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The Etched City

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  2,452 ratings  ·  242 reviews
Gwynn and Raule are rebels on the run, with little in common except being on the losing side of a hard-fought war. Gwynn is a gunslinger from the north, a loner, a survivor . . . a killer. Raule is a wandering surgeon, a healer who still believes in just--and lost--causes. Bound by a desire to escape the ghosts of the past, together they flee to the teeming city of Ashamoi ...more
Paperback, 382 pages
Published November 23rd 2004 by Spectra (first published 2003)
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Average rating 3.66  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,452 ratings  ·  242 reviews

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Dan Schwent
Feb 04, 2008 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
Aug 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
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 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
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
Jan 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-ebooks
This novel is rightfully weird and I was expecting no less since I tried it because it’s one of the flagships of the “New Weird” wave of fiction. It’s also a terrific blend of learned language, horror, sumptuous descriptions and magical realism, without many of the classic staples of conventional fantasy.

Personally, when I read a story that deliberately defies labels it’s not just the boundaries it pushes around, it pushes me as a reader too, and the experience is often charted at opposite sides
Ross Lockhart
Jun 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
aPriL does feral sometimes
If one was to argue this novel’s plot had no point in an exegesis of its story-telling, there would be plenty of evidence to make such an argument. 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.

The story 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
Sep 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Sep 28, 2008 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.
May 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
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
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 you
Aug 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Weird. Surreal. Pretentious. And sneaky.

Looking at the reviews now I can easily see what I couldn't see before reading it. Those that like this are more into 'literature' and 'art' rather than an actual pointed story. This is like post-modern art and other things in that vein - stuff I look at and think "It's a bunch of fucking paint splashes" while other people are orgasming over it. This is most certainly intended to be a work of art rather than a story. Stories have beginnings, middles, and e
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exceptionally beautiful book.
Slap Happy
Apr 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 02, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Kate M.
Apr 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
fantasy fiction is everything
The story begains with desert two main characters encountered each other.They are all flee to the city of Ashamoil.It is a new start to both characters.the whole story is really heated up after they went in diversion.The expirence of reading this book is surreal.It is like you were in the surreal paint.The painter use brush with extraordinary color painting on canvas.charaters and dialogues are whimsical.You can't find any central plot in this book,however it doesn't matter.You will lose yourse ...more
Mar 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fa, o, poc, 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. ...more
May 09, 2012 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 28, 2016 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
Mar 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I want to give this book 3 and a half stars or maybe even 3 and three quarters stars. It was a strange book that I pondered time to time about stopping reading it but then, something interesting would happen that would keep me interested. The characters were fairly well developed and the the pilot was not able to be pinned down. I am not sure what genre I'd consider it either. A bit of fantasy, a little bit sci-fi, a bit of a western maybe even. It was bout 2 main characters who didn't have a lo ...more
colleen the convivial curmudgeon

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
Dec 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
I gave up after a bit over 100 pages. It took me five or six days of reading to get even that far. There was just no sparkle, nothing interesting or intriguing or delightful. Every page felt tedious. There's nothing bad is just so...nothing.

The clincher was when I read 10 or 15 pages of a priest and an atheist having a theological argument about god -- in this fictional fantasy world. It wasn't even a clever or witty or funny argument. And who cares if god exists in this world? It
Often compared to Mieville's New Corbuzon, to me Bishop's Ashamoil feels closer to Vandermeer's Ambergris.

New Corbuzon is steampunk on steroids: weird races in a London-like metropole, while Ashamoil like Ambergris consists in a otherworldly place where the edges of reality are not always as clear. Ashamoil is highly evocative of cities like New Orleans and Paris, while definitely being it's own creation.

Starting as a western the beginning, like numerous other reviewers have said, is reminiscent
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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. My influences include everything I've ever read, watched, listened to, or eaten.

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