Format: oversized paperback, 1st edition, 2014
Reading time: see below
One sentence synopsis: Simon, Leah, and Alin must battle Incarnations to protect the kingdom.
City of Light is the third book in The Traveler’s Gate series. I liked the first book, House of Blades, but I thought the sequel, The Crimson Vault, suffered from some problems, and though it wasn’t bad, I didn’t think it was as good as the first book. So would City of Light return to form, stay the course, or fall flat? Read on to find out, but beware of spoilers. First, some reviews around the Web, which weren’t easy to find other than Amazon or Goodreads. It doesn’t help that Will Wight has given his book the same title as another novel released in 1999…
Benjamin Espen of With Both Hands says: “In City of Light, Will Wight finishes what he started. I admire his focus, there are clearly more stories in this world that can be told. But Simon has completed the hero’s journey, and the cycle is now complete. Which also means that Simon has become a man, and the nature of the problems he faces will be different in the future. Thus, Wight has ended the story at the place where the story should be ended. And for that, I salute him. We also see a great many pieces fall into place [though not all!], explaining why Elysia and Ragnarus are warring with one another, and why the Incarnations were trapped within the bloody trees of Ragnarus. And why the rebel city of Enosh was trying to free them. In the end, it turns out that many of the fateful decisions made had some justice behind them. But justice is not the problem. Everyone has had more justice than they can handle. What this world needs is redemption and forgiveness. Surprisingly, in a world gone mad with power and thirst for vengeance, there is redemption to be had.”
John Munro of Wizard’s Blog states: “Something that was an issue in the second book is worse in this one – it’s almost completely fight scenes. Sure it’s the climax, sure they’re at war, but still it felt like somebody was always fighting with someone else, with only brief interludes for plot and character development. It also suffers a bit from all of the main characters being too powerful – as we discovered in the Matrix sequels, watching invincible supermen punch each other to no effect gets boring after a while. Finally, I was irritated a bit by the fact that not everything was tied up by the end of the book. It’s bad enough when one book in a series doesn’t have a complete plot arc, but it’s much more important for a trilogy to have one. I understand the desire to leave things open for a follow-on series, but it’s frustrating when you think a plotline has been introduced to be a big dramatic twist and nothing happens.”
In early December in one of my Status Update posts, you may have caught a true hint regarding my feelings about City of Light after I finished it. I believe I used the words “I really struggled” and “took me almost the entire month of November to get through it”. Well, I’m not going to sugar coat it.
I found this book extremely disappointing and hard to read.
The plot moves relentlessly from battle to battle, with alliances constantly changing. Wight drops his big plot reveals here in the last book, as Benjamin states above: “why Elysia and Ragnarus are warring with one another, and why the Incarnations were trapped within the bloody trees of Ragnarus. And why the rebel city of Enosh was trying to free them.” The problem is, these reveals come too little, too late, as they drop near the end of the story (and thus the end of the series). The lateness gives little time to process this information, and comes at the cost of character motivations, which only now start to make sense (or still don’t). Further, since this comes at the climax of the book, characters are forced to react to these reveals in a way that robs them of agency.
As John mentions above, there’s very little character development since fight scenes dominate pretty much the entire book. When a character like Alin does have a developmental moment, it doesn’t feel genuine, only that he has a sudden change of heart (which actually happens more than once) to get the plot where it has to go or to introduce a McGuffin to bail out the other characters. Alin’s motivations are a constant problem, with his “color voices” offering conflicting guidance. Which voice Alin listens to at any given time seems to be determined at a whim; some of the voices he ignores completely, as well as their abilities. There is a “purple light” that Alin uses to banish anything that doesn’t belong in the territory, but later it doesn’t work properly. This largely has the feel of contrived plot devices and the lack of consistency is frustrating. John also makes a good point that by the end a few plot points remain unresolved, which was a bit unsatisfying.
In conclusion I’d have to say that City of Light is possibly the most disappointing book I completed this year, save perhaps Fury of Seventh Son. It suffers from a lack of focus and consistency, questionable character motivations, some choppy and repetitive prose, and late revelations that have minimal impact. I have never DNF’d a book, but I will admit I considered it here. The worst part is that because I was disinterested and struggled with the problems I outlined above (I went days passing up reading because I dreaded getting back into it), City of Light effectively killed any slim chance I had at meeting my reading goal for the year. For me, Wight’s high point will always be House of Blades, which established a foundation with potential to turn the series into something special, but unfortunately for me, The Traveler’s Gate crashed and burned by the end.