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City of Kings

Narrated by: Rosa B. Watkinson
Length: 11 hrs and 51 mins
4 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

War makes monsters and corpses of us all.

For generations the blooded have ruled the Wilds, cultivating a lawless frontier and bleeding the good folk dry. The Black Thorn, once the most wanted outlaw the world has ever seen, is set on stopping them, and bringing an end to the great game that oppresses them all.

Crucible is the only blooded fortress left, but not for nothing is it called the City of Kings. Its defences are unbreakable, its walls unassailable, all built so one hundred can hold back a thousand. Worse yet, the Black Thorn is running out of time and there are darker things hiding underground, looking to turn the city into a tomb.

City of Kings is a stand alone novel set in Rob J. Hayes award winning First Earth setting. It is designed to be read independently of the other books in the setting, and is a fast paced look at a kingdom on the verge of regime change.

©2018 Robert Joseph Hayes (P)2019 Rob J. Hayes

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Al
  • British Columbia
  • 09-01-19

An awesome grimdark experience

I received a free copy of the audiobook from the author in return for an honest review. This in no way impacts my opinions.
The City of Kings is the newest novel in the First Earth Saga, in a world Rob J Hayes has been building for a long time. If you haven’t read the author’s work before, have no fear of jumping in here, as the standalone is written in a way that includes characters from previous books, without excluding new readers (although I believe it does add to experience), he’s gotten good at skills like that. Anyway…
The Wildlings are on the verge of regaining their home, eh, the Wilds, from the Blooded who have ruled with an iron fist for too long. One final city stands in their way, the Crucible, home of the Brekovich (probably spelt wrongly) family, the worst of the Blooded. Rose, Black Thorn and company have the fortress in their sights, but have the tall order of getting inside. Not only do they face the army of Crucible, but there are worse things in their way on the outside. Can the Wildling scale the walls and end the Blooded, or will they fall at their last and biggest hurdle.
Worldbuilding
This is a world that has been many novels in the making, so you'd expect it to be polished, and it is, but if you expect it to be worn and hackneyed, you'd be wrong. The Wilds are a dangerous place, and close to crucible they are at their worst - those big walls are there for a reason. Along the way, our “heroes” have to face zombies (Yay! Zombies), and not those shuffling morons from the Walking Dead. These are more akin to the Draugr from Norse mythology, and all the more dangerous for it, There are some nasty-ass cave trolls and necromancers. As for Crucible, it is as imposing as it is impregnable, and the difference in “standard of living” of those who live within, and those who live without, is not lost on us.
Score - 4.5/5
Characters
All your favourites (at least those who survived) are here for this one - Black Thorn, Rose, Pern and many more, and there are some new ones to boot. But, intentionally or otherwise, the stars of this show (at least for me) are Henry and Anders. Henry, the cold-blooded assassin, is shocked by the horrors of war, and waxes philosophical on many occasions about war, humanity and other things often. Anders the disowned son of Niles Brekovich has his own reasons for being on the wrong side of Crucible’s walls, and we’re never quite sure of his loyalty. That being said, he’s a freakin’ hoot, and he is everything a hero of traditional epic fantasy isn’t, even more so than the crew of villains he has latched onto. But the one thing that will stay with you longer than any other part of this book, and that is the non-existent line between our heroes and their enemies. Sure, Black Thorn and Co are trying to free the Wilds from the oppression of the Blooded, but their modus operandi is far from noble. If you don’t believe me, wait until you’ve read the chilling ending to this one before you disagree.
Score - 5/5
Plot
I haven’t read all of the preceding books, so I can’t honestly state whether the plot ties everything up in a neat little bow, but it certainly fits with those I have. Within the confines of this book, the plot is relatively straightforward, although it is never really clear who will win, or if they did in fact win, while the author throws out lots of breadcrumbs to lure us into his next trap (novel).
Score - 4/5
Writing
Rob Hayes is the finest fantasy authors out there, self-published or otherwise, and while his grimdark stylings aren’t for everyone, there’s no denying he is skilled at this writing lark. His description of places and events, his crisply diverse characters, his skilled use of metaphor (check out the spider and fly) and his ramblings on the human condition are all very impressive, and he has just gotten better over the years. If I sound fanboyish, it’s because I am , but I don’t gush like this often, which says a lot about the author’s work. I realised I published this without mentioning the narrator, so she was no afterthought. Using a woman to voice a mainly male cast could be considered risky, but the narrator, Rosa B Watkinson, was terrific, and I couldn’t imagine another narrator, of any gender, doing a better job. I will definitely watch for her work in the future.
Score - 5/5
Personal Enjoyment
What else can I say? It’s pitch dark, funny but not jokey, with characters and events that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. I would hate to be the next book on your TBR.
Score - 5/5
Verdict
Grimdark as it should be written.
Total Score - 23.5/25


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  • Brian
  • ANN ARBOR, MI
  • 08-10-19

Epic Standalone Fantasy

First thing to get out of the way, this book is populated by awful people doing brutal and horrific things against other awful people who have also been doing horrific things. Once you get your head around the fact that the characters are at best antiheroes it's easier to wrap your head around the story's contents. Basically there's a huge army led by a husband and wife duo (one was one of the most wanted men in the realm and his wife an ex prostitute). They've been destroying the Blooded (another group of not great people) to take back the Wildlands. And, this has worked pretty well, but they find themselves in front of the last vestige of the Blooded, but it's also a city thought to be impenetrable. And that's where we're at. Plenty of violence awaits as this ridiculous force of questionable characters fights to sack the city and destroy every last one of its inhabitants before the wife has her child (she's 9 months pregnant). The characters are fleshed out and developed well and Hayes is basically playing a game where he sees how much they can do before the reader/listener turn on them. And if you've already adjusted your expectations that they're playing on a different plane of morality it turns out it's quite a bit, and those characters are definitely the strength of the story. The violence and fighting is great in general, but the individual POV's are what makes it that much better. Then of course there's an ending that you're propelled towards despite understanding that throughout the story the potential stakes of that ending are raised, and it's fantastic.

I really enjoyed this story and am definitely going to make a concerted effort to seek out the Ties that Bind series that takes place in the same world with some of the same characters. I received the review code for this audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this honest review.

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Intense

Intense and complex storyline.
It took most of story for me to get use to how the narrator portrays the characters. I kept wanting to say "take a breathe darlin, and slow down" I felt if I got distracted for a second I'd miss enough to go back and repeat chapter.
Hoping next release is more relaxed.
This audio was given to me free and I voluntarily gave this review.

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  • Angela
  • 08-08-19

Excellent Grimdark Novel

Thoroughly enjoyable (swash-buckling) grimdark novel. The characters are deplorable but likeable and the action is aplenty. The writing and world-building reminded me Joe Abercrombie's First Law series, which is a favourite of mine. Rose was an excellent character (I would even be tempted to put her on par with Glokta), and the level of violence portrayed in this book is to be admired. The narration was done well and really brought the book to life.
I've not read the other books by Hayes which are set in this world (with this being a standalone) but I will definitely be purchasing them soon.

I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request via Audioboom and have voluntarily left this review

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  • Gijs
  • 07-19-19

Fine book, but probably better if you’ve read the earlier books

This is a fine book (7/10), but I did not feel much of a connection with the characters. I guess reading the initial books helps with this, but as a stand-alone it did not really work for me. The writing and pace is good though so I will certainly keep an eye out for Rob J. Hayes other books.

Rosa Watkinson’s narration is good.

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  • S. D. Howarth
  • 05-15-19

quality of writing in some grubby hands

I've not read (yet) the earlier books (bar ye pirates yarr) so I came on this as a standalone audiobook having failed miserably to make inroads into my kindle TBR.

It is a very, very good audiobook production, marred from perfection by just a few duff words.

I enjoyed the novel, it certainly mangled up the characters in a way Season 8 of GOT seems to have adopted - in how to get your army decimated and drop the main characters into it.

Interestingly I'm not sure I have a favourite character, as they all had their moments and there are several scenes of utter barbarity to keep Grimdark fans entertained and up the ante on Anna Stephens' Hammertime. I have to admit, I expected the hand, but the hostage scene was especially clever as a shock tactic and how it influenced the end of the novel, even anticipating someone not staying down.

What I especially enjoyed, was how the ending wrapped the book up. With the pirate duology, the ending was abrupt - a bit too much, too lean. With City of Kings the novel had a natural conclusion, with a typical drastic twist and it worked for me much better (without feeling indulgent) as a reader. The end execution scene went on a little long as the only criticism, with the lack of a perfect happy ever after landing a healthy dose of realism and creating a wealth of future opportunity.

Many indie books get hyped up and finish flat, this one comes across as more understated, but do not underestimate the polish and quality of writing as this one is a rosy gem hidden within some grubby hands.

It also means I have to get off my arse and read the author's initial trilogy as I'm now curious about the backstory. It is a nice problem - but I need more hours in the day. Cracking stuff from author and narrator both.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-15-19

Below par, terrible narration

Past audiobooks of the ties that bind series were far better in story but it is hard to tell as the narration is that badly done I carn't be sure.