The Hanging City

By Charlie N. Holmberg

Rating: 2 stars

I’ve read and enjoyed several other books by the same author, so had high hopes for this one too. Unfortunately, it just didn’t come together for me, in a way that I’m struggling to explain. I didn’t particularly engage with the protagonist, Lark, a young woman on the run from an abusive father, or really anybody in the city of Cagmar, in which she finds refuge. Lark has the power to invoke fear in others, something that the elders of the city find they can use to protect themselves against the monsters that haunt their underground city.

The city is quite interesting, being built to hang off a giant bridge over a canyon, and grows downwards into the canyon. Lark is initially housed with a warrior and her brother, Azmar, who is an engineer, helping maintain and extend the city. Other than its upside down nature, there’s not a lot to find attractive about Cagmar and the trolls (or trollis as they’re called here) that inhabit it. It’s a very strictly caste-driven society, where strength is valued above all and the few human refugees are treated as below even the lowest of the trolls.

For someone who wields the power of fear, Lark spends so much of the book afraid herself. Of not being granted refuge, of not keeping that status, of the slowly building romance with Azmar. It made the book a chore to read and I seriously thought about giving up several times.

(I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but this is a major part of why I struggled with the book): I fear for the romance between Lark and Azmar. While love is a powerful force, such a union between human and trollis is taboo in Cagmar, and the single half-troll that Lark encounters in the city is regarded as an abomination, and there’s nothing to suggest that humans would react any better. Lark puts a lot of faith into the human settlement that she hears about where there’s another half trollis who seems to accepted. But there’s a difference between tolerance and acceptance, and when she and Azmar leave Cagmar at the end of the book, with everyone in the city turned against them, it’s putting a lot of faith in something she’s only heard about second hand.

There was some interesting world-building about how humans had dominated the trollis in the past, until climate change caused their civilisation to crash into something that struggles to just survive, but I didn’t think this was integrated into the story particularly deeply.

So not a book that worked for me, but I trust the author enough to still look out for other stuff that she’s got coming up.

Book details

ISBN: 9781662508714
Publisher: 47North
Year of publication: 2023

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