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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Steven Montano's City of Scars: a Vividly Dark Journey for the Reader

It's been a while since I've reviewed...

Something Dark.

Something that makes the heart bleed.

Something morbidly fascinating.

We all need something that shakes us to the core, that makes our blood run cold. At least once in a while, anyway. So when I opened this latest ebook, I was quite ready to go through the emotional turmoil a dark fantasy brings with it.

image via http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-C-kl6Ueb6HA/UbtQg2dOAvI/AAAAAAAAAEY/CDlgplK5-lU/s1600/city_of_scars.jpg

City of Scars is the first installment of The Skullborn Trilogy, a dark fantasy written by Steven Montano.

So what's it about?

Roughly thirty years ago, the brutal Blood Queen's reign over the world ended, and now the empires are trying to rebuild lands that have become virtual wastelands. It's a slow process, and cities are overrun with cartel turf wars and general lawlessness.

Fallen knight Azander Dane is no stranger to the criminal life, having taken his own fair share of mercenary jobs as he traveled from one city to the next. Unfortunately, he may have gotten in a little too deep after accepting a job from the Black Guild: Hunt down the bloodspeaker witch Ijanna and bring her back to the Iron Count.

In Ebonmark, the City of Scars, Dane finds himself at the center of a battle between cartels, cults, and the Jlantrian Empress herself, and sees no hope of coming out on top... or even alive. 

My description really doesn't do this ebook any justice.

This one is dark. I don't just mean a little dark. I mean oh-my-god-what-am-I-reading-I'm-going-to-give-myself-nightmares dark. My description doesn't make that very apparent.

But, come on. 

Think about it. You all know that I'm generally more of a unicorns and fairies person, mixed with a healthy amount of aliens and cybernetics for good measure. Dark fantasy isn't exactly my strong point when it comes to descriptions. I write holiday fantasy stories, after all!

Yet I really love reading the gritty, soul-wrenching stuff, as well, and there was plenty of that in this ebook!

The visuals in City of Scars were hypnotic. It's very easy to believe you're smelling the rot, agonizing over the injuries, seeing the blood mists (nasty stuff, blood mist!), and hearing the magically engineered machinery as it prepares to devastate everything in the vicinity.

Yeah. Definitely not a YA novel!

Montano paints a bleak picture of a world in ruin. It's a world in pain. The very fabric that all life spawns from is being depleted.

But Montano also gives us hope. He surrounds us with terrifying, even disgusting images, yes, and he paints a very dark and depraved picture of humanity...

But he also gives us reason to smile.

It doesn't happen often, but when it does we feel a desperate need to cling to those sudden moments of tenderness. Montano shows us that while it's rare, people can sometimes rise above the prejudices they've been raised with. He shows us that even such solid feelings as hatred and loathing are not absolute, and a single individual can reshape ideas that are deeply entrenched in us.

Montano shows us the beauty of humanity by revealing our ugliness.

That's flipping awesome!

I think this could very well have been a Treasured Tome. It had all the makings of one. Unfortunately, there was one flaw that jarred me out of the story repeatedly. It was the exact opposite of the problem I had with the last ebook reviewed:

Lack of italics.

I know, I know... I just complained about being driven nuts by their overuse. Why, then, would I be complaining about a lack of them here? That's an understandable question.

In this case, there were no italics at all, and they were needed to mark character thoughts and dream sequences. Without them, I sometimes had to do a double-take, re-reading sentences that seemed incongruent.

This was probably just a formatting error. 

I once sent an entire story to my editing team that lacked italics for this very reason, and it was horribly embarrassing. One million profuse apologies later, and I had the work formatted correctly, lesson learned. But I was lucky. I sent the exactly wrong format to them... any other file type, and I never would have discovered this error.

And that's most likely what happened here.

Because, quite frankly, Montano's writing is brilliant. Nobody would ever call it fluff. His world is complex and vivid, and even though he was heavier on narration than I typically like, it worked perfectly for him. If you like dark fantasy, you'll love City of Scars.

City of Scars can be found on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords, as well as Scribd.

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