I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Rose has decided that she will become queen of the Wilds or die trying, and the Black Thorn is dead set on doing everything in his power to keep his heavily pregnant wife happy. For the most part, this story takes place over the course of a week as Rose and her Thorn lead their army of misfits in a siege of the last city holding out against Rose’s reign. Her goal is to take the city before her daughter is born, and to slaughter the remaining blooded families hiding within the walls. The problem? The city is impenetrable. But Rose will accept no excuses, even legitimate ones, and she will have that city, even if every man and woman fighting for her is slaughtered in the process.
This is a standalone novel in Hayes’s First Earth, the setting for his The Ties That Bind trilogy and his Where Loyalties Lie duology. While I haven’t read the first trilogy, I loved Where Loyalties Lie. It was definitely grimdark, which isn’t my favorite genre, but I absolutely adore pirates. And Hayes created some great ones. Where Loyalties Lie was filled with an eclectic cast of miscreants who would all stab you for a cookie, but they were likable and endearing just the same. The duology also featured a varied plot with some intricate twists. It’s among my favorite self-published works.
In City of Kings, Hayes once again gives us a cast of likable but morally bankrupt characters who you can’t help rooting for even as they commit travesties. I enjoyed them, but I feel that I would have enjoyed them even more had I read The Ties That Bind first. While this is indeed a standalone novel, it features characters from this trilogy. I never felt lost while reading, but I did feel that I was missing out on some deep history between various characters. I highly recommend reading that trilogy before picking up this book. I’m kicking myself for not doing so; don’t make my mistake!
As I wrote earlier, this entire book is about a siege and roughly takes place over the course of a week. Almost the entirety of the book is one giant battle scene. There were small breaks in the fighting here and there, but I would say a solid three quarters of the book is comprised of descriptive action scenes. I’m a lover, not a fighter, so this was a lot for me. Thankfully Hayes is very good at writing action scenes in a way that maintains my interest, but I do have to confess to feeling some battle fatigue myself by the final pages.
“War makes monsters and corpses of us all.”
I have never seen a catchphrase on the cover of a book that captures the content of the story within quite so aptly. Remember earlier when I mentioned that grimdark isn’t my favorite genre? Well, this was one of the grimmest, darkest things I’ve ever read. First Earth is a world of almost unrelenting bleakness, and in this tale I didn’t have swashbuckling pirates to distract me a bit from that bleakness. I did have Anders, who provided a bit of comedic relief, but he was facing down horrors of his own, so even that humor had an edge to it. The story was just a little too dark for me to fall completely in love with.
However, it was an engaging story well told, full of interesting characters living in a fascinating world, albeit a dark one. And if you happen to be a true fan of the grimdark genre, I strongly believe that this book will work extremely well for you. It’s a story dark and dire and full of daring deeds, and will have you rooting for people who will never be heroes. Once again, I suggest that you read The Ties That Bind first before diving into this one, but if you don’t, City of Kings will definitely whet your appetite for Hayes’s First Earth and have you running to check out the rest of the book set in that world.
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