The Etched City

One fantastic book after another! Whatever I read next has some tough shoes to fill…

I finished reading K. J. Bishop’s The Etched City at quarter past eleven on New Year’s Eve. I captured the whole experience in 2010. Truth is I wanted to finish this book and add it to my list for 2010, but in the end, I just couldn’t put it down!

I loved being a fly on the wall in this dark, hungry city–watching the ugly world do its worst and the people do what they could to survive. This is no tale of good versus bad. In fact the good get nothing, and the bad only get worse. The language itself was beautiful; the prose carefully written to fully expose the dark underbelly of a city that I don’t think had a lighter side. Instead of racing through this volume, I read it slow (when I could) to enjoy the images and emotions evoked by the story.

Survival, redemption, faith, ethics, biological experimentation, conscience, the extremes of artistic expression are all explored in a city of corruption. This city is Ashamoil (the word reminds me of toil, which is what its inhabitants do). Yet the city is many worlds between which only few people seem to travel. It is an industrialized factory-driven place with thriving remnants of the old ways. We rarely see the factories, what we do see is a surreal, wonderfully disturbing, yet rich tapestry of life and walking myth and only enough magic used to make it that much more hopeless. The place is what the characters made it, and what they made of it.

Bishop spins this tale from characters who are under a shadow, and who may have never known light: they murder, indulge in all the vices (whores, opium, booze, drugs), steal, slave, etc. For this, the story reveals things of darkness in many shades of gray. There seems to be nothing a “good” person could do in Ashaoil to improve their lives. The few who seek to improve their lot do so by dying or by leaving Ashamoil.

I found an interesting use of Point of View characters in The Etched City. Different main characters were prominent in different parts of the book. Raule, the good-doctor-to-the-poor, was most prominent at the beginning. But, later, Gwynn, the remorseless mobster and gunslinger bore more attention. Going between these two, we got the whole view of the city, gold to gutter. And periodically, we got snippets of the tale through the eyes of others in the middle, who knew some things we needed to know. This is not something I see very much in fiction. Bishop does it well, we knew who all the characters were before we jumped into their heads. Bishop used this method of switching POV to evoke a maximum of suspense, and it worked on me.

The art, and the hunger of this corrupted city charmed me. To put it in perspective, I’ll say that a friend loaned it to me, and I’m going to go out and buy it for myself, in paper format.

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One thought on “The Etched City

  1. […] answer the question, I settled on K. J. Bishop’s “The Etched City” (I review it here) because it keeps popping back into my head and I keep wanting to go back and read it again. But […]

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