by Edward Willett
Published on July 4, 2017 by Daw Books
Genres: Adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction
Two young individuals must uncover the dark secrets of their stratified city in this suspenseful sci-fi standalone
The metal City towers at the center of the mountain-ringed Heartland, standing astride the deep chasm of the Canyon like a malevolent giant, ruled with an iron fist by the First Officer and his Provosts in the name of the semi-mythical Captain. Within its corroding walls lies a stratified society, where the Officers dwell in luxury on the Twelfth Tier while the poor struggle to survive on the First and Second, and outcasts scrabble and fight for whatever they can find in the Middens, the City's rubbish heap, filling the Canyon beneath its dripping underbelly.
Alania, ward of an Officer, lives on Twelfth. Raised among the privileged class, Alania feels as though she is some sort of pampered prisoner, never permitted to explore the many levels of the City. And certainly not allowed to leave the confines of the City for any reason. She has everything a young woman could want except a loving family and personal freedom.
Danyl, raised by a scavenger, knows no home but the Middens. His day-to-day responsibility is to stay alive. His sole ambition is to escape from this subsistence existence and gain entrance to the City--so near and yet so far out of reach--in hopes of a better life.
Their two very different worlds collide when Alania, fleeing from an unexpected ambush, plunges from the heights of the City down to the Middens, and into Danyl's life.
Almost immediately, both of them find themselves pursued by the First Officer's Provosts, for reasons they cannot fathom--but which they must uncover if they are to survive. The secrets they unlock, as they flee the Canyon and crisscross the Heartland from the City's farmlands to the mountains of the north and back again, will determine not only their fate, but the fate of the City...and everyone who lives there.
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I’ve finally read a dystopian that I’ve enjoyed. Well, I suppose it’s technically sci-fi but it FELT like a dystopian with the whole world-ending, have to overthrow the government vibes.
The Cityborn is told from the alternating perspectives of Alania, raised on the highest tier of the city, and Danyl, raised quite literally in the trash well below the floating metal monstrosity. It took a number of chapters to really get into the story as the author begins when both are mere infants and takes a couple chapters when they’re preteens and again as teenagers, before finally reaching adulthood, to detail their lives. Once you make it through those, the story begins to pick up and I was mostly hooked.
I can’t say I was entirely invested until the very end, to be honest, because the pacing of this book is very slow. Any quickening of it was a reason for excitement. Much of the story involves the characters wandering through some part of the highly contained (and unexplained) world. This wasn’t the worst thing to read about except that the world is never really provided in the details beyond what the scene needs. It took until quite literally the end of the book to learn anything beyond the basics of the City, and this was done in an info dump way (though it works with the situation it’s presented in).
Because of all that, I’m glad the two characters weren’t kept apart very long because they have a really interesting dynamic. They feel a kinship for the situation they’re in together and had I been forced to read their perspectives where they do everything on their own, the book wouldn’t have worked for me.
Alania was pampered all her life but she has a strong heart and the will to do what it takes to figure out what’s going on and save her life. But she wouldn’t have survived long without Danyl, and he needed a friend (as well as someone who knew the City). They needed each other, though I got really tired of reading the whole “are we siblings or can we be romantically involved” scenario that came up several times over in their early days of knowing each other. Gave me Clary/Jace (Mortal Instruments) vibes but thankfully the author didn’t handle it how I expected (which is a good thing, mind you).
Honestly, I think the ending sealed the deal for me on The Cityborn. I wasn’t necessarily invested until then but it really brought the story full circle and those details made this book stand out in its uniqueness for me. Though slow, the writing is well done and the fact that there isn’t a lot of background information on the world or the characters (more so the secondary ones), those gaps kept me reading hoping for answers.
My final issue with this book is that it does not look like there will be a sequel and the ending wrapped everything up so quickly that I felt it needed to either be slowed down during this book (which clearly didn’t happen) or explained in a sequel. But I’d definitely recommend The Cityborn, especially for fans of sci-fi looking to branch into dystopian, and for readers like me who are tired of the typical dystopians out there.