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The Last City by Nina D’Aleo

The Last City by Nina D’Aleo
5
Book Name: The Last City
Author: Nina D’Aleo
Publisher(s): Momentum
Formatt: Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Fantasy
Release Date: August 1, 2012

The Last City by debut author Nina D’Aleo is marketed as Blade Runner meets Perdido Street Station. Two undoubted classics. Told by two critically acclaimed storytellers.

It’s quite the set-up for a debut novel conjured into being in the relatively unobtrusive city of Brisbane, Australia, and quietly slipped to the masses via Momentum, the digital arm of Pan Macmillan Australia.

In fact, one would have to argue that it is TOO big a claim. Because if a book was that good we’d have heard of it already. The multi-million dollar film deal would be on the news. People would already be dressing up as characters. And JJ Abrams would be dropping all thought of Star Wars VII in order to fist-fight Steven Spielberg in some kind of heavyweight-director Hunger Games for the right to direct.

Well, be prepared for a surprise (and possibly a bit of directorial bloodshed down the track), because The Last City wholeheartedly lives up to this thrilling billing. The official blurb gives us a great set-up:

Scorpia – the last city of Aquais – where the Ar Antarians rule, the machine-breeds serve and in between a multitude of races and species eke out an existence somewhere between the ever-blazing city lights and the endless darkness of the underside.

As a spate of murders and abductions grip the city, new recruit Silho Brabel is sent to the Oscuri Trackers, an elite military squad commanded by the notorious Copernicus Kane. But Silho has a terrible secret and must fight to hide her strange abilities and monstrous heritage.

There is actually a little more to this blurb, but I’m going to cut it there because I think this is one of those stories where you benefit most from diving into the deep end and exploring it for yourself—which in a world as different and intense as this isn’t always easy, unless you’re in the hands of a talented writer. Which brings us neatly to…

The Good News

The aforementioned China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, to which this book is compared, opens with a scientist having sex with his scarab-headed lover and deteriorates beautifully from there. He never explains any of the bizarre imagery, and never has to. The reader simply believes from the outset.

This is a trick that many who write science-fiction and fantasy fail time and again to pull off. Strange characters, names, ideas, technologies, physics, and magic—throw too many into the opening pages and you run the risk of confusing and losing readers, at which point they are always playing catch up (if they can be bothered struggling to keep up at all).

In these situations it takes a writer with the utmost skill to make the reader believe in the world and the characters from page one, despite the crazy being thrown at them. China Mieville is one of these writers. Nina D’Aleo is another.

Quite simply The Last City is a masterclass in worldbuilding, a fully realised and believable science-fiction and fantasy society that draws the eye into the page with its spectacularly descriptive mix of ideas old and new, yet never confuses or loses you. You simply accept the impossible as real and let yourself be carried along in and around a city with shades of Star Wars’ Coruscant but arguably more detailed and diverse.

It also helps to have a fully realised cast of characters, and this team is one of the most interesting and fun I’ve spent time with in a while, from the rookie Silho and the shadowy Commander Kane, to the icy electrosmith Diega and the silver-skinned, metal-limbed Jude and his arachnid robot SevenM. All are experts in their respective areas, yet each a flawed persona that makes for a great deal of inter-team conflict and some fascinating relationships—none more so than the terse and often violent struggle between the illegitimate imp Eli Anklebiter and the fugitive Ev’r Keets.

Other than that the prose itself is to die for: beautifully structured, immersive, with snappy yet believable dialogue; towards the end I actually found myself hearing echoes of Stephen King in fine Dark Tower form. In that vein this author also weaves in a lot of internal struggle and the occasional flashback, which in less capable hands might well have slowed the plot to a crawl, but here simultaneously provides insight, expands the world, and somehow keeps the story moving at pace.

And the story itself? Just like the city of Scorpia, there is a lot to take in and clearly several layers at work. On the surface it’s a fun romp through a fantastic world, but this is one of those novels that threatens to reveal more with each read. And that’s never a bad thing.

The Bad News

This is a tricky one. This is a debut that blew me away on a number of levels, but perhaps too much, if that makes sense?

It could be argued that The Last City sets the bar a little TOO high for itself from the outset, enthralling the reader throughout and building to the climax so well that it can be argued the finale is actually a bit of a ‘disappointment’—simply because there isn’t enough of it! I would have loved another couple of chapters here to really nail me to the wall with my jaw around my ankles.

Also, while comparisons of quality are spot on, I don’t agree 100% with the Blade Runner themed billing or the cover that strikes the same note. The noir is in there, certainly, but I think this world and its characters are far more vibrant and colourful than these suggest. With such wondrous technologies, incredible magic and different humanoid species working together to save the world, for me this was far more along the lines of a Mass Effect style science-fiction and fantasy adventure, and could have done with a more explosive cover to match.

To Sum Up

Quite simply if you have any love for the fantastical, then you’ll check it out for yourself. Perdido Street Station meets Mass Effect, with a dash of Star Wars and Blade Runner…how could you not want to read that? Seriously cool stuff. More please.

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Rating: 9.9/10 (8 votes cast)
The Last City by Nina D’Aleo, 9.9 out of 10 based on 8 ratings
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4 Comments

  1. Sounds fantastic, will have to look out for this one! 🙂 Great review!

  2. Khaldun says:

    Wow, that’s quite the positive review.
    She’s got some funny things to say on her blog. Maybe I’ll check this out. 🙂

  3. Chris M says:

    You had me at Blade Runner 🙂

  4. […] month I reviewed the outstanding science-fiction/fantasy novel The Last City. This month I’ve been fortunate […]

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