Sam Sykes’ The City Stained Red has a special place in my affections (and not just because Sam is the size of a grizzly and has a reputation for beating people who make the world greyer with an actual honest-to-goodness oar). In a world where commercial fantasy, paradoxically, tends to the familiar City is a riot of the wonderfully strange. A book where giant spiders spin silk to sell, where four armed aliens with framed oil paintings for faces haunt markets, where demons are worth listening to, where love is dangerous and the last dragon man meets his match.
The book reminded me of the rich sense of wonder that came with reading Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock or Fritz Leiber for the first time – here was a fantasy that felt fresh and unexpected.
And it’s a book where adventurers live with the problems of their lives as well as being addicted to the freedom and excitement it brings. For all their crazed adventures and their bizarre burdens these are real characters with touchingly real hopes and fears.
Like their author this book can leave you feeling both that you’ve been hit hard with a big, 8-foot, varnished wood oar and that you’ve been shown something full of wonder and fun that you weren’t expecting.
This is what fantasy should do. This is what The City Stained Red does.
The City Stained Red is out in bookshops and online today.
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