City of Dreams and Nightmares – Ian Whates

Posted on February 17, 2012


**This review contains slight spoilers**

Ian Whates debut novel, City of Dreams and Nightmares, is the first in a series set in the ‘City of a Thousand Rows’. The city, Thaiburley, a vast towering metropolis. The poor leave in the Undercity, a world away from the well-to-do and demons that are said to lurk on the rows above. When young street nick Tom witnesses a murder, he ends up on the run, pursued by aerobatic Kite Guards and other forces seeking to destablise Thaiburley..

I remember being at a science fiction and fantasy showcase care of the wonderful guys and girls of Waterstones Deansgate. Part of the line up was Ian Whates, and his engaging delivery and uncomplicated prose sold his work to me, and consequently I bought the first of the series a while back.

The chase that follows Tom throughout the story allows for several aspects of the city to be introduced, and then again through different eyes as Kite Guard Tylus descends to the Undercity. On the whole, the characters are not very developed beyond their specific roles, some of them might as well twirl their imaginary moustaches at certain points. You might think that inept Kite Guard Tylus would redeem himself on his ‘special assignment’ but as the plot unfolds, he is more lucky than actually intuitive which makes it difficult to care for, or root for him.

Certainly the most interesting characters are Kat and Dewar. Kat manages to  just move beyond a stereotypical moody sulking teenager, but I felt that her experiences in ‘The Pits’ were not fleshed out enough which you can forget that she is this teenage champion at some points in the plot.  Mysterious assassin, Dewar, who is the most three dimensional character in the book intently held my interest whenever he turned up, an intriguing character, who we can only hope we haven’t seen the last of.

The city of Thaiburley is a fine creation from Whates. Clearly thought out and planned, it feels alive and lived in. The core concept that each row represents not only social wealth but a particular function is clever. Whates is adept at writing fight scenes, of which there are many within the novel, keeping a fast momentum as various characters fight alongside, or against each other. Numerous weapons are deployed, many echoing Oriental fighting styles. Despite there being so many fight scenes, each one feels fresh and different enough to maintain interest.

There are a lot of good ideas in the plot, they might not be original ideas, but the way they are used and brought together is clever. The idea of the Kite Guards that jump from the sky, their capes flowing a la Batman is an interesting one, as well as the sadly all too brief mention of the politics that seem to exist within the Kite Guard themselves. The central concept of a virus that latches onto you and subverts your will and erases any impulses that might be undesirable is a terrifying one, but again, the potential only briefly danced with.

Although I enjoyed this first visit to Thaiburley, the conclusion to the book was much too rushed and far too convenient. Exposition is heaped on as explanation, and I was left a little disappointed by this. A real shame, as the story have been weaved very well from the different threads – Whates is a master at pacing the story and the art of the cliffhanger to keep you reading which gloss over the lack of character development. It does feel like a Young Adult book rather than a more mature work, what could have been a really gritty, earthy book instead is a little bit fluffier. In some cases, violence is implied rather than shown, or the descriptions are late-teenager friendly. Despite my misgivings, there are enough hints that the story of Thaiburley will continue to intrigue in later novels, and City of Dreams and Nightmares is a fun, frentic start to the sequence.

In light of the rushed ending meaning a deducted stroke, The Fiction Stroker gives City of Dreams and Nightmares three strokes out of five: