this is to use the Goodreads or Amazon preview. I used just that for this book and had a knee-jerk reaction to the book. Mostly to Arathiel's…lack. Without getting too deep into it, his senses have all been dampened: he can taste nothing, his sense of touch is almost nil, his hearing is muffled and his vision is not very good. For me personally, this gave me pause. In fact, I never actually finished that preview, I was so turned off by this. (Let's just say, this is straight out of horror, for me personally.)

However, I could not get this book out of my head. I found myself wanting to read it. So bought it. Figuring I probably shouldn't have and that I would be looking at a DNF.

Well, this book is everything I was told it was. It has an interesting cast of characters (I do not like all of them, but there are a few that I adore) and there is so much diversity. Oh, my gosh, is there so much diversity.

Before I finished the book, I thought I would probably fate it four stars - but the fact is, I finished what is a four hundred fifty page book in three days, including working two of those three days. This book is just so addictive to read and … Look, I like books that end up well. I don't like a lot of stress from my reading, but at the same time, I don't want things to be too easy.

I got really attached to some of these characters (a certain assassin, for example) and I desperately want things to turn out well for nearly every POV character. (There's a couple - thankfully minor - ones that I just don't like) But, unlike other books of this nature that I've read, as I was reading, I felt like things would turn out okay in the end.

In other notes, I love the fact that family and friendships are the relationships that get the focus. There is one established couple (that is a very solid one that, surprisingly enough, did not annoy me) but beyond that…people are not pairing off. There's little to no hints of romance and several of the closest relationships - that in any other book would be preludes to romance - are of incompatible orientation.

That being said, for those that don't know, the author is aro/ace spectrum herself and I highly recommend this book to those out there that are tired of romance being shoehorned into their fantasy.
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